Today is a special day - it’s the Step Up! for content creators day. It’s a grid-wide protest, attempting to bring attention to the ongoing issue of content theft. You’ve heard about it before; rip-off artists show up with advanced tools that instantly nab perfect copies of virtual creations, then set up shop with cloned items at discount prices. Or worse, they give away full-permission copies of the stolen goods, thus destroying the creator’s business forever. I wish this protest succeeds.
Many ask Linden Lab to fix the problem. Get rid of those thieves! Ban those viewers! Delete the stolen copies! But it’s just not that easy.
There’s a fundamental problem in the design of virtual worlds.
As everyone knows, you run a viewer on your workstation, and it communicates with the servers back at the Lab. But what does that mean, exactly? At it’s most basic level, it means that the servers send descriptions and locations of objects to the viewer so that it can draw them on your screen. Yes, you guessed it: object designs and the textures to paint on them are sent directly to the viewer.
A viewer with a criminal twist could simply record those descriptions and textures for later use, regardless of their original permissions. A special command could later “replay” the recordings and thus create exact duplicates with new permissions. That’s how copybot, builderbot and other such tools work.
As long as the viewer respects the original permissions, things are not so bad. But there’s really nothing stopping a viewer from ignoring permissions other than the intentions of the programmer.
Why can programmers do this? It’s because they have the source code to build new viewers. Linden Lab gave everyone access to the code (open sourcing) in an effort to spur original feature development and experimentation some time ago. But the price for doing so was to enable nefarious feature development, too.
Some say the Linden Lab should restrict the viewers able to connect to the grid to ensure only well-behaved viewers have access to the object descriptions and textures. I suppose that’s possible by issuing special digital keys for authorized viewers, but the notion that Linden Lab would have to certify each viewer by examining every line of code seems impractical. That’s what they’d have to do to ensure nothing bad could happen. Worse, they’d have to do a line-by-line code inspection for every new version as well. I just can’t see that happening because it would take so much effort. Even if it was attempted, it could only be done for a small number of viewers, meaning that the original purpose of open sourcing the code (many experiments and new feature development) would be severely compromised.
Probably the only course of action that could practically work would be to allow only Linden Lab-built viewers to access the grid. Then copy functions would be entirely controllable. But you’d lose out on all the very interesting open source development.
Even if that were done, copying would still take place, just not quite as automated. One of my shop owner friends was a constant victim of manual copying. Each week she deployed new and original items, and each week a competitor would come by to see what was built and then duplicate it as best they could. There’s not much that can be done about that.
Because it’s pretty much the same in real life.