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About a month ago, There.com quietly made a policy change that gave users some serious tools to enforce in-world copyright infringement. More Than Words, a site that follows There.com, There Shirtreported that the policy “has some teeth,” and indeed, it does. Three strikes and you are not only banned from There.com, so are all of your other avatars, any associated credit cards, and the hardware used to access the service.

Notably, this policy is specifically designed to protect resident designers from having their work stolen by other users, what There.com calls “peer-to-peer texture theft,” and what is alleged to have triggered a recent lawsuit between Second Life users. Larger corporations that discover trademark abuse and copyright infringement in There.com can presumably use this service too, but There.com’s submission process for user-created content filters out most infringement of big corporations’ intellectual property already.

Here is a link to There.com’s official policy, and here is management’s straightforward justification:

Unauthorized asset use, more commonly known as “texture theft,” is a form of copyright infringement. It is when a Developer takes a texture or model file created by There or another Member Developer and incorporates it, in whole or in part, into his/her submission without having authorization from the copyright owner.

The message here is that There.com is straightforward about actively helping protect users’ intellectual property. Content developers are encouraged to alert There.com management of potential infringement, and management says that it actively investigates every claim. Even a first offense, if an “extreme case,” can result in the banning of all avatars and credit cards associated with the account. There.com has also put in place a policy to prevent time-wasting witch hunts and associated drama: after two warnings, management simply ignores further alerts from trigger-happy developers.

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8 Responses to “There.com Changes “Texture Theft” Rules, Actively Protects Users’ In-World Intellectual Property”

  1. on 13 Aug 2007 at 5:21 pmcsven

    Considering the filtering process already in place, I wonder why it took so long.

  2. on 13 Aug 2007 at 9:02 pmMathieu Basiat

    yes, and here is the equivalent Sl response…

    https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-1919

  3. on 14 Aug 2007 at 1:04 pmNobody Fugazi

    The trouble is enforcement. The net is full of similar images morphed… at what point does an alteration become a copyright violation?

    Would that it were all so simple…

  4. on 15 Aug 2007 at 8:19 amPablo Andalso

    Re: Nobody Fugazi:

    Actually, it is quite so simple… The vast, vast majority of derivative works in Second Life are, indeed, copyright violations, but they remain unchallenged for the most part because the copyright owners have not seen fit to file complaints under the DMCA. Forgive my rambling, but I’ll try to explain…

    First, I’ve been on deviantART a lot longer than I’ve been in Second Life, so the following policy on appropriation is my starting point:

    It is considered acceptable for artists to reuse or reference ideas, scenes, poses, etc which may be found in the works of other artists. It is considered proper etiquette to cite the original artist of the inspiring work and give them credit for being the reference, especially if numerous details have been copied or otherwise borrowed.

    Such referenced or inspired works must have been created completely through the efforts of the artist in question and must not directly contain any portions of the referenced work, should not show any evidence of being directly traced, re-colored, or ‘painted-over’ and should not reproduce the original in exacting detail.

    Essentially, it is conventional for an “idea” to fall under fair use, while the specific pixels of an image, even if transformed or drawn over, cannot be republished without permission.

    Another way of looking at derivation is seen in Rogers v. Koons:

    [T]he trial court found original elements of creative expression in the copyrighted work were copied and that the copying was so blatantly apparent as not to require a trial. We agree that no reasonable juror could find that copying did not occur in this case. First, this case presents the rare scenario where there is direct evidence of copying. Koons admittedly gave a copy of the photograph to the Italian artisans with the explicit instruction that the work be copied. Moreover, the importance of copying the very details of the photograph that embodied plaintiff’s original contribution -the poses, the shading, the expressions- was stressed by Koons throughout the creation of the sculpture. His instructions invariably implored that the creation must be designed “as per photo.” This undisputed direct evidence of copying is sufficient to support the district court’s granting of summary judgment.

    If a piece is a clear enough representation of another piece, it is considered to have “appropriated” parts of the other piece. Whether or not that act of appropriation falls under fair use is up to question. For example, if you were to set up an easel and paint a picture of, specifically, the Eiffel Tower at night, it would fall under fair use if it were a scene incorporating the building, but not if it were merely a picture of the building.

    An in-world example would be prim reproductions of real-life furniture. If an architect were to place virtual copies of a piece of furniture in a building while maintaining that the building itself is the product, the furniture would fall under fair use. Indeed, many furniture manufacturers distribute royalty-free CAD symbols for precisely this purpose. If, however, someone were to create prim replicas of real-life designs, then sell them on a piece-by-piece basis, they would arguably be infringing on a copyright, unless the design were already in the public domain.

    Finally, the key difference in both of these situations is “originality,” as expounded in Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., which I’m a bit too tired to go into…

    To summarize, an unauthorized “new” version copyrighted work can infringe on that copyright when (a) it literally incorporates parts of the work (though there are exceptions) and/or (b) it incorporates the earlier work with the intent of representing it alone, per se, rather than using it as part of an original composition (though such may still be fair use as a “reference” in certain situations). In short, a change of medium does not rule out copyright infringement. Currently, uploading to Second Life constitutes “publication” (rather than “personal use”), so fair use in Second Life falls under existing precedent.

  5. on 15 Aug 2007 at 2:24 pmAshcroft Burnham

    Pablo: I’m not sure that I understand the specific point about the Eiffel tower: the Eiffel tower is a large, three-dimensional monument. A painting of the Eiffel tower is a small, two-dimensional picture. It is not a “copy” of the Eiffel tower any more than a photograph of you is your clone. How could a picture of an object meaningfully be said to violate the right of a creator of that object that it not be copied, when a picture of something is conceptually vastly distinct from a copy of it (except in the rare cases where the thing being copied is itself a picture or a drawing)?

  6. on 28 Aug 2007 at 2:06 amannoyed

    If you going to quote and link from a site that your basing your article on at least you could get your facts straight and post the real name of the site.

  7. on 28 Aug 2007 at 7:53 amBenjamin Duranske

    @6 – Sorry about that. The site’s full name is “More Than Words – The Voice Of There.” I thought it was a title/subtitle thing (like “Virtually Blind – Virtual Law, The Law the Impacts Virtual Worlds”) so I just used the first part, but I guess the site goes by the full name. My bad.

    Here’s another link to the site:

    http://www.therevoice.com/

    It’s currently my top source for what’s going on at There.com and I encourage readers interested in that virtual world to check it out.

  8. on 30 Oct 2007 at 11:16 amGlitter

    People still play there? I can’t imagine there are more than about 3 dozen users. It can’t be hard to monitor their uploads, especially since everything requires approval for upload anyhow. This policy change sounds like it’s mostly lip-service and a marketing ploy to pretend they’re like SecondLife. I’m a little surprised that everyone doesn’t know that it’s similarly easy to steal textures (and often object models too) from any shared online world. SecondLife, There, CoH, and WoW included. SecondLife seems to get the most bad press for it but probably because it’s too open-ended. If there’s one thing people really hate it’s having to invent their own ways to have fun. SecondLife is a beach. Some kids build really neat sandcastles but most of the people are there for the hardbodies, and there’s always the teen-boys who think kicking sand-castles is cool.

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