Monday, January 08, 2007

Second Life Client Meets Open Source

Linden Lab announced today that the source code for the Second Life viewer (the client) will be available as open source. Check it out here.

Will there be much rejoicing? An open source client means the door for copyright infringement has been left ajar for those that wish to enter. This has been the subject of some debate most recently stimulated by the CopyBot, but time will tell who may light a fire about this section in the FAQ.

Will someone use a hacked client to copy all my content without my permission?

In some cases (e.g. textures), it will be possible for someone to create a client that doesn't respect the "do not copy" flag, since anything that can be viewed on the viewer can be copied. Some content doesn't need to get sent to the viewer, such as scripts, or items in your inventory, and these types of items will not be copyable.

Please see the next section, For Content Creators, for more information about how Linden Lab is working to protect content in Second Life.

More specifically, I think this suggestion to content creators may raise some eyebrows:
Copyright infringement is a problem for content creators, but there are many ways to respond. Naïve content creators often respond by attempting to implement ineffective copy protection mechanisms that rarely hinder infringement, and often hinder lawful use of their creations. More sophisticated content creators respond by figuring out how to deepen the relationship with customers and create such value around their brands that customers will want to pay to ensure they get the "genuine article". We hope, over time, that the Second Life community will become more sophisticated in dealing with the same issues that content creators in the real world have been dealing with for quite some time.
The last sentence is moderately incongruent with the first two. The "genuine article" argument is a difficult one to make even for tangible real world products where quality may ultimately be more important and therefore represents differentiation (at least today). In Second Life, a texture is a texture is a texture as long as it's seamless and sized correctly. The rendering isn't that good to make a meaningful difference. However - in the *real world* - copyright, the protection thereof and the resultant legal actions toward infringement require a level of sophistication that are far beyond what is afforded by the Second Life platform.
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