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Second Life Sued. Again. You Should Pay Attention This Time.

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against Linden Lab, Second Life developers, for essentially having poor customer service.

Specifically, two of the most well-known merchants within SL, Munchflower Zaius (Shannon Grei), who runs a boutique (pics within NSFW) that sells gothic-oriented skins and clothing, and Stroker Serpentine (Kevin Alderman), who sells, um, a lot of sex toys, complain that Linden Lab’s procedures for protecting merchants within SL against theft are failures, and it results in lost business. Which becomes srs bizness when you realize that Alderman has sold over $1 million worth of cybersex animations. Alderman’s view on the subject (as quoted by Massively):

stroker.jpg

When public service announcements and nudity both fail, bring in the lawyers

Our intent is not to take down Second Life, nor create a division amongst the community. It is apparent to many of us that our concerns have gone largely ignored. Copybot, Builderbot, CryoLife [content theft exploits] et al are but symptoms of an ambivalent approach towards IP theft on behalf of Linden Lab. For years we have been promised better tools, more metadata, sticky licenses, aggressive response, verification, watermarks … ad nauseum. Seven years later and all we are given is a ‘Roadmap’.

The pirates know full well how to hedge their bets and leverage the DMCA in their favor. We are virtually defenseless unless we have the financial means to pursue expensive litigation. We do not expect miracles. We understand the nature of our chosen environment. Unfortunately, there is little to no deterrence under the current regime.

The wording here is important, since this lawsuit is essentially a political act. Alderman and Grei, both well-known community leaders within SL, have said, in the most direct way possible, that the community they are a part of is run so badly, legal redress is needed. Alderman even refers to the “regime”, as if the current governance of Linden Lab is something that is temporary and replaceable.

Like many lawsuits involving MMOs, this essentially says “You didn’t pay attention to us. PAY ATTENTION NOW.” In this case, the real problem is that Linden Lab is essentially being targeted for not investing enough on a police force and effective governance. This traditionally is not something that MMOs worry about, save at the last minute and with the least expense. Yet in such an environment, content creators, feeling million-dollar markets at risk, are threatened that they will be put out of business by exploits they have no power to combat. Alderman in particular has been aggressive about responding to these via the legal system (Grei joining him in the second suit), and this suit is the ultimate expression of that. There is also the not insignificant matter of Linden Lab profiting from Grei and Alderman’s work directly, through server rentals and commissions on advertising and direct sales – while also profiting from pirates who then turn around and resell their work through the same tools that Grei and Alderman use. So from a simple customer service standpoint, the solution would seem obvious – spend more money on customer service dedicated to copyright theft (which will be a thankless task) and develop tools that automate already extant procedures to address theft complaints. Simple, though painful since both will involve investment in profit sinks, not profit centers (thusly, refer back to MMOs worrying about this at the last minute and the least expense).

Yet there is another problem, and that is the political, not merely the technological. Alderman and Grei, by insisting that Linden Lab benefited from theft of their work and should be held accountable, are denying Linden Lab’s status as a neutral host of content. Given Second Life’s status as the most freewheeling, open and libertarian virtual world, that seems a dangerous assertion to press. Holding Linden Lab legally responsible for all the various misdeeds of its denizens means that Linden Lab, if sane, will promptly cut back its liability as quickly as possible.

Which, not to put a fine a point on things, will mean that there will no longer be a $1 million market for cybersex animations.