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Knockoffs roil Second Life

November 15, 2006

The commercialization of Second Life has hit a speed bump. A new software program, called CopyBot, allows residents of the virtual world to make exact copies of other residents' creations. The knockoffs threaten the livelihoods of the many entrepreneurs, as well as big companies, that have set up shop selling clothes, trinkets, and other goods in the popular fairy land. As an irate Caliandras Pendragon writes at Second Life Insider, "Those people who are living the dream that is promoted in every article, of earning a RL [real life] income from SL creations, are now living a nightmare in which their source of income may soon be worthless. That's not to speak of big commercial companies who have paid anything up to 1,000,000 dollars to have their product reproduced in loving detail, who will discover that every Tom, Dick or Harriet may rip off their creation for nothing - and then sell it as their own ... If someone wanted to destroy the economy of SL I don't think they could have found a better way."

The furor took an ugly turn late last night when, according to the Second Life Herald, a "seething mob" surrounded a CopyBot operation run by Second Life resident GeForce Go. The mob shouted that Go was "ruining their Second Life." Fearing for her safety, Go closed down her shop and sold her land. In a subsequent "tumultous meeting with dozens of angry and fearful residents all talking at once," Second Life official Robin Linden "sought to allay fears of any further concern about mass copyright violations."

Now officially banned by Linden Lab, the company that operates Second Life, CopyBot was, according to reporter Adam Reuters of Reuters' Second Life bureau, "originally created by libsecondlife, a Linden Lab-supported open source project to reverse engineer the Second Life software ... Amid increasing criticism, the group moved to pull the Copybot source code, but on Monday evening Copybot was put up for sale on the online marketplace SLExchange, raising the prospect that it could become widespread." The resident who is selling the bot, Prim Revolution, demonstrated the machine's ability by making a precise clone of Adam Reuters himself. Revolution defended the use of CopyBot, saying, "I think the idea of clones and bots is very cool, and I’ll be adding more new features for things like automated go-go dancers at clubs.”

Second Life watcher Kevin Lim, of the University of Buffalo's School of Informatics, compares CopyBot to the revolutionary Replicator in Star Trek, which "can create any inanimate matter, as long as the desired molecular structure is on file, but it cannot create antimatter, dilithium, or a living organism of any kind." Lim notes that "after such a machine was invented, currency as we knew it ceased to function. Since everyone had the capability to create (replicate) anything they desire, capitalism as we knew it died, and the new dawn of perfect Marxian philosophy was adopted by the Federation."

The CopyBot controversy seems to herald a deeper crisis in Second Life, a struggle over the identity, the very essence, of the virtual land. Will it remain a freewheeling utopian community operating by its own rules, or will it follow the pattern of the web itself and become an essentially commercial operation, a virtual shopping mall filled with advertisements and staged PR events? Is CopyBot a ripoff machine that threatens to destroy Second Life, or is it a sharing machine that would save the community's soul?



"An irate Caliandras Pendragon writes", indeed...

I've been wondering for a while what differentiates SL from earlier free-floating screen-based collective fantasylands (I tried out one called Worlds Away about ten years ago). The basic setup seems similar, not to say identical: online community-building (lots of chat, bitching, rule-making, rule-breaking, bounds-beating, bitching and chat) with the added layer of fantasy from having people's simulacra which interact with other people's simulacra. I've come to the conclusion that the big differentiator is money: SL stuff can be bought and sold - I mean, like, really bought and really sold - so it's got to be real, in a kind of a way, hasn't it? Except, of course, that SL stuff is all ones and zeroes...

Posted by: Phil [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2006 10:22 AM

What's the big deal? Can't these losers just monetize this stuff through Google AdSense? Besides, they still have their Creative Commons licenses, right?

Posted by: Hazel Motes [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2006 10:41 AM

"Fearing for her safety, Go closed down her shop and sold her land."

I guess I haven't being keeping up on the nuances of life in Sadville, but how, exactly, is her "safety" threatened?

Posted by: David Hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2006 11:04 AM

how, exactly, is her "safety" threatened?

Beats me, but I don't know what dilithium is, either.

Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2006 11:15 AM

This is a really interesting story, a comment on how quickly our culture and our economy is changing, and how those changes are going to be both hard to predict and impossible to control.

I guess know we know who owns the infrastructure, and it isn't Linden Labs. I would bet that the entire organization has been thrown for a loop by this one. At this critical juncture I would have to caution that the best action is inaction. The best results will come if the community and its unique culture can resolve things.

On an ironic note, I wonder how many of the people in those mobs have iPods with illicitly downloaded MP3's on them ....


Posted by: Morgan Goeller [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2006 01:42 PM

What differentiates Second Life? Really good marketing. And publicity. But I've lost sight of the difference.

Posted by: Michael Chui [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2006 06:40 PM

As silly as I think Second Life is, this overall question is indeed interesting.

Posted by: Chris_B [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2006 10:17 PM

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