We have been following SecondLife, a popular virtual world, which has been gaining traction as a demo site for ‘real world’ product roll-outs, ‘remote’ conferencing and the like. A key point is that the digital creations, such as the appearance of avatars (the digital representations of the users) and the structures, have real value, not only in the resources that were expended to create them, but in that they are being traded in SL for a currency, the Linden, that has a real exchange rate to the dollar. Vendors are beginning to bet significant sums on SL creations.
Many are therefore disturbed by this report on the Linden Labs (the proprietor of SecondLife) blog that a program named CopyBot has been distributed in SL allowing the copying of any creation within an avatar’s proximity (sort of like the way the bad terminator in Terminator 2 could copy anyone he touched). Citing comments in the post thread, it appears that the significance of Copybot is that not only can it copy what is seen on the screen, but that it can copy underlying scripts that contribute to the item’s appearance (such as a script that generates the texture of a surface).
Thus an avatar dress shop becomes as vulnerable to counterfeiting as any real garment enterprise.
Someone in the comment thread posted a link to a YouTube video (embedded above) that purports to demonstrate one avatar taking on the features of another.
As we noted previously, certain types of IP problems would actually be easier to enforce in a virtual world, in that users enter into terms of service that allow the proprietor to pull the plug on a user who has mis-behaved (sort of like the bad guy who unplugged his crew members in Matrix 1). Note this second post from SL indicating that ujse of CopyBot is a violation of the SL TOS.
However in this case, it seems that SL can’t stop the distribution of the CopyBot program, nor tell quickly who is using it. One of the more interesting parts of SL’s first post is its request for suggestions as to what to do (and take the time to read the comment threads in both posts).
Of interest is SL’s remark in its second post that states “we are not in the copyright enforcement business.” It articulates the various factors it has to take into account to make SL an attractive environment. However, to the extent that it wishes to continue to be the host to an exchange, it will find that successful exchanges must offer security not only to buyers but to sellers. If copyrightable material is going to be bought and sold on Second Life, then I’m not sure that the real world copyright regime is fast enough to solve problems like CopyBot. I think that SecondLife is going to have to get into the copyright enforcement business.
UPDATE: Lots of commentary on CopyBot.