In mid-August, and with little fanfare, Linden Lab rewrote the Terms of Service for Second Life, their popular online multiplayer 3D environment. The new Terms of Service agreement, which users must assent to before being allowed to log onto the service, was rewritten to strip ownership rights away from content creators completely. Under the new agreement, Linden Lab now claims the right to do literally anything it wants to with uploaded content, ““… for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula or medium now known or hereafter developed.” And that includes, without limit or conpensation, the right to “sell, re-sell, sublicense, modify, display…” and “…make derivative works of.”
Second Life public relations officer Peter Gray sent a statement to both Living in a Modern World and New World Notes saying that people shouldn’t read the new terms as a content grab. “Linden Lab respects the proprietary rights of Second Life’s content creators,” he said. ”We regret that our intention in revising our Terms of Service to streamline our business may have been misconstrued by some as an attempt to appropriate Second Life residents’ original content.” Despite this refutation, the Terms of Service haven’t changed to reflect that clarification. The phrase “streamline our business” is meant to sound like a good thing, but no explanation as to precisely what that means in customer terms was offered.
Discussions in the larger chat groups within the Second Life indicate a user base that is profoundly unhappy with this state of affairs. There are three main camps:
- Some believe that the ToS is unenforceable anyway, because the user base is from all over the world and many countries have laws which void some or all of the Linden Lab Terms of Service.
- Some believe that if the ToS is, in fact, enforceable (and most do), the chances are as good as even that Linden Lab legal simply wrote something without bothering to consider what affect it would have on the content creators whose man-centuries of creative work define the content on Second Life.
- Some believe that the ToS was written with intent, and that it simply signifies that Linden Lab doesn’t give two shakes what its own users think, and is trying to make the content legally accessible to whomever might buy Second Life if they do indeed spin it off. This idea is supported in a small way by Linden Lab’s apparent concentration on Patterns, a game which some perceive as a “me too” attempt to replicate the success of Minecraft. Diverting essential resources from Second Life to the Patterns development team may have left Second Life under-maintained and under-managed, which in turn may be a sign that Linden Lab really isn’t interested in the long term health of its popular MMO beyond simply keeping it running well enough to eventually unload it and cash out.
As published on September 30, 2013, a survey conducted and published by ToyTalks.Weebly.com discovered that at that point in time, 54% of content creators were so concerned about the change in the ToS that they have completely suspended uploading content until the ToS changes. Of these 11% responded simply that they were done with Second Life and Linden Lab’s capricious behavior and were simply shutting down their SL businesses completely. A staggering 79% that they believe there will be negative long-term impact on Second Life due to this change. Of those, 32% thought that Second Life might die as a result because it could “cut new content creation to dangerous levels.”
Third party content sites share their concerns. Renderosity, a popular 3D content marketplace, has issued a statement saying that Renderosity products can not be used in Second Life for any reason. Since Renderosity license terms are not transferable, and Linden Lab now effectively requires their content uploaders to transfer their rights to Linden Lab without compensation, the Renderosity license and the Second Life terms of service are now unworkably incompatible.
— Tyche Shepherd (@tycheshepherd) October 13, 2013
Similarly, CG Textures, a popular free textures site, also issued a statement in response to the new terms. “As soon as you upload any content to Second Life you give Linden Lab unlimited and irrevocable rights to do whatever they want with your work,” the company said. “The previous Second Life TOS was appropriate and reasonable: when you uploaded your work, you gave Linden Lab rights to use it in Second Life and not much more. With their latest TOS update they go way beyond what is reasonable.” As of September 6, users are no longer allowed to upload textures or meshes or other content created with CG Textures images to Second Life. Existing materials may be left up, but the reason has more to do with practicality than anything else. It’s impossible to remove them. Once uploaded, the materials can be sold as digital goods and distributed widely within SL, making them impossible for content creators to track and retrieve. Further, only the owners of the intellectual property can file DMCA takedown notices. Content uploaders have no say in the matter if they were not the creator of a given asset, and cannot remove materials from the Second Life asset servers they upload themselves in any case.
The company said it contacted Linden Lab about the problem, but Linden Lab responded with the same “talk to the hand” approach they offer their own users. “We received only nameless, canned replies on how we could get a texture removed if we did not agree with it’s use,” CG Textures said. “Apparently they don’t care about this problem, so we don’t see how we can come to a solution.”
The web site GridSurvey.com bears witness to the slow yet relentless collapse of the Second Life platform. From a high of almost 26,000 in June of 2010, private ownership of regions within Second Life has dropped to just 19582, the lowest number since June of 2008. Except for a brief, small uptick in November of 2011, privately held sims have been evaporating steadily since 2010, a date widely identified as the enactment of the widely unpopular Homestead versus “Void Sim” bait and switch pricing policy enacted by Linden Lab.
No one at Linden Lab could be reached for comment.
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