A Second Life success story: NCI

It has been in Second Life for four years (having just celebrated its fourth anniversary), has over 150 staff, costs about US$13,000 each year to operate, holds 46,592 square metres of Second Life land (and rents quite a bit more), and is among the virtual environment’s most well-trafficked organizations.

It isn’t one of those corporate sites you read about, though. It’s a non-profit group, with little existence outside of Second Life. It’s NCI, a volunteer organisation that ranks among the most successful groups in Linden Lab’s virtual world.


NCI’s basic mission is to assist and support newcomers to Second Life. Originally founded by Brace Coral in April 2005, Coral named the organisation New Citizens Incorporated (though the ‘incorporated’ part was merely in jest), and founded it on the principle that everyone in Second Life was able to contribute to the orientation and support of new users. Even those with only a few days of experience would have answers and information that newer users lacked.

Originally a self-help facility with social events and a building sandbox, the scope of NCI was already expanding by the time Carl Metropolitan took over as executive director in a popular vote in September 2005, when Brace Coral scaled back her Second Life activities.

With Metropolitan at the helm of the organization, NCI expanded significantly both in land and personnel, offering large numbers of classes and events, funded by advertising and donations, and standalone ‘aid stations’ called Infonodes scattered all over Second Life near areas where new users are likely to be found. NCI’s financial picture isn’t always a rosy one, however.

Advertising and donations don’t quite meet the operational bills each year, usually falling about US$1,500 short, which necessitates periodic fundraising activities to make up the shortfall, often in the form of charity auctions. NCI’s charity fundraisers are supported by quite a number of Second Life creators, as well as some corporations, such as Microsoft who donated software to the last big fundraising auction.

In an environment where users only have a limited number of group memberships available, NCI’s free-to-join group sports nearly 9000 members at present, and provides round-the-clock live-help for new users with questions and queries.

The NCI’s watch-words are civility, respect and courtesy, but maintaining a safe space for new users, protected from those who would exploit them or intentionally disrupt or harass them isn’t easy. NCI maintains strict rules of conduct, and enforces them swiftly when staff feel that new users may become upset or disturbed by the actions of a disruptive or abusive visitor. Indeed, one of the main pillars of NCI’s popularity is swift and strong enforcement of local conduct rules.

Keeping an organization like NCI running isn’t an easy job either. While class instructors and event hosts recieve payments from the organisation for their duties, nobody is getting a wage from the process. Senior staff can be under tremendous amounts of pressure. In the wake of NCI’s 4th anniversary celebration on 18 April, executive director, Carl Metropolitan decided that he needed a sabbatical, partly from the daily pressure of work, and partly due to unavoidable circumstances related to the USA’s economic downturn.

Presently, a new interim management team are settling in, with Afon Shepherd and Gramma Fiddlesticks cooperatively managing the organisation until Metropolitan’s return to duty. That NCI works at all is something of a surprise, being an expensive operation, with so many people from all walks of life, from most of the countries in the world, bonded primarily only by the willingness to help others and to donate their spare time.

NCI does work, however, and it works well. If you’re new to Second Life, it’s one of those must-visit places.


NCI Major Locations

Content ratings, age-verification and secret words

tan-linden-lab-secret-keywordsLinden Lab is now in the final legs of adding a new content category to its virtual environment, Second Life. Being added to the existing PG and Mature categories is the new category, Adult, which permits some content which has hitherto not been permitted in Second Life. The new content category is anticipated to go fully live in July.

Of particular interest, though, are the keyword lists and also age verification. Linden Lab is going to be maintaining a secret list of keywords, the presence of any of which in any descriptive text will prevent that item from appearing as a search result to those who have not (a) undergone age verification, and (b) do not have Adult search results enabled. Accounts which have not undergone verification will not be able to access Adult regions at all, or to enable Adult search results.

That list is being kept a closely guarded secret. What that essentially means is that it’s pretty trivial to determine which words are on it, and some users have already done so. The list may change, but it is a matter of only minutes (and a little database pummeling) to determine the exact contents of the keywords list.

Linden Lab have chosen to keep the list a secret, so that people will not be able to work around it. Unfortunately, by its very nature, it needs to be about the worst-kept secret around. It would be kinder to the database just to publish the list, so that people don’t have to brute-force a solution — because they will. I fully expect to see a public and frequently updated list online that publicizes the Adult keywords list before long.

But hey, you’ve got to age-verify for that, right?

That involves either going through the Identity-Verification system that Linden Lab has engaged Aristotle for (which has proven to be unworkable for many, or of otherwise dubious utility), or putting payment information on file on your Second Life account.

Yes, it’s really that simple. So simple, a child could do it. Literally.

What payment methods, exactly constitute verification of age, exactly? According to a spokesperson for Linden Lab, “Any payment method we currently take. PayPal accounts used on XStreet SL will need to be Verified PayPal accounts.

Last time we looked, credit card providers expressly prohibited the use of credit cards as an age verification mechanism in their merchant and payment-processor agreements. That makes this somewhat of a dubious stretch, contractually. However, Linden Lab outsources payment processing, so while their payment-processor might be at risk of reprisals from card-companies, there’s probably no real barrier to the Lab using credit cards as an age verification mechanism.

Aside from the fact that possession of a credit card nowadays is independent of age, prepaid credit cards are available to all ages (some major card companies are issuing prepaid cards to infants), and regular credit cards are available to anyone old enough to hold a job flipping burgers or sweeping floors. In fact, there may be more minors with cards that are indistinguishable from traditional credit cards now than there are adults with them. But there’s always your mum’s purse if you’re hell-bent on tradition.

Linden Lab, however, is out of the liability loop on all of this, so long as they do not make public statements warranting the effectiveness of their age-verification system, or statements that the users are in a legally safer position than they were before. Either could land the Lab with some expensive and embarrassing lawsuits the first time little Suzy gets caught out with Adult content.

Incorporeal things and cognitive dissonance


Most of the things which touch our daily lives are incorporeal. It’s been that way for so long that we’ve long since forgotten what it is like for it to be any other way, yet we’re suspicious when new incorporeal things intrude on our lives.

For many of us, money has been incorporeal for much of our lives. For your kids, probably for their whole lives. I rarely actually even carry any. A small plastic card that acts as an authentication token for a bunch of numbers in a database somewhere acts as my financial instrument, and buys me groceries and new slippers. Seriously, when did you last get your money in a small yellow envelope. I know I used to, but I can’t remember when that was, it was so long ago.

Paper money was so contentious in the USA at one time that it required a federal law to compel people to accept it as legal tender. Later that was overturned, but was again reinstated. We didn’t virtualise the value of currency very easily or very quickly.

So, the money I use to get groceries largely exists as the movement of numbers between databases, which is kind of fitting, since that money starts out as Linden Dollars, which Rolling Stone calls “fake money”.

Colour me failing-to-see-the-distinction, there. I perform services, I get paid, I buy groceries and pay taxes — although when I turn my computer on to do it, apparently I suddenly become a fake person, as WSJ tech writer Walt Mossberg would have it.

As for virtual goods (or fake goods as some would call them), what indeed are the uses of things that cost money that you can only look at?

Good question. Ask the Art industry for the last couple of thousand years. Or walk out onto the footpath and look up and down at all those yards and gardens that we spend so much money keeping up so that we can… err.. look at them.

The law happily accepts incorporeal things as property, indistinguishable under the law from things you can stub your toe on, or trip over in the dark. With virtual goods and property, the only real case-distinctions are about who actually has ownership over a given thing, which can be a tangle of contracts and End-User-License-Agreements.

As a culture we’ve taken to software, MP3s and podcasts and so on, but show us an avatar and a virtual pair of heels, and we suddenly get all nervous and standoffish. Why do you think that is?

“Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. … You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?” — Terry Pratchett, Hogfather (1996)

Government’s National Broadband Network could be wasted

The Government has announced it will establish a new company that will invest up to $43 billion over eight years to build and operate a National Broadband Network, delivering ‘superfast’ broadband to Australian homes and workplaces.

This Fibre-To-The-Premises (FTTP) plan (at least insofar as infrastructure technology is concerned), mirrors closely the plan and rollout done by Telstra almost exactly 20 years ago (they were still Telecom Australia back then). While Telecom Australia rolled out and installed a reported 70% of the fibre that was required, the plan to actually use that fibre was axed, and the fibre left largely fallow throughout Australian cities, except for some that was ultimately converted to interexchange use.

The Governments FTTP plan will deliver 100MBps services to the majority of Australian homes, workplaces and schools, and high-speed (though higher-latency) connections to remote and small rural communities.

“the majority of broadband capacity already available in Australian homes is going to waste”

Unfortunately, as it presently stands, the majority of broadband capacity already available in Australian homes is going to waste. I like the government’s plan. I really do. But unless they can deliver extraordinary cost savings to go with the new capacity, all they will end up doing is vastly increasing the amount of infrastructure that is being wasted.

The issues are a combination of cost, plans, and contention. As an example, I have a fairly substantive broadband connection – I wouldn’t be able to do my job without it. It’s a 10Mbps connection, less than would be available even on the slowest of the planned NBN services.

On the highest capacity and most expensive data-plan available to me, I could run that connection at capacity for three hours before I’ve used up the entirety of my plan for a month.

Three hours. You wouldn’t want to get distracted by telemarketers or the kids playing in the yard, or something compelling on the television if there was a chance that a piece of software might get away from you and pull as much data as your connection could deliver. And that’s happened. A software updater gets confused, and you can kiss your data-plan goodbye for the month.

It makes you think twice about downloading updates for World of Warcraft or other MMOGs, I can tell you. Software that’s digitally delivered or prone to large content updates is something you have to plan for. My own household data-budget allows for six hours of time online in Second Life per day, that time having to be divided up between three adult users for classes, meetings, business and whatever’s left for socialising.

Plans that provide, say, 20GB of data for a month don’t begin to get close to the notion of “the connected home”. Lord of the Rings Online, if bought online, will set you back an easy 10GB in basic downloads,  and maybe another 2GB in content patches — before you’ve even started to play.

NBN’s FTTP certainly has a lot to offer. The usage of virtual environments for education, training, business and leisure has been held back significantly by the inability of existing infrastructure to deliver. Research and development of richer and more effective virtual environments by some very skilled Australian businesses and researchers is ultimately plodding along because those advances come at the cost of large quantities of data that must be moved with speed and aplomb.

Unless the government’s NBN is going to deliver capacity at a fraction of the current cost of data, though, Australian NBN broadband consumers are just going to go broke very quickly at worst, or leave Gigabits of capacity unused and wasted.

The trademarking of an avatar

aimeewebertm229Late last year, Grossman Tucker Perreault & Pfleger announced that they had successfully registered as a trademark the multidimensional likeness of Aimee Weber, the Second Life avatar of New York content-creator and businesswoman Alyssa LaRoche.

While GTP&P referred to it as a groundbreaking decision (it is — groundbreaking is another word for ‘first’), it is not actually an astonishing, surprising or unexpected result. It’s an obvious application of existing trademark law, in fact.

What we have here is a trademark image in a new medium, but that isn’t particularly special. At some point in the future, someone is going to trademark a projected 3D holographic logo for the first time, and that will indeed be groundbreaking, but is still an obvious extension of the trademark system into new media and expressions.

What’s interesting here is that the trademark is, essentially, a personification. LaRoche’s avatar appearance, for all intents and purposes is her, which actually makes the avatar-as-a-trademark a good deal more ordinary than a lot of the existing trademarks that have been registered.


There’s literally hundreds of examples like that in the trademark database, including lengthy platitudes and sections of biblical scripture. Next to those, a 3D avatar seems positively mundane.

Benjamin Duranske, a respected commentator on law as it applies to virtual environments, said of the filing that, “McDonald’s trademarked Ronald, so there is no reason an avatar — for many users, a computer generated representation of their brand — could not also be trademarked. The rather distinct appearance of avatar ‘Aimee Weber’ is indisputably identified with the brand. And ‘Aimee Weber’ is as much a Second Life icon as she is a person you chat with at a virtual coffee shop or hire for design work; the little “TM” just makes that official.”

And LaRoche now has considerable legal leverage if someone wants to misuse her image to brand or promote unrelated products or services, or simply to mimic her for malicious purposes.

It will be interesting to see if any other people move to follow suit.

The identity paradox

Who is Tatwoman?Last week, we spoke about anonymity and privacy, and in so doing we brushed past the concept of identity. The problem of identity has been with us for quite some time, as a species and as a set of societies. Newer technologies, such as the telephone and the Public Internet do not make the problem harder or more intractable, but they sure do make it a lot easier to actually see.

Actually, there are multiple issues of identity. Not the least of which that the word itself encompasses a number of conflicting meanings. In one sense, your identity is who you are without your age, name, gender, appearance, job, nationality, race, or home. What’s left is the core identity — the person that you are. For the process of identification however, that meaning is pretty useless. Identification focuses on what you are to determine who you are.

Unfortunately, as we’ve discovered over many generations, that really isn’t much good either. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many dead people casting votes in elections.

The usual standard of identification is to assemble a set of non-unique qualities. Your name is likely not unique, nor your address (there may be several people living there) or phone number or job or your date of birth, gender and so on. Put them all together, however, and they seem to do a pretty good job of distinguishing you from anyone else.

Unfortunately, that really only works one-way. This form of identification distinguishes a person from everyone else. It just doesn’t prove that you’re that person.

If it did, there’d be no such thing as an identity thief.

Identity theft goes back hundreds — some say thousands — of years. People have assumed the identity of others for all manner of nefarious purposes. Just because you’re in possession of identity documents, doesn’t mean that that is who you are, and that’s not even beginning to touch on the issue of faked documents.

Photo ID is supposed to help – but it doesn’t much. Do you really look all that much like the photo on your driver’s license or passport? Could there be dozens of other people who would resemble that photo just as closely? Probably, yes. Dozens or hundreds. With a little hair dye, maybe thousands would pass muster. Then they turn up for renewal, get their photo taken, and then the photo is of them, not of you.

Fingerprints have been suggested, but it has been shown that these are easily faked, not terribly unique, and frequently quite sloppily matched. Likewise even retina scans are of doubtful utility. They’re not as unique as they were once thought to be, and useless for roughly 30% of the general population.

How then can we even begin to identify users online, or in virtual environments? Do we even need to?

Well, yes. Users with their computers turned on tend to break laws no more nor less readily than people who don’t switch them on. In practice, however, it turns out that malefactors are easy to find, if people can be bothered to put any effort into it. Two Second Life copyright infringers were tracked down easily and relatively cheaply despite their having made every effort to conceal or fake their identities in dealings with others. The lack of a definitive atomic identity tied to their online identity proved to be no barrier.

That only leaves us with, for want of a better term, preventative identification. That would be things like, for example, age verification. Let’s start with the fact that age-verification in the atomic world doesn’t work, as a rule. Fake IDs abound, and it isn’t very hard to obtain one. As a result, minors routinely gain access to facilities that would otherwise be barred to them.

Having firmly violated the rules in person, we’re now going to trust that they can’t do the same thing online? That’s just daft. Because at the end of the day, we’re relying on them presenting documents to us (that may or may not belong to them) to prove that they are who they say they are, and that they are what age they say they are. Credit cards are available to all-ages now in many countries, and other forms of documentation are usually no harder to get than your mother’s handbag.

Linden Lab’s plans to move the most extreme Second Life content to an Adults-Only continent, available only to the age-verified potentially suffers from all of these flaws, while simultaneously clustering the content in a single set of locations, where it would be paradoxically easier to locate.

And this wouldn’t really be a problem, except that in many jurisdictions you are liable for exposing a minor to many things. Even if they lied to you (or to an age-verifier), and had the identity documents to back that up. You might be able to separately sue them for fraud, but frequently the law doesn’t care if they defrauded you.

And that’s ultimately the issue people are trying to solve, even though it seems there is no solution in sight.

Anonymity versus privacy, online and in atoms

Who is Tatwoman?Much is touted about the Public Internet and virtual environments constituting mediums of anonymity – that the actions of users are essentially anonymous and free of consequence. That’s actually pretty far from the truth. There’s anonymity and there’s privacy, and these are two rather different qualities, and are available in quite a different mix to what common knowledge would have you believe.

Anonymity is, the dictionary tells us, ‘the quality or state of being unknown or unacknowledged’. In essence anonymity is the lack of connection to any contiguous form of identity. If, online in some venue, you speak with guest613 a number of times and guest613 could be a different person each time, then they can be said to be anonymous. Short of them self-identifying or your recognising their wrist (manner of speaking, word-choice, spelling and so on) they’re functionally anonymous. Each time you encounter that handle, you cannot assign experiences to it that would constitute an identity.

Anonymity is comparatively uncommon on the Public Internet, compared with privacy.

Privacy is the more common case in both virtual and atomic environments. The use of a consistent login, account or handle provides a contiguous identity by which you are recognized, judged and assessed. On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog.

In atomic environments, the people you see day-to-day or week-to-week may not know your name, but they come to recognise you, sales staff tend to remember you (and how you behaved). You have a contiguous identity to these people, even if they don’t know your name, your job, your friends or where you live.

Turn up one day at your favorite cafe without your husband, but on the arm of some obviously affectionate fellow, and you’ll raise a few metaphorical eyebrows. Come back the following day with your husband as usual, and you’ll likely raise some actual eyebrows, even though they may not know anything about you, or your circumstances – you have a contiguous identity, and your actions and speech have consequences.

This is the most common case in virtual environments. You choose what details to reveal, and the rest remains unknown. However everyone essentially knows who you are.

Who you are is not what you are. Who you are is what is left after your job, your skin colour, your circumstances and appearance, and your gender and location are all stripped away. In its purest form, who you are is that part which makes choices and interactions, stripped of the conventional trappings that constrain them (though it is not possible to be entirely separated from them). You may be a kind and generous person, a misanthrope, or a callous jerk.

That identity is exposed to everyone you meet, and has consequences. People remember you, and they remember your name. They associate you with your words and actions over time, just as does the sales clerk at your favorite store.

You may not know that Sting is Gordon Sumner, or that David Tennant is actually David MacDonald, but not knowing these cannot be said to grant them any measure of anonymity. Likewise, you may not know the names behind Lowell Cremorne or Tateru Nino (or indeed whether these might even be our own legal names), but that does not detract from or diminish our contiguous identities.

rosa rosa rosa est est (A rose is a rose is a rose)

The Internet, video games, virtual environments and social networks: The new Demon Drink


An Engineering student at the University of Texas Austin murdered his wife and his mother at their homes, then shot and killed 14 people (and wounded 32 others) at his school, before being killed by police officers.

A Japanese woman who had been dumped by her Sappporo boyfriend destroyed some of his property and records.

A Houston woman believed her husband was having an affair, ran over him three times and left the car parked on top of him, killing him.

A North Carolina woman whose relationship broke up with a Delaware man stalked him and attempted to kidnap him.

A Canadian man’s wife who also thought her husband was having an affair, was killed with a sharp object and the murder disguised as a car accident.

A British man killed his estranged wife for concealing her marital status and pretending to be single.

Now three of these stories have something in common that the other three don’t. Can you guess which?

Three of these stories involve computers, technology and online networks and the other three do not.

The Engineering student was not imitating or influenced any violent video game. Indeed he had never been online and never played any video game. His name was Charles Whitman and the school shooting took place in 1966.

Likewise the cases of the Houston Woman and the Canadian man had nothing to do with computers, the Internet, virtual environments, online social networks, Second Life, or Facebook. The other three did. Just not very much.

The Japanese couple broke up on Maple Story and she deleted his account. The British woman changed her Facebook marital status to indicate she was single, and her husband murdered her. The North Carolina woman met her Delaware boyfriend in Second Life, but things only went wrong after they’d met in person.

Some people will tell you that technology is destroying society and civilization, that virtual worlds and social networks are distorting our perceptions and making us lose touch with reality. Stories like these are cited as examples.


Technology may ultimately be the cause of some social and societal problems, but these aren’t those problems!

If Whitman had performed his school shooting in the 21st century, there would be people lining up to claim that violent video games were responsible, perhaps Grand Theft Auto — a commonly named villain. That’s not a difficult correlation to make — hundreds of millions of people people have played violent video games. Statistically, you have probably done so yourself. It’s obvious, however, that they cannot have been involved in Whitman’s killing spree, or in countless others which pre-date them.

What should be obvious from the brief selection of cases above, is that they all have something in common. People. It helps to remind us that people react to other people and to the circumstances in their lives exactly the same way without technology, the Internet and virtual environments as they do with it.

Like the demon drink, Reefer Madness, even demonic possession — isn’t the problem here that we’re focusing attention away from the motivations and choices of people and foisting the blame off on something else? Does that not do more to obfuscate and confound any attempts to address the real problem? That’s just lazy and irresponsible.

And the real problem is us, isn’t it? People are still people, wherever you go and whatever year it is.

On the Internet, as is commonly repeated, everyone knows you’re a dog. You’re still exactly the same person, regardless of your avatar or your handle.

If you’re cheating on your partner, or lying to people about being a highly paid executive, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it on the Internet, or in a bar in the city. The devil didn’t make you do it. You did — and you’ve only yourself to blame, however much you wish you could shift the blame onto the Internet or your avatar.

Does a cross-platform interface make Second Life a second-class application?

Is a cross platform application UI really all that good for users?If you’re a Mac user, you know you’ve got access to a whole slew of first-class applications. That is, apps that follow the user-interface style guidelines for the Mac. Painstakingly developed and tested over time, the guidelines ensure consistent layouts of menus, options and hotkeys, so that you don’t spend your time struggling to work out how to do the familiar, when you should be getting on with gaining expertise in the unfamiliar.

Windows also has it’s own user-interface conventions (though they are not so strongly adhered to), and Linux has its own body of user-interface conventions also (though mostly just a matter of custom).

The thing is, the applications that follow those local rules are quite simply easier on the user, and that gives them a popularity boost right there. You don’t have to think about the hotkeys for saving or quitting. You don’t have to search high and low to find preferences. Your first-class applications are all laid out in the same way, where they have anything in common.

Second Life, however, isn’t a native first-class application on any of the three supported platforms. It sports an interface that’s somewhat alien to all three. My contention here is that perhaps an attempt should be made to actually give the Second Life viewer an overhaul and actually give each platform a native-style first-class UI.

i.e: Have the Mac viewer follow the Mac UI conventions for menus, hot-keys, drag and drop. The whole nine-yards. Windows and Linux viewers should get their UI reworked to follow their local conventions, too.

Sure, there’s a downside to this. More limited opportunities for cross-platform tutorials and documentation, you’d need to triple-up in some cases. Plus extra work from developers and QA.

The question is, however, who are we supposed to be making the viewer UI easier for? Documenters, devs and QA staff, or the actual users? The unified cross-platform interface doesn’t do the user much in the way of favours, and frankly not many second-class applications ever really hit the heights of popularity on any platform. Without following native user-interface conventions, you’re ultimately deprecated somewhat by the very people you need to win over: the actual users.

Ultimately, though, this is something that needs to be proven out by experiment before you can say for certain that a first-class native-conformant UI will do a better job than the existing second-class UI.

With a variety of third-party Second Life viewers out there the question is, who will be the first to try the idea out? I don’t think it will be Linden Lab.

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.

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