Monday, October 26, 2009

Content theft -- the deck is stacked against us

Some disturbing news today... Stroker Serpentine has reported over at SLUniverse that a massive content theft has taken place, using what were probably some of the known exploits of the permission system, notecards, etc.

As far as I know, my work is not involved. I feel fortunate that after all this time I have not been a victim of this, but I'm sure time will only tell when someone thinks its time to start ripping small time merchants like me.

I feel terribly for everyone whose work has been stolen, and I feel incredibly helpless. It seems that SL has no real interest in preventing what has clearly become large scale content theft. I'm simply at a loss as to what to do -- so many voices much more influential than mine have risen up in the past to protest this, and nothing has been done.

I'm not sure what this all means, what the future holds for content creation in SL. Like so many other virtual and real world places I've invested myself in, everything from Facebook to my health care insurer, it feels like Corporate America has no accountability for their actions.

It's the new corporate profit model -- well, perhaps not new, but big business seems less concerned with keeping their real motivations a secret anymore.

What it is, is risk assessment gone horribly wrong. Businesses no longer seem to be interested in what the customer wants -- they are interested in knowing how long they can keep making money while they knowingly rip off customers, or allow them to be ripped off? When the litigation finally comes, will the payout we have to make be substantially less than the profits we earned while ripping off people?

In Second Life, the folks at Linden Labs happily take the money content creators spend on uploading textures, sounds, animations. They happily take the tier payments my landlords pay for virtual real estate, that I in turn rent from them for my shops.

They don't seem to see that content theft is problem -- because it really costs them nothing. It's not really "their" content that's being stolen. Linden Labs is in the real estate business and the asset storage business, not in the content creation business. They provide servers, and sit back while Second Life residents do all the heavy lifting.

Not to diminish the service that LL provides -- obviously that takes a tremendous amount of resources. Someone has to pay the electricity bill.

It seems to be the nature of community building that it always reaches a critical mass, where it simply becomes too large to effectively administer or police. This happens simultaneously with larger interests entering the picture, who see a new opportunity for investment... and profit.

You hit a threshold where a community of individuals is much harder to stabilize than a community of larger interests.

And this is what is happening with Second Life. Administering to a handful of corporate entities, who already have their own management infrastructures, is much more profitable and efficient than trying to keep thousands of "mom and pop" content creators and landowners happy.

For now, we wait. I personally am waiting for when LL finally announces exactly what "a minimum threshold for content transactions" is as part of qualifying for their content seller program... while my business is just beginning to grow, my content creating days very well could be over before I ever get a chance to prove myself in the market.

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