The Technium recently posted a fascinating article about adding value in a copyright-adverse environment. The post is one of the most interesting things I’ve read recently. It should resonate with content creators who work in virtual worlds, and with attorneys advising clients about these spaces too. I will undoubtedly overgeneralize this very deep post by trying to sum it up, but in a nutshell, it argues that there are lots of ways to add value even in an environment where copying is rampant and copyright law isn’t respected (like free-form virtual worlds at the moment, particularly Second Life).
From the post:
[S]tart with a simple user question: why would we ever pay for anything that we could get for free? When anyone buys a version of something they could get for free, what are they purchasing?
From my study of the network economy I see roughly eight categories of intangible value that we buy when we pay for something that could be free.
In a real sense, these are eight things that are better than free. Eight uncopyable values. I call them “generatives.”
The author discusses these eight “generatives” in some depth. The article is focused on the internet generally, but I think it is particularly relevant to virtual worlds. I can already see how some of these are popping up in virtual worlds, even in my own shopping experiences. Could I find a cheap knock-off of a suit or prefab office I like in Second Life? Sure, but for three or four of the reasons outlined here, I seek out a “real” one. The article goes some distance toward explaining why, and it is well worth reading.
I’m not at all convinced that copyright enforcement is a dead end in virtual worlds (in fact, I suspect we will see much more of it over the next five years) but I think that it has to go hand in hand with other tools — like those discussed here — in content creators’ toolboxes as well.
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