Subscribe to

There’s an interesting post over at Not Possible In Real Life asking the question: “What is the correct (and legal) way to attribute photography and video shot in virtual worlds?” I was going to leave a comment there, but there’s really no way to answer this question off the cuff, so I’m turning it into a post instead.  You should definitely visit the post at NPIRL too, particularly for the ethics of the situation; I’ll focus on the legal questions here.  The bottom line?  At least under the law as it currently stands, in-world shutterbugs need to be very careful — more careful than they would be in real life.

Here’s the setup.  In a virtual world like Second Life, users have the ability to create things (like buildings, clothing, avatar appearances, and more) and the users retain intellectual property rights in these creations.  Users can also take screenshots of this world, including these creations.  So one user makes a 3D building in a public part of the world using the world’s creation tools, and then she logs off.  The building, of course, stays in the world, since that’s the whole point of persistent spaces.  Later, another user comes along and takes a screenshot of that building with a model-avatar standing in front of it.  The model is wearing a red dress, a complex hairstyle, and a “skin,” all from different content creators.

So that’s our picture.  An avatar wearing a virtual red dress standing in front of a cool building in a virtual world.  The questions are:

  • What rights do the users who created the building, the model’s skin, the model’s hairstyle, and the model’s dress have in their creations?
  • What rights does the screenshot-taker have?
  • What obligations does the screenshot-taker have to the creators of the building, the skin, the hairstyle, and the outfit?

Copyright Law and Real Life Creations

It’s awfully tempting to drop back to real life for an answer.  After all, the virtual world looks a lot like the real one.  And in real life, photographers can take pictures of many (though not all) things without worrying about a copyright lawsuit.  The problem is, that may not translate to the virtual world.  We have to take a look at what copyright law actually protects to see why.

Copyright protectsoriginal works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture” that are “fixed in a tangible form of expression.”

So in real life, copyright law generally prohibits a photograph of a model sitting on the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture, a model embedded in a film cell from Titanic, or a model posing with poster-sized blowups of pages of text from my book, Virtual Law.  But the scene with the model in a red dress in front of a building on a public street?  In real life, that’s probably just fine.

That’s because copyright law generally does not protect real-world clothing (because it is deemed a “useful article“) nor does it protect hairstyles and makeup (because they are not “fixed in a tangible form of expression”).  And though copyright law does protect architecture (at least for plans for and designs of buildings constructed after December 1, 1990), taking pictures of and creating artistic works using buildings that are ordinarily visible from public places is specifically allowed. These limitations on copyright law may not mean much in the virtual world, however.

Copyright Law and Virtual World Creations

The problem with applying real world copyright law concepts here is that virtual dresses, hairstyles, personal appearances, and buildings are not exactly the same as real world dresses, hairstyles, personal appearances, and buildings.

Real world hairstyles and various components of individual appearances are generally not protected by copyright because they either are not enumerated in the code, because they are not “fixed in a tangible medium,” or, regarding certain personal appearance attributes, because they do not represent “creative works.”  Dresses and other clothing designs are not protected because they are “useful articles” and copyright law only protects “creative works.”  Buildings have special rules that protect their designs, but these rules do not protect them from photography or other artistic interpretation when they can be viewed from public places.

In the virtual world, however, every dress, hairstyle, avatar “skin,” and building is really a tiny piece of online software, and online software, including the output of the software to the screen, is protected by copyright.  There’s even a copyright office circular (.pdf) describing how to go about registering the copyright in what the office describes as “works accessed via network (websites, homepages, and FTP sites) and files and documents transmitted and/or downloaded via network.”

The Debate

If I’m a content creator, I’m going to argue that when I am making something in Second Life, I am functionally writing code using the graphical interface Linden Lab provides me, and that code should be protected.  Alternatively, I’m making digital art using tools that are only trivially different than those in a program like Maya or Blender.  For some creations (such as virtual world animation packages that cause certain expressions and sounds) the code is obvious; the scripts are written in a formal scripting language.  For others, such as buildings, the code is relatively hidden, but there is a good argument that building a skyscraper in Second Life is just “coding” one using a graphical user interface that operates as an overlay on the code, or that it is, at minimum, no different than any other creative work made using software.  Certainly, no one disputes that artistic creations built using software (such as most of the second Star Wars trilogy) are protected works.

On the other hand, if I’m a virtual world photographer, I’m going to argue that there’s a real-life parallel here, and that buildings, personal appearances, clothing, and other objects in a virtual world should not be protected to any greater degree than they are in the real world.


With the caveat that no case has directly addressed this, I believe that the “code” argument will carry the day because it is simpler, it preserves the public policy arguments behind the real-world exceptions, and mainly, because holding otherwise would undermine the now fairly well-established body of software copyright law.

Many of the comments following the post on this at NPIRL that got me thinking about this in the first place speculate about just how much attribution is necessary when incorporating other people’s work into one’s derivative creations, but I think that the question is largely irrelevant.  If you want to incorporate somebody else’s artistic work into your own you are supposed to seek permission from the copyright holder.  And if you don’t, the copyright holder can sue you — attribution, no matter how extensive, is simply not enough.

Brad Templeton, Chairman of the Board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation covers this in a post entitled “10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained”.

U.S. Copyright law is quite explicit that the making of what are called “derivative works” — works based or derived from another copyrighted work — is the exclusive province of the owner of the original work. This is true even though the making of these new works is a highly creative process.

There are exceptions to this, of course, which generally get lumped together in the catch-all concept of “fair use.”  These include criticism (which I’d argue covers my use of screenshots of in-world scenes in this article) and parody.  The scope of fair use is beyond this article, but for readers who are interested in learning more, the Wikipedia entry on fair use is a good place to start, particularly the list of common misunderstandings of fair use.

This all means that with the exception of limited situations where fair use exceptions apply, I am pretty comfortable concluding that under the law as it stands, selling or otherwise making available derivative works comprising images shot in Second Life of other people’s creations, in most cases, does not qualify for fair use protection and is actionable as copyright infringement.

The easiest way for a content owner to deal with potential infringement is probably via the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) policy of the site where content is hosted.  For a private site, that’s probably the site’s web host, and for third party content hosting sites like Flickr and YouTube, the site provider itself typically offers DMCA takedown procedures.  Linden Lab, of course, has a DMCA policy that would apply to in-world objects in the event that a creator wanted to have in-world screenshots removed.

Finally, I must stress again that this issue has not come directly before a court.  Some argue that the law should be changed, and that could happen.  The 2D internet has already challenged the bounds of copyright law, and the 3D internet is bound to take that debate in entirely new directions.  This is one of those interesting areas where there could actually be new law created to apply to virtual spaces, or where established law might be interpreted in a non-traditional way.

For now, though?  Virtual world content creators — from virtual dressmakers to virtual architects — enjoy protection from virtual photographers creating derivative works based on screenshots of their creations that exceeds the protection afforded their real-life counterparts.

Email This Post Email This Post
Print This Post (Printer Friendly Formatting) Print This Post (Printer Friendly Formatting)

Related Posts on Virtually Blind

22 Responses to “Virtual World Screenshots Raise Copyright Questions”

  1. on 18 Nov 2008 at 8:24 pmBenjamin Duranske

    Thanks to reader Lem Skall for the heads-up on the post over at Not Possible In Real Life that got me thinking about this.

  2. on 18 Nov 2008 at 9:01 pmBettina Tizzy

    I was so hoping that a legal mind would have a look at the thread and pipe in and… there you are! *Thanks, Lem* – and thank you, Ben. I am organizing a panel discussion on this topic in the spring, and very much hope you will agree to participate. I will send you further details about it via email.

    I’ve expressed my views on this topic on my own blog: NPIRL, but feel that we have only scratched the surface. I also want to initiate some kind of educational campaign to help virtual “shutterbugs” understand why this is important.

  3. on 18 Nov 2008 at 9:39 pmLem Skall

    Thanks, Ben, for this enlightening post. After looking through Wikipedia’s explanation of fair use I can now better qualify one of the arguments that I already made on the NPIRL blog: most of the pictures taken in SL are “transformative” creations, rather than “derivative”. And I’ll quote: “The first factor is about whether the use in question helps fulfill the intention of copyright law to stimulate creativity for the enrichment of the general public, or whether it aims to only ‘supersede the objects’ of the original for reasons of personal profit.” Agreed, “it involves significant judgment calls”, but I think it is not only my bias that tells me that a 2D representation of a 3D, immersible, virtual object does not “supersede” it and is also an “enrichment of the general public”. Especially when there is a significant amount of creative work involved in the picture, much more than a simple screenshot dump. Not that the process matters, but this enforces the point of “transformation”.

  4. on 19 Nov 2008 at 12:38 amCristopher Lefavre

    Hi Benjamin,

    Thanks for an interesting article!

    I would like to ask you one question though: How would the Second Life Terms of Service (TOS) affect the legal copyright issue?

    The TOS does state (section 3.2) that “You retain copyright and other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create in Second Life, …”.

    But, it also states that “…by submitting your Content to any area of the Service, you automatically grant ” … ” to Linden Lab and to all other users of the Service a ” … ” License, under any and all patent rights you may have or obtain with respect to your Content, to use your Content for all purposes within the Service.” (redacted quote)

    Also, the Service (Second Life) includes a feature called Snapshot that allows you to send a picture from inworld directly to any email address. The email is sent directly from Linden Labs servers, so the image is not transmitted by the “photographer”.

    Would that feature and the wording of the TOS give the end users of Second Life more rights regarding to the use of snapshots that just fair use allows?

  5. on 19 Nov 2008 at 3:22 amDoubledown Tandino

    Crap. I had a post/comment/forum thread involving this discussion over a year ago, and I’ve been googling like mad to try to find it, but I cant :O(

    It could have been a comment I made on this blog long ago, or on possibly on the secondlife forums…..

    anyway, I cant find it, but I made some awesome points.

    Welp, if I find it, ill post it here, cause I’m kind of too lazy to try to remember why I came to the conclusion that S photograhy laws should be exactly like RL photography and copyright and permission laws.

  6. on 19 Nov 2008 at 10:44 amBenjamin Duranske

    @3 – Interesting argument, Lem. I’d have to pull some cases directed to that provision to see how courts have come down on it in the past, but offhand, I suspect that is not sufficiently transformative. The closest analog I can think of would be a photograph of a real life sculpture in a public place. At least in the U.S., the sculptor retains those rights and can sue photographers (one famous case involves the guy that made the “Wall Street Bull” in New York suing Wal-mart for selling replicas, though I can’t find out what happened so I suspect it settled). Interestingly, in the U.K., there is an exception for sculptures on public display. I’ve seen the transformative defense applied most successfully as a description of parody or criticism (both sufficiently “new” forms of work to be afforded the protection) and in database claims (such as Google’s use of low-resolution thumbnails). I suspect that is Wikipedia’s planned defense for its use of low-resolution album covers and pictures of sculptures as well — the creation of an encyclopedia reference to everything (including modern music and scuplture) supersedes the original creative work (the individual album cover or sculpture) so thoroughly that its inclusion — even in its entirety — is still transformative. So maybe a really big guide to the metaverse would qualify for use of screenshots as a transformative work? But I don’t think that selling a dozen pictures of attractive avatars wearing third party designers’ hair, skins, and clothing in a calendar probably would qualify. This is a tough question though, as there’s no bright line test, and it would come down to how a fact-finder (judge or jury) viewed the evidence in a specific case.

    @4 – The key there is one word “patent” in the second paragraph you quote from the TOS. Patent protection is a completely different field than copyright protection (though both are subsets of the bigger field of “intellectual property). Basically, Linden Lab is saying that creators keep all rights that come from copyright law (such as rights to virtual art installations, stories “printed” in the virtual world, and probably, as discussed here, dresses, skins, animation packages and more) but that creators have to freely license any patent law rights they end up owning on in-world creations. Patent law rights are special protections for inventions that are granted after a lengthy review process by an official patent office, and are only available for inventions, not, generally, for “creative works.” You could not “patent” a screenshot, so that second provision on licensing doesn’t apply.

  7. on 19 Nov 2008 at 11:52 amthayer

    It’s a really interesting legal issue–I would suspect that most of the uses people put their screenshots to would constitute fair use–i.e., posting a picture in a blog post (limited use, non-commerical, doesn’t compete for the market of the original). However, if you start getting into something like art created from in-world images, where the use is commercial and is the focus of the new work, then these issues could really come into play.

  8. on 19 Nov 2008 at 12:10 pmBettina Tizzy

    Yes, Thayer, exactly. A handful of in-world photographers are doing precisely that: using other’s creations as their “location/set” and then selling the resulting photograph both in and off world, without attribution to the creator… without consulting the creator… and calling the “art” their own. I have issues with this.

    The problem is aggravated by the fact that most people not familiar with virtual worlds often believe that the photographer was the sole creator.

  9. on 19 Nov 2008 at 1:23 pmQueen Coronet

    I’m wondering if is it helpful to the analysis to talk about remedies available? Or at least to give some guidance to Joe Resident about how to take in world snapshots without fear of financial ruin? The funny thing about these discussions is they are subjected to wild interpretations resulting in news stories that some random avatar is being sued for not crediting a photo correctly.

    I take snapshots in-world like a maniac and post to flickr. When the pictures is about a person or emotion I’ll often leave it with no attribution. But when I’m featuring a creation (clothing, object, sim, etc.) I try my best to give credit where it is due.

    If I am infringing on someone’s copyright that does not mean I’m going to be sued for oogles of dollars. Rather, it typically means I have to stop any further infringement by removing the infringing material. (I’m reducing this to the rudimentary)

    Point is, hopefully, Mom and Pop Flickrers won’t panic while we try to wade through these legal questions. I think that in these VW’s the content creators need people like me, Mom and Pop to keep buying their things, visiting their sims, and sharing the moments. Hopefully we’ll be able to find a balance between nurturing the relationships with those who consume and protecting creators against those who seek to exploit.

  10. on 19 Nov 2008 at 3:03 pmlarryr

    Both you AND linden TOS are defining “patent” in an “odd” way.

    There are both Utilily and Design patents…. and yes while UTILITY patents are the ones that most geeks–
    its Design patents that the content makers very often seek and the “uncertain” usage of patent by linden is a problem….
    since many designs that show up in world can be “design patentable” and copyright and trademark rights are assumed to be not claimed by linden, we must ASSUME ALL PATENTS are claimed by linden..even design patents, which i believe is not warrented or would be found binding by the courts.


  11. on 19 Nov 2008 at 3:07 pmlarryr

    also btw to all content creators… a suggestion is to sell all your products with a NON COMMERCIAL USAGE LICENSE attached to all items, via notecard.

    Simple to do and it defines the relationship between the buyer and seller if the buyer decides to “resell” derivatives or copies the item.

  12. on 19 Nov 2008 at 6:23 pmLem Skall

    @6 – Ben, I think claiming fair use is easier than most people here would think. If my understanding is correct, I can even publish an album of my pictures without permission from the builders with only some subtle adjustments. There may be a case for copyright infringement if I title the album “Lem Skall, His Art” and most of the text in the album is about my bio, my artistic vision and how I took each one of the pictures. But it could easily pass as fair use if the title would be “PICTURES FROM SL by Lem Skall” and if there would be very little text in general but every picture would have a short caption like “Picture of the so-and-so place, [slurl]” (yes, attribution helps as a factor, but that’s all). And that’s it, same pictures, just different presentation.

    I admit that I have myself seen some cases of pictures that could hardly pass as transformative (as an example, think of a frontal picture of a texture that is part of a build) and that were being sold (even though with attribution). Those cases are rare. So fair use by argument of transformative work cannot be used as a general legal argument for ALL SL pictures. But neither can copyright be claimed with a blanket statement against all SL pictures and conditions imposed on all of them. Fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis. However, I would state that “most” of the SL pictures I see on flickr could probably easily claim fair use based on different factors described by Wikipedia. Some of them even without any attribution and, especially, without attribution for every little object that is captured in the picture.

    BTW, if we are talking about permission, someone correct me if I’m wrong but I think that anything less than a signed paper from the RL person behind the avatar would be legally useless. Permission is practically a prohibitive demand for most purposes.

  13. on 19 Nov 2008 at 8:06 pmZha Ewry

    Interesting to see it fully parsed at the legal level.

    On the technical side, I think the description is rather over simplified. I’d like to walk through some of the the steps which happen between content creation, its blending into a scene and then its presentation to users. I’ll then leave it to lawyers to see if it changes the legal parsing of the situation.

    The items in a SecondLife (Or pretty much any Virtual World) scene are not, in fact software. They ares software renderings of a bunch of digital artifacts. Each prim is described as a bit of constructive geometry, or with a mesh map. Each surface is assigned a digital texture. Content creators use various tools to create and combine these into artifacts, either textures, prims,or geometrically linked sets of these These are then all loaded into the region simulator which keeps track of where they are, and sends all this information down to the user’s client.

    On the user’s client, the current scene graph is finally rendered. The prim shapes are mapped onto the 3d space textures are painted onto the objects, and light is then simulated. Depending on the client’s settings, graphic card, and things like effects tweaking, a scene is now rendered.

    A user, taking a snapshot of the scene, is taking a composite of:

    a) The original constructive geometry.
    b) a scale and possibly color transformation of the textures on the prims
    c) The programmatic rendering of, sky, water and reflectoins
    d) The programatic rendering of flexies and particles

    These are subject to further modification by the client’s interface, such as turning on and off rendering effects, moving the camera around the scene.

    For added sport, many of the items in the scene are changed by the object’s owner (stretched, resized, and so forth) System Clothing is painted onto the Avatar’s shape. Prim attachements location is dictated by the avatar’s shape, and by it’s animations. (Either system default, Animation Override, PoseBall, Dance Machine, or played in world gesture or animation, or the combination of all of the above.

    Clearly, there is a path between the original content the content creator uploaded, and (within the context of the second life service, offered for sale to some users) It is not, however a simple, or even deterministic path.

    I don’t know how this rather more complex description impacts the legal implications. But, the scenes which we see on Second Life are complex combinations of multiple inputs, modified in multiple ways, and then rendered by very sophisticated software. The original inputs are part of this process, but they are hardly delivered to the user in their original form.

    This description is somewhat simplified, but I hope it will stimulate further discussion.

    - Zha Ewry

  14. on 20 Nov 2008 at 12:39 amradar

    I really hope this doesn’t lead us further down the road of where many of the content producers already are, which is overreacting and accusing the entire universe of stealing their works. Funnily enough, many of those same works are just in-world representations of things from RL, sometimes down to the exact design (I’ve seen many a piece of furniture that matches this descriptions).

    What would be sad is to kill all in-world photography, machinima, etc, in the name of protecting property and rights when in fact those were never in danger from the activity in question to begin with. If I photograph a sim for a blog article about it, or use a build in a piece of machinima, it seems to me it would more promote the build than somehow benefit myself at the cost of someone else. But then again, for any kind of machinima that’s a story and not an exploration deliberately describing the build, attribution should be required.

    But I find it hard to believe that making a machinima wearing a certain prim hair would be considered a derivative work of the prim hair. Maybe it would, but to me that just seems like content creators being anal for the sake of it. I know for my own meager creations, I don’t give a rat’s rump if they attribute me for pictures/machinima that includes it, so long as they aren’t trying to pretend they created it. Know what ah mean, Vern?

  15. on 23 Nov 2008 at 9:10 amSnapshot Copyright Mess

    [...] to the mess. As usual, when artsy souls cannot make piece, law cuts sharp and close to the body. Benjamin Duranske explains the practice: In the virtual world, however, every dress, hairstyle, avatar [...]

  16. on 23 Nov 2008 at 9:28 pmOtenth Paderborn

    In what way might the creations in SL be like fonts?

  17. on 24 Nov 2008 at 12:15 pmBenjamin Duranske

    I had some really good conversations with readers about this over the weekend and want to summarize a few points briefly, as I think they’re important.

    First, this post is descriptive (what the law says now, at least as I analyze it) and not normative (how the law ought to be). I’m not saying that finding that screenshots violate content creators’ copyright in their work is a great outcome, just that it’s likely under the current copyright framework. I try to keep my opinions out of this because, frankly, why would you care? There is a raging debate about whether the internet will change copyright law dramatically, and I tend to leave it to the professors, figuring that readers here are more interested in practical advice.

    Second, there are definitely good arguments against this finding, as outlined above. The best argument is that some of the public policy considerations that support restrictions on copyright for photographs apply to virtual world screenshots too. I suspect, however, that at least at the trial court level (where this will be decided initially) they’ll find infringement the same way they would certainly find infringement if somebody at Lucas Film re-rendered a few shots from Revenge of the Sith with different lighting and angles using the original data on the computers at the company and then posted them on his website. The arguments against this finding pertaining to virtual world screenshots are reasonable, but they’re much more likely to prevail on appeal (if they prevail) than at the trial court level. And actually, that’s often how law gets changed to account for new technology. Could happen here, but until it does, I believe that most district courts would find that screenshots that don’t qualify for fair use exceptions violate content creators’ copyrights.

    Third, somebody asked if screenshots of websites would infringe copyrights on these grounds too — and yes, they would. I hold the copyright in Virtually Blind’s design and content — taking a screenshot of it violates that copyright the same way that copying and pasting the text would. There’s nothing magic about screenshots that makes it okay to copy things that way.

    Finally, some people seem to think that because there’s no case law directly on point either possibility is equally likely. That’s just not how it works. When there’s no case law, courts will look for the most similar situation, and here, I strongly suspect that at least at the trial court level, they’re more likely to see Second Life creations as similar to other renderings of 3D objects than to real life photography.

    That all said, it is undeniably a close call and there are good arguments both directions, as noted above. While under the law as it stands I think that screenshots violate the copyright of the creators of content pictured in those screenshots, I would absolutely be comfortable taking either side of this argument to a judge or jury.

  18. on 24 Nov 2008 at 2:20 pmBrandon Brown

    This is a great discussion, and a really interesting question with some particularly damaging consequences. The first thing that caught my attention is the transformative defense suggestion made by Lem in 3 and explored by Ben in 6.

    Ben’s reference to Google’s low-resolution images in its image search might deserve a bit more attention to explore this point. The case he’s referencing, I believe, is the Perfect10 v. Amazon case, which found that these low-res thumbnails of Perfect10 models were sufficiently transformed from the high quality photos. However, the argument was susceptible to Perfect10′s defense that there was a market for these low-res thumbnails, which at most would probably turn them into derivative works and at least would weigh against a fair use defense on the first and fourth prongs (type of use; market effects).

    To make this argument, Perfect10 said that the market was in cell-phone users who would buy these photos for their phones. If you’re skeptical about that market, then you’re in agreement with the 9th Circuit. Perfect10 could not show any existing market for this argument and had not sold any such images to cell phone users.

    Lem makes a parallel (though more defensible) argument above, by noting that a 2D representation of a 3D environment is sufficiently transformative (or maybe the argument these days is just “low enough in resolution”) to weigh in favor of a fair use finding.

    Ok, so, to argue against transformative use, we have to figure out what the harm to the creator is in this case. Of course, if the photograph is almost solely about the creative work, it’s probably infringement no matter what, just like the Wall Street Bull or a picture of Ben’s book pages. But if it’s a smaller use (a sculpture in the background), then what?

    Well, presumably he’s not in the business of marketing people wearing his clothes or displaying his statue. He probably takes pictures of his clothing or statue for use *in* marketing, but not as a separate product, and not for sale. So tangential uses of his work in the photograph may be defensible. Generally, I would argue that you have to say that people aren’t buying his clothing or statue, at least partially because they *see* (or buy) this photograph.

    But, there’s one big way in which SL differs from RL in terms of public display of statues or other works of art: in RL, you can’t right click on a statue to figure out who made it and get yourself a landmark to his store. In SL, arguably, this is how most content creators actually get business — somebody sees the product in SL, likes it, right clicks on it, finds out who made it, and goes to his/her store. Arguably, if a “market” develops where SL users are regularly exposed to 2D, non-interactable images of SL items, content creators would be robbed of this inflow of customers. Customers who would explore SL less when they can just look at still pictures of it. (It sounds a little silly, but I’ve definitely seen pictures of places in SL on websites and decided that there was no point to visiting it since the pictures did a good job of capturing everything I would want to look at.)

    Is that a copyright argument? I really don’t know. Misattribution has a role in copyright, but in the US sans-moral-rights world, the argument is tangential and sounds more in consumer fraud. And this isn’t really misattributing (or claiming the statue as the photographer’s creation), so much as preventing customer exposure to the full work and the work’s primary stand-alone method of marketing.

    But it is a harm. Arguably, to the “market” for the work. And it could be substantial.

    Although I’m generally in favor of sticking to RL precedents when evaluating SL legal issues (rather than trying to argue that SL is completely different, as some of our virtual brethren do), this could be a case where we really need to evaluate how the SL interface affects and alters the rights of virtual content creators.

    Forgive the ramble, but I thought this was an interesting way to look at the problem. :-)

  19. on 25 Nov 2008 at 2:52 amdandellion Kimban

    I’ll drop a few lines, more as ongoing thoughts than any kind of answer.

    Lots of arguments about the issue are comparing snapshot (or processed snapshot) to RL photograph. While that would make lot of things easier, those are not the same. Usual argument is that all the content of a virtual world is created by someone who holds the copyright and authorship on the creation. But then, what about architectural photography? Are those two the same? If you check the arguments of creators on Bettina’s post, they say that, unlike photography, for SL snapshot there remains a doubt who is the creator of the scene. Is it the person who took the snapshot or somebody else?

    But that’s the question of authorship not copyright. For copyright matter (if I understood well) there is a copyright infringement because scene is a piece of software. And somebody has copyright over that piece of software. But we forget that, years ago, there were lot of discussions if architectural photography is copyright (or at least authorship) infringement. But it isn’t. For the very simple reason: when you are taking a photo of an building, or a statue, you are changing the medium. Your work is based on somebody other’s work, but you apply your skills, your vision of the artwork, your feelings and ideas and make something new. for the same reason, photograph of a painting is not an original work. Same goes to screenshoting the website design. For the same reason, making an image out of 3D model shouldn’t be bad thing to do.

    I have to take my turn on the question Benjamin is trying to leave to professors: whether the internet will change copyright law dramatically? It’s not the Internet, but digital technology. Some 15 years ago or more, nobody cared about copyright infringement done by common people. Music was stored on vinyl records and text was printed on the paper. Yes, I could copy that music on the tape and photocopy the book. But quality wasn’t the same. And if I had the chance, I would pay the price to get the book or vinyl. If I had not the chance, that is, if all the stocks were sold and no re-releases in sight I could make the copy, which is the infringement but there’s no court on the planet that would prosecute me for that.

    Those times are over. Copy of a CD is a new CD of the (almost) same quality. But that almost is not important enough to stop millions of people world-wide to do it. Even reducing the quality to mp3 is not enough. And mp3 is, in many cases, even more convenient than the original CD. Our problem is that our technology is developing much faster than our ethics and our legislation. And copyright is not the only area we feel that problem.

    Anyway, I understand both sides. I understand 3D creator’s need to protect their authorship and profit. But I also understand needs of those that use that content for their work. In my take on the problem, I tried to imagine what would it take just to credit all the people who contributed to a single snapshot. Then that should be multiplied to get the amount of work needed to get all the copyright permissions to set the things legal. And that was just a single image. In the case of a comic of machinima, it is less work, time and nerves to forget about the second life, open Blender or Maya and do all the work alone. But then, beauty of SL is in sharing and collaboration even if that collaboration is not always direct. Will all this end up in great failure of collaborative environments just because we didn’t learn to collaborate and share?

  20. on 09 Dec 2008 at 2:25 pmTom

    Good discussion. I just wrote a post on using virtual worlds to build the scenes for elearning courses. The intention of the post was to offer this up as an idea, but there are a lot of questions about copyright.

    How does something like this work if you have your own space in Second Life and do screen captures of your own avatar?

  21. on 09 Dec 2008 at 3:06 pmCaliburn Susanto

    This is all very interesting (waves at Lem).

    I followed this over here from Tom’s elearning newsletter and my attention is rapt. (Makes note to get in touch with Tizzy in-world for future discussion sessions.)

    Thanks for the very comprehensive article and the many links!

  22. on 03 Jan 2009 at 5:14 amPJ

    “In the virtual world, however, every dress, hairstyle, avatar “skin,” and building is really a tiny piece of online software,”

    No, its data – data being manipulated of existing software – software which would be there regardless of whether or not people make something.

    But either way, there should be no right, virtually or otherwise intellectual “property” is one of the most sick inventions of the 18th century, and one can only hope the internet will actually help destroy it.

Leave a Reply

Notes on Comments: Your first comment must be manually approved, but after it is you'll be able to post freely with the same name and email. You can use some HTML (<a> <b> <i> <blockquote> etc.) but know that VB's spam blocker holds posts with five or more <a> links. VB supports gravatars. Got a gravatar? Use the associated email and it'll show with your comment. Need one? Set it up for free here.