On January 10, 2010, a member of the Woodbury University group in Second Life known only by the SL name of Haruhi Thespian gained illegal access to the secure, private wiki owned and operated by the Justice League Unlimited and stole about a third of its contents. Thespian allegedly gained access to the Justice League with the specific intent to defraud the League out of special access to its personnel, assets and resources. Thespian was supported by a gang calling itself “The Wrong Hands”, led by ringleader Robble Rubble, and comprised mainly of members of the Woodbury University group. “The Wrong Hands” took its marching orders from Tizzers Foxchase (Jorden Bellino in real life, a student of Woodbury University of Burbank, California), who identified himself as having made the judgment call to publish the wiki despite what he called the “collateral damage” of exposing not only himself but many of his friends in other griefing groups.
The stolen materials were swiftly bundled and put into viral distribution. The Second Life group, made up almost entirely of members of the banned Woodbury group, claimed responsibility for the theft. Copies of the BrainiacWiki began to appear on PirateBay.org, but were discovered to have been variously infected by virii and heavily edited by the posters and redistributed. Substantial excerpts from the stolen wiki were published directly in the Alphaville Herald, by the editor pseudonymed “Pixeleen Mistral”, who was identified in the Herald [and subsequent Wikipedia article] as Mark P. McCahill. McCahill works as a consultant in the IT department at Duke University of Durham, North Carolina, coauthor of several of the initial protocols and services of the Internet itself in the early to mid 1990′s, and continues to publish puzzling articles glorifying the arguably illegal activities of “The Wrong Hands”.
The Herald is a newsletter blog owned and operated by Peter J. Ludlow of Northwestern University, widely regarded as a Woodbury shill site. It is believed that the theft of the wiki and the barrage of smear articles appearing in the Herald were in retribution for a successful operation conducted the Justice League Unlimited earlier that month in which several members of the Woodbury group were intercepted in the attempt to raid the region “Zeide Kamp”, a Jewish cultural center in Second Life. Public comments by Robbie Rubble (his SL alias, real name unknown) suggest that the theft and was motivated by revenge for the League’s interception of the Woodbury raiding party before they could reach their griefing target.
The League responded to the subsequent appearance mirror sites of the stolen materials by invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to protect their rights under United States copyright law. Wherever these sites were identified within the United States, the copyright was found valid and the sites removed. This eventually forced the thieves to move these mirrors to servers outside the United States. One such site, owned and operated by Tux Winkler, contains hundreds of pages of the BrainiacWiki, which now represents over 80% of the total content on his web server. Winkler freely admits that he is hosting the materials, yet denies wrongdoing.
On behalf of the the League, Kalel Venkman ordered DMCA takedowns of illegally posted materials on the Herald itself. The materials were restored when the poster, “Pixeleen Mistral”, filed a response under the DMCA claiming that the identification was inaccurate. No actual legal claim of ownership of the material or challenge to the League’s copyright was ever made, though the Herald provided information and instruction to its readership on how to pirate and distribute the stolen materials.
The theft and pirating of the BrainiacWiki exposed the activities of literally dozens of griefer groups within Second Life, resulting in a sharp drop in griefing on the grid over the past three months according to aggregate abuse report information available on GridSurvey.com.
The Plan Backfires
The articles posted in the Alphaville Herald about the break-in may have attracted the attention of Linden Research, Inc. Inside sources at that company say that their legal department had Mr. Ludlow abandon the continued commercial use of the “secondlifeherald.com” domain name or face possible litigation. The Herald had been using the term “Second Life” in its domain name for some seven years without obtaining a license from Linden Research for the use of its trademark, yet taking advertising dollars and building its business on it. Ludlow’s response to the Linden Lab demand was to move his blog to its new domain name and abandon the TypePad service, with whom he was already having business issues over the DMCA violations, but the old domain name is still in use as a redirect. In the same move, Ludlow also chose a new hosting service in located in Canada, out of immediate reach of United States copyright law.
The smear campaign claims that the Woodbury University group in Second Life is being given unwarranted negative attention, but it has a long documented history of unsavory, sometimes illegal, activity.The steady tirade of smear articles in the Herald blog site also gained the attention of the real life Woodbury University, who may have found the infamous SLChan.com web site via posted comments, and reported the discovery of the site to Linden Lab’s legal department. The result was a very fast forced shutdown of the site, owned and operated by Jordan Bellino, (a.k.a. “Tizzers Foxchase”, ”Tizzy Teardop”, “Joanna Falmer” and others) due to frequent racist and obscene content and the misuse and abuse of the real Woodbury University’s trademarks.
In June of 2007, a team made up of both of Justice League members and Linden administrators found a large number of known grid raiders on the region during an investigation of a location on that sim known as “The Shrine”, where they discovered griefer toolkits called “Phoenix Down” boxes provided for use by the newly created alts of previously banned raiders.
The Woodbury University group in Second Life was stripped of its official academic status by Linden Lab and banned by Linden Lab in July of 2007 when Linden grid administrators destroyed the “Woodbury University” region for being a major hub of grid raiding activity. Prior warnings had been issued to Bellino that his activities were in violation of his usage agreement, but he chose to ignore these. Though Bellino publically denies it, members of the griefing group known as the Patriotic Nigras have identified Bellino as having been a member of that raiding group, providing the original Woodbury University sim as a staging area for their use within Second Life.
Sources inside the Woodbury University group itself state that Bellino had been planning to purchase eight new sims and create a cluster of regions to be sublet to schools and universities. The participation of both the Woodbury University group in general and Bellino in specific in the organized theft of the wiki may be doing little to add to their chances of success – in the meantime, Bellino appears to have hedged his bets by the acquisition of three new regions in addition to the original Soviet Woodbury: Estonia, Animation, and Fetid Inner Sandbox.
Except for Fetid Inner Sandbox, purportedly a homestead sim, the other acquired sims were existing regions. This suggests that Bellino’s funds are so limited that purchase of new sims was not possible. If the plan to have the Woodbury University group reinstated as an academic representative group in Second Life had gone through as planned, the 50% discount that would have afforded would have made scrounging for other people’s used sims unnecessary. If Bellino thought the deal might go through, he would not have committed his limited resources. Krypton Radio theorizes that the deal may have fallen through, and that Bellino is near or beyond the limits of his operating budget. Further, according to sources inside the Woodbury University group, two of its members are suspected to be employees of Linden Lab, allegedly embedded in the group as watchdogs to try to keep Woodbury University as much under control as possible.
Copyright Claims Debunked
The smear campaign appears primarily composed of a very small but very vocal group of Woodbury members and their friends. In articles and blog postings appearing on the Herald and other places, posters used multiple anonymous accounts to create the impression of a public outcry and played on, and intentionally reinforced, misconceptions about copyright law and how it applies to the BrainiacWiki and its contents.
United States copyright law allows anyone to describe and comment on content copyrighted by others, especially in the case of private, unpublished works of research – a phrase which neatly describes the BrainiacWiki itself. In fact, the Second Life Terms of Service specifically allow this, and one cannot use the service without agreeing to this. Further, users of Second Life access the grid on the condition that they know that information like this is liable to be collected by automated scripted systems all over the grid and stored in off-world servers, with the blessing of Linden Lab itself.
Posters in the Alphaville Herald implied that because the copyright registration could not be found in the United States Library of Congress’ copyright search engine that there was no copyright. This is also false. A copyright need not appear in that online service in order to be valid. The Herald’s claim that the DMCA takedowns were somehow invalid or illegal are therefore also false.
The smear campaign centered around the BrainiacWiki focused on the reinforcement of misconceptions, hoping that the public would read the accusations without looking any further, simply accepting innuendo, lies and half-truths as fact.
“Storing chatlogs on your own server outside of SL is a violation of the Second Life Terms of Service, as a form of Disclosure.”
This is false, for two reasons: first, servers outside of Second Life are not governed by the Terms of Service, which relates solely to servers owned and operated by Linden Research, Inc. Second, the Terms of Service themselves say clearly that anything you do or create that can be observed by another user of Second Life can be incorporated into a derivative work. This has been verified in direct, detailed and explicit language by Socrates Linden.
“Creative Commons licensed software was used to create the Bwiki, so the entire contents are free to copy.”
This is false. Creating a written work on copyrighted software does not assign the copyright to the creators of the software – if it did, most of the world’s documents would be owned by Microsoft or WordPerfect Corporation.
“There’s a page in it that describes the GNU Public License, so the entire work is open source.”
This is false. The reference to the GPL is a page describing it, not the copyright statement for the work. Simply describing the GPL in a book does not make the entire book open source, and neither does it make the BrainiacWiki open source.
“Everything in the wiki is copyrighted by somebody else.”
This too is false. Most of what appears in the pages of the BrainiacWiki comes from what we have observed in Second Life. By logging into the service, you automatically grant a User Content License to all other users of the service such that they can incorporate anything you do, display or say as part of a larger aggregate work – and you also agree that this cannot be individually redefined on a per-person basis. The greatest portion of the BrainicWiki’s content by far is original writing about what we think about what we have observed, not simply a raw record. There is no possible interpretation of copyright law in which original work cannot be protected, and the rest is completely covered by the Second Life User Content License .
Justice League Myths Debunked
“Information tracked by the League is a violation of privacy.”
This is false, as the Terms of Service only guarantee privacy with respect to your personal identity, not what your avatar is observed by others to be doing or saying. Second Life is a commercial venue, and you have the same right to privacy you would have attending a concert or visiting a museum. While it’s true that the League researched certain individuals, these individuals were already doing far worse to others, including filing false police reports resulting in SWAT team attacks on people’s real life homes and hunting down people and appearing on their doorsteps in real life, some of whom were in the League itself. Real life law enforcement authorities request all possible information related to these events for their investigations. Had these individuals not been engaged in these activities, there would have been no requests from authorities in real life to provide whatever information we could, and no incentive for gathering it.
“The Justice League exposed the personal information of innocents to public display.”
This is false. None of the information in the BrainiacWiki was the first publication on the internet of that information, and had it not been stolen it would not have been published at all. The small amounts of real world information on the BrainiacWiki (comprising less than one quarter of one percent of the material) is derived only from publicly accessible web sites and other public sources of information, and so contains no violations of privacy. While personal information from the BrainiacWiki has been made public, this was done by the thieves, not the Justice League. Ironically, it was Robbie Rubble, Tizzers Foxchase and their friend who did the most damage by publishing the documentation on their own friends, as well as themselves – and doing so in a viral manner they could not control. The smear campaign deftly sidesteps the fact that it was they themselves who did the damage by releasing it.
There is a misconception that the League keeps its secrets for the same reasons the griefer gangs do: griefer gangs keep their secrets because they’re doing something they know will attract negative consequences if they’re caught at it. The League keeps its secrets not to protect itself, but to keep information out of the hands of people who would use it for ill.
“The League patrols where it pleases, uninvited.”
False. This is misdirection typical of the smear campaign. It is true that we enter publicly accessible areas without invitation – but this can also be said of nearly every citizen of Second Life. The grid could not function at all if this were not the case. We do have an invitation – the same invitation to be in public areas in Second Life that everyone else does. Privately owned regions always provide their own security measures, and while the League does hold seminars to instruct estate managers on how to do this, our assistance is otherwise unneeded by these estates.
“The League files false abuse reports against people to get them banned.”
False. In fact, this one is ludicrous to contemplate. Were it actually possible to file false abuse reports and get away with it, the League itself would have been picked off by false abuse reports from angry griefers years ago.
“The League is no longer effective or is permanently damaged because of this event.”
False. Abuse reports filed by the League are precisely as effective as they were before the leak, and griefing has fallen dramatically in the past three months since the leak due at least in part to the exposure of information on several griefing groups. Justice League Unlimited remains one of the most trusted citizen-based helper groups in Second Life and new event organizers still call on the League for security, education and consultation – and more than this, the public has voted with its feet, by flocking to us in huge numbers. Our web site gets hundreds of thousands of hits a month, and our radio station has thousands of listeners, and these numbers are increasing sharply month by month. We are intensely popular, more so now than ever, and we have the traffic numbers to prove it.
“The Justice League enjoys special treatment from the Lindens.”
This is partially true, but that “special treatment” is merely their trust. Over the past five years, we have earned the respect and good will of Linden Lab by being honest, forthright and cooperative when they needed help, and by strict adherence to the rules they’ve set forth for all of us. We don’t go on vendettas, though we are unwaveringly persistent, and as painstakingly accurate as we can be. We do converse with them when they feel like talking, which is not especially often – and little has changed on that front since 2006. Some Lindens have been our friends, it’s true – but we have never received any special powers on the grid. If we have received any special treatment from the Lindens, it would be their hard-won trust. Other than this, we have exactly the same tools at our disposal that every other citizen has. We get better results purely on the basis of being more organized about it than your average citizen, and by following instructions from Lindens on how to file abuse reports to the letter - and of course, by working as a team.
“The League has violated the privacy of thousands of individuals.”
This is false. The League does have a database in which we keep notes on the activities of avatars in Second Life, it’s true. However, in 99.75% of the cases, the only record on a Second Life resident is their SL name and their avatar key – both public information. Not even the date and location of our encounters is recorded – just the name and key. This is identical to the information stored in “name to key” databases used for years in Second Life before the League was ever founded. No private information of any kind is stored in the Brainiac database. No credit cards, no real life identities, no street or IP addresses – in fact, not the smallest item of personally identifiable information is kept in the Brainiac database.
The BrainiacWiki does contain detailed information on about half a dozen people. In all cases, these are people who have made the first move in some sort of aggression against members of the League, endangering our homes, friends or families in real life, or by breaking some law which has directly affected someone we know. One cannot offer information to real life law enforcement at their request if one has not first assembled it – and again, all our information was previously published on other public sources. We do not have thousands of records of personal information on anyone, and we certainly have no private information whatsoever.
An addendum – there is public commentary from various unqualified sources which claim that the content of the BrainiacWiki was somehow either illegally obtained or illegally retained, or that somehow the information kept in it was against the law. The time worn phrase “nothing could be further from the truth” describes these comments well.
In particular, so-called “researchers” or members of academia claim this. When you see something like this, consider the source, and give these person’s other writings a closer read. You almost invariably find that they have a topsy turvy view of the world, believing that griefers are the real heroes, that breaking into computer systems and violating federal laws prohibiting this is somehow not only justified but is heroic in some way.
We are aware of a coterie of professors at four different universities whose life work is “studying” griefers, particularly in Second Life, by supporting them and providing them with a nurturing environment so that their activities may flourish. The claim is that they are studying the phenomenon called “hacktivism”, but the truth is that they’re fostering the activity themselves so that they’ll have something to write about.
There are several ways to describe this, but some of the important ways are “misrepresentation of the facts“, “professional fraud“, and “bad science“. They work with no control group, and not only interfere directly in what they claim to be studying (thus discarding any pretense of impartial observation), but actually encourage destructive and self-destructive behavior on the part of the griefers simply to give them something to write papers about and further their own careers. They seek to cast themselves in the same mold as the Frankfurt School of philosophical research, and one of the key professors involved in this sham is indeed a professor of philosophy, presumably attempting to cement his place in history by way of direct manipulation, rather than simple study, of griefers and their activities. At least two of these griefers may actually have died as an indirect result of the encouragement they received from these academians to make poor or self-destructive life choices.
The professors and researchers in question are notably prejudicial toward the group they are studying, and by promoting their activities, providing safe havens for them on the internet and glorifying them, they are exhibiting their professional and ethical irresponsibility and positioning themselves as central to the problem. They are artificially distorting the value systems and ethics of the very group they claim to be studying, to disastrous effect.
Second Life and its citizens are unwitting and/or unwilling subjects of their experimentation. The entire griefer community has been artificially empowered to many times its normal potential, simply so that these misguided academians can observe what happens. This is no more scientific observation and study than focusing a sunbeam through a magnifying glass on an ant hill.
These disgraceful examples of educators have a lot to lose if people figure out that their work is built almost entirely on a foundation of quicksand. Claims that we have somehow done something illegal by attempting to protect ourselves from griefers who take things too far and visit threats upon our families in real life are little more than an attempt to discredit us. They know we understand what’s really been going on all this time, what their methods are, what their motivations are, and what they stand to gain if they can just make The Big Lie stick. Since they can’t counter the truth itself, all that’s left to them is a sustained ad hominem attack, and that’s precisely what they’ve been doing. If you can’t defeat the message, kill the messenger.
Unfortunately being in academia gives one automatic respectability, whether or not it has been earned or justified. This is certainly not the first time science has been twisted for personal gain, and it probably won’t be the last – but the next time you read something about how wonderful sociopaths are, consider the source, and consider what personal interest they may have in forwarding that idea.
About the Justice League Unlimited:
The Justice League Unlimited (JLU) in Second Life in (SL) is a public service organization who pattern their avatars after classic comic book heroes. While JLU members may model their avatars after these fictional personas, the JLU is not a super-hero role-playing group. The mission of the JLU is to provide mentoring and render aid to SL residents in need, primarily new residents, in such areas as building, scripting and security. The JLU often acts as a neighborhood watch organization, patrolling heavily trafficked public areas that are prone to abuse by griefers. We also hold seminars and conventions on public safety, and help estate managers learn effective techniques for keeping their own lands safe.