Creative licence

Facebook, in response to general outrage, has been forced to abandon proposed new terms of service, which would, if you believe the detractors, have allowed the corporation to claim ownership of all material uploaded by users of the service, even those who had deleted their accounts This raises several interesting issues, including how social media blurs the distinction between personal and public space, and the extent to which users of services like Facebook and Twitter can expect to retain control over content they create.

I have always felt that it is prudent to regard the internet as being completely public, and to assume that anything that you put into the system will persist forever, indelibly marked with your digital fingerprints, and accessible to anyone who knows how to look for it. Accordingly I do my best to be discreet, but despite this I often, in retrospect, feel that I have been lulled by the apparent anonymity of the medium into revealing more about myself than I might have intended. There is a certain amount of narcissism involved in such worries; while it is technically possible to, say, link all the Google searches I have done to my IP address, I seriously doubt that anyone is going to bother. Similarly, it seems unlikely that Mark Zuckerberg was really planning to purloin millions of badly-exposed pictures of Facebook users grinning drunkenly during their works’ night out, for some nefarious purpose that only he can imagine; all he wants are your shopping preferences, so that he can sell advertising and convince the venture capitalists that he does have some sort of monetisation strategy. Still, the idea that once you join Facebook you can never leave makes it sound even more creepily cult-like than it did before.

On the face of it Second Life residents don’t have to worry about being creatively expropriated by the Lindens; the terms of service clearly state that copyright in content resides with the originator. As I’ve touched on before though, “creativity” in the metaverse isn’t limited to the production of discrete items. The very act of interacting with others on the grid is in itself a performance, one which can be observed and appropriated. Who, if anyone, “owns” this? You may not have to worry that the Lindens will claim control of your entire virtual life, like Facebook is trying to do, but perhaps you should be concerned that all the imaginative energy that you put into living your second life will end up providing free inspiration for some lurking writer.

2 Responses to Creative licence

  1. I’m currently working on an article for “> SLentepreneur Magazine (my more “serious” job in Second Life) concerning the nature of Intellectual Property. I’ve been fortunate to snag an inteview next week with an IP attorney who specializes in virtual law (what there is of it) and who also teaches at the University of Dayton, which had a law department with VL-orientated folks. On of the issues I want to talk about is what constitutes “property” in a virtual world and who owns it.

    If I write “stuff” in Second Life, either as public chat or IM, is it “mine?” What about the responses? If I interview Joe Blogs and then published it for cash (which I do) do they have any claim on their input? Is what they do or say classified as IP in the same way that, say, a script to open a door is IP?

    I may try to get some ideas about what constitutes brand infringement. I worry that our magazine, SLentrepreneur, is so clearly derivative of SL(TM) or SL(R) that we really need to be looking at changing it. If we remain a small, under-read web site in a small world, we’re safe, but as we add more and more articles that draw in wider readership (like the legal articles, which apply to ANY virtual environment) we become open to a cease-and-desist.

  2. johnny4sls says:

    Has there been a final ruling on Minsky vs Linden yet? I haven’t read anything about it for a few months. I’m not aware that any court has upheld the Lindens’ claim over the phrase “Second Life”. If they came after us, I think we would win, on the grounds that: a) their trademark is unenforceable, because “second life” has been a common phrase for years, and/or b) we have a “fair use” exemption for the purposes of commentary and criticism. I’m not a lawyer, so I might be over-optimistic, and a lot would depend on which juristiction the case was heard in. It would probably never get to court though, because WordPress would likely cave in before we did.

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