Virtual world IP: not a steal

post-like-a-pirate1 Virtual environments and the public Internet sport a bewildering array of economies, from purely fantasy economies to real money trading between users. Fundamentally, many of these are currency-based economies which we all understand – you purchase something you value and give something of value in exchange. That is, you buy something you want with some manner of currency.

People generally have a whole lot more trouble with various license agreements, such as the GNU Licenses , or the Creative Commons licenses. Infringements of these licenses are common, and when challenged the infringers are often rather baffled. Either they do not understand that the content can be misused, or they do not understand why the ‘license nazis’ seem so put out.

Let’s break it down.

None of these licenses is technically ‘free’. Yes, they involve the use of content for no monetary cost, but that isn’t the same thing. There are multiple definitions of the word ‘free’ and if you apply the wrong ones, at best you’ll be confused, and at worst you’ll end up looking like an ass. So, these licenses are ‘free’ as in ‘no monetary cost’, but they are not ‘free’ as in ‘given freely for no exchange in value’.

These licenses are your basic, free-market, capitalistic contract. The owner of the property has something of value (the exercise of certain rights with respect to that content) and their release of some of those rights under a license makes that value available in exchange for something of value to them (your compliance with the terms of the license).

You both get something you want out of it, in short. That’s basic capitalism at work. Money need not be a component of the exchange, demagoguery notwithstanding. However, this is the fundamental principle that a lot of people miss, because they mistake the various different definitions of ‘free’.

If you take the content and use it in ways that don’t comply with the license terms, it is essentially the same as refusing to pay. That is why people get steamed about it. The rights to use the content in certain ways is given to you based solely on your agreement to comply. No money is changing hands, but ongoing compliance to the terms of the license constitute the payment for the usage.

Vint Falken was surprised to find that a texture that she made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derives license was being sold by a number of merchants in IMVU, some of whom claimed it as their own original work. Some of those merchants were even more surprised that she had any rights to her work at all.

KirstenLee Cinquetti quit providing her Second Life viewer binaries when pressed to comply with all the terms of the licenses that she was required to uphold in order to retain her permission to distribute viewer binaries. Some licenses require more compliance effort than others.

If you were handing over currency to obtain the necessary rights, that would be one thing. However, the purchase you are making is paid for with ongoing compliance to the terms. Quite often, you can simply arrange some alternative licensing or purchase scheme with the rights-holder. If you don’t, however, these licenses aren’t as simple as clicking ‘Yes, I agree’ somewhere and forgetting that you ever saw it. They’re contracts that require you to uphold your part of the bargain or lose what you gained.

Trying to evade or cheat the obligations under which content was granted to you wins you no friends either. As Bruce Perens points out:

don’t look for, and use loopholes in the Open Source licenses. Nothing makes your company look worse than taking unfair advantage of people who provided their work to you without charge, expecting in good faith that you’d honor their license.

Why? Because you took value from someone without the intention of paying the asking price. And that upsets everyone.

It really is as simple as that.

Comments

  1. Amazing how Google, which has an entire catalogue of non paid for 3d IP- the Wherehouse;)- is still the “bestus” company in the world according to the online bloggers. And let's not even start with YouTube IP violations.

    Have you all yet seen the obvious that almost all of web2.0 was based on stolen,non licensed IP being used to sell adwords via Google and make a small group of VC backed theives rich on others work.

  2. Very succinctly and fairly said, as one would expect from Tateru.

  3. Amazing how Google, which has an entire catalogue of non paid for 3d IP- the Wherehouse;)- is still the “bestus” company in the world according to the online bloggers. And let's not even start with YouTube IP violations.

    Have you all yet seen the obvious that almost all of web2.0 was based on stolen,non licensed IP being used to sell adwords via Google and make a small group of VC backed theives rich on others work.

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