Sunday, July 20, 2014

Terms of... not... endearment

One of the things that changed during my period of not being inworld much was LL's terms of service for using SL.  They changed in August 2013, they have just changed again, and the change has not been a good one.

People get het up about terms of service, often unnecessarily.  The fact is, when your beautiful painting of a sunset, or the mesh for your combination screwdriver-coffeepot-and-sex-monkey, is rendered inworld, the data representing it needs to be uploaded and stored on LL's servers, and then downloaded to the viewer of anyone who comes and looks at it.  This requires that data to be moved through a whole network (that there Internet thing, you may have heard of it) of other computers, possibly stored temporarily in places along the way.  Besides the obvious technical challenges, in terms of intellectual property law, LL needs legal permission to do this, and that's where all that bit about granting an irrevocable non-exclusive license for the purpose of providing the service comes in.

Or did.  Back in 2013, LL changed the terms of service to a much broader one, in which any content you create or upload to Second Life can be exploited, reproduced, redistributed, and more, in any manner whatsoever.  Not just for the purpose of getting it from SL Viewer A to SL Viewer B across the Internet.  For anything they like.

(A corollary of this - also enshrined in the new terms of service - is that we have to warrant that we have all the necessary legal rights to permit them to do this!  The problem here is that this is broadly incompatible with a lot of IP law relating to Creative Commons licenses or even public domain works.  Basically, the only things you can be sure won't breach the ToS are... things you have made entirely yourself, from scratch.  All those prims in my tower, where I've covered them with textures bought in from USC and other places?  Dubious, highly dubious.  There is, though, a shovel and a pile of coal on one level, and I made the textures for those, both diffuse and sculpt maps, all by my very own self, so they are fine.)

Now, a lot of people were very upset about this, on the grounds that it constitutes an overly broad rights grab.  There are quite legitimate commercial issues at stake here, too.  There's quite a market out there for 3D meshes of one kind or another, they take time and talent to develop, they have a real commercial value - and if you upload one to SL, then LL now has the rights to sublicense or sell it for themselves, in any manner whatsoever, and if you don't like it, tough.

The inhibitory effects of this on content creators are significant - and SL needs its content creators, like no other online environment does.  Without those creators, SL is literally nothing more than grass, water and sky, studded with people bitching at each other.  Briefly.  Before they give it up as a bad lot and go away to play Minesweeper.

I've been hit by this, in a small way, myself... I know SL book publishers inworld, and it so happens that my idiot mate who got me called Glorf is, in a small way, a frustrated author.  He has unpublished novels, he knows me, I know publishers....  But, under LL's terms of service, putting one of his books inworld would assign almost all his IP rights to LL, forever, with no prospect of recompense, and this is a deal which not even my idiot mate is idiot enough to take.

So, recently, LL has modified those terms of service... and we have read them, and parsed them out, and discovered that the modifying parenthetical clause is stuck in at a point which makes it, essentially, meaningless.  (I don't think I can add anything to the analysis here - which also, incidentally, demonstrates that the ToS is not only rotten English, but fairly rotten legalese as well.)

It is understandable, therefore, that content creators are manifestly Not Happy about this.

One wonders, really, why LL has chosen to go down this route.  The best guess is that it might allow them to transfer our creations over to another service in future, the hypothetical SL2 (still very much hypothetical at this stage).  I can think of other legitimate reasons for some broadening of the ToS, if I put my mind to it.  Perhaps they want to make or license movies set in the world of SL, and don't want to worry about being sued if (for instance) my three-rotor hovering home in Steam SkyCity finds its way into shot.  Perhaps.  I could even be persuaded to accept this reasoning, if it was being presented that way - but it's not.  I'm just speculating.  All we know is that the ToS currently constitutes a grab at all our IP rights over our content.  Which, to put it bluntly, sucks.

LL have given us informal assurances that they would never think about making free with our content in such an unprincipled manner.  The problem is, informal assurances are like verbal contracts - not worth the paper they're written on.  The only formal assurance we have comes from the ToS, and that says they absolutely can make free with our content.

And then there's the attitude of current boss Ebbe Altberg... who has, apparently, claimed that no one has told him what's wrong with the ToS, so LL can't possibly fix it.

It is at this point that I have to be a bit blunter than is my wont.  A lot of people have made it plainly and explicitly clear what is wrong with the ToS.  Granted, they have not all used exactly the same form of words - some of them are angrier than others about different parts of the thoroughgoing rights grab that it constitutes, and say so.  But, overall, the message has been quite clear and unequivocal.

LL is claiming more rights than it needs to provide the SL service, and that has to change.  Not just morally - commercially, too.  It makes no commercial sense for anyone to provide LL with exploitable content for free.

And - which is where I have to be blunt - Ebbe Altberg knows this.  He has heard what people have been saying about the ToS, and there is no way he can not know what the criticisms are.

So, when he says no one's told him what's wrong - well, he is flat out lying.  There.  That is me being blunt.

I really do try not to put the boot into the Lab when they don't deserve it, and I will bend over backwards to give them the benefit of the doubt.  But there comes a time when they do deserve it, and there is no alternative, then, but to draw back the old steel-toecap Doc Martin and let fly.  (Yes, for a job like this, I use my RL shoes.  Though, right now, I would happily step on Ebbe Altberg's feet in my SL stilettoes, too.)

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