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Friday, November 06, 2009


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Annyka Bekkers

What I'd really like to see is some research on this from the thieves' perspective. What motivates them? How do they operate? How do they drive business? What kind of people are they selling to? How well are they doing?

Botgirl Questi

I am a fan of clever rants on personal blogs, whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, emo-enfused narratives and fear-mongering speculative polemics seem to make up a significant percentage of the entire stream of public conversation on the topic.

I'd love to see more of the kind of thinking expressed in a recent post by ArminasX Saiman on Second Effects: http://www.secondeffects.com/2009/11/copycornered.html

Hamlet Au

Armi's post is a good one, though I think his points are talking past the points made by Sasy and other content creators.

Murphy Alderson

I don't know. I hear a lot about content theft, and how bad it is and all that, and maybe my perspective is different. I guess I'm a content creator; clothes and tats and stuff like that. She's got a few stores, but her primary sales come from xstreet. Some of her stuff is unique, I believe one of a kind - I haven't seen any others like it anyway (but again, I haven't spent /all/ that much time looking either).

The thing is, I'm not creating the content to try and make a living. It pays nicely for my SL follies. Pays for most of my homestead, pays for shopping trips etc. Is my stuff copybotted? I don't know, how would I, unless I spent all my time trying to find out? All in all, I guess I just don't really care. I sell my stuff pretty cheap. Most of the customers for whom I have made custom stuff pay me up to twice what I ask for, cause they think I'm not charging enough. But what the hey? Something that takes me even 10 or so hours to put together the graphics for, it's fun, and the ones that take long time to produce, always teach me something I can use in my day job.

I suppose the main difference is, I do it for fun, not for profit. I do it, because I get a kick out how excited people get when I deliver something to them. Call me crazy, it's just the way I am.

Botgirl Questi

My main take-away (pardon the expression) from Sasy's post was that "copybotting gets content creators really upset." On a personal level, I empathize with the distress and think it is a normal human reaction to react that way. I'm all for content creators organizing to bring such concerns to the SL community and the powers that be.

That said, I think there's so much attention to questions of morality, personal angst and social impact in the public conversation, that we need more posts that "talk past" such aspects and try to just evaluate the technical side of the equation.

Hamlet Au

Botgirl, read my story on the first CopyBot outbreak and the Lindens' response to it. On the official blog, Robin Linden said very similar things to what Armi's saying now. That did not go well. (Not her fault, she and Armi made valid points, but again, it's a matter of two equally valid but incompatible perspectives talking past each other.)

Botgirl Questi

My main take-away from Sasi's post was "copybots get content creators really, really upset."

Not that their feeling are unimportant. They are. But it doesn't answer the question of how much copy-for-sale is actually going on and how much real revenue impact it has on the creators whose work is being copied. (Just because someone buys a cheap copy from a shady vendor, doesn't mean the purchaser would have bought the goods from the original creator.)

So I'm happy when posts "talk around" the dramatic side of the issues and focus on things like technical aspects or strategies to get valid metrics.

Botgirl Questi

Sorry for the semi-duplication. My initial comment took a while to show up and I thought it had been eaten by the Internet fairies.

Chez Nabob

"Last week, I noted that it's difficult to see evidence of substantial content theft's impact in the Second Life economic reports, which show continued growth of revenue transactions. (My basic sense is that most content theft is too low margin and fly-by-night to show up on a macro level.)"

Once again, of course there is transaction growth. After an over 50% increase of users who spend money in SL since copybot first hit the grid and the fact that all sales of infringed content are included among the transactions in your chart would you expect there to be a decline?

You cannot legitimately state that sales from illegitimate goods don't show up on a macro level because no one has numbers on those specific transactions.

I don't understand why or how you continue to push this theory when you don't have the data you need to back up your claims.

Having said that, you may be right, but I'd like to see more than what you've shown that leads you to that conclusion because what you have shown proves nothing.

Saffia Widdershins

I think what might help here is hard data rather than anecdotal evidence (I have plenty of that).

A registry of legitimate content, with recorded instances of theft flagged, could enormously help the situation. Properly constituted, it could also provide legal evidence of copyright for creators.

Arcadia Codesmith

Sasy's piece is an evocative, unpolished, raw narrative of the unchartable costs of content theft. Well done.

Hamlet Au

"After an over 50% increase of users who spend money in SL since copybot first hit the grid and the fact that all sales of infringed content are included among the transactions in your chart would you expect there to be a decline?"

Chez, I covered that point in the previous post's comment thread, but here it is again:

A 50% increase in spending users since 2007 would be a significant jump if most of those users were spending a significant amount of L$ in-world -- but as it happens, 180,000 of that 450K spend less than L$500 a month:

That's roughly 90M Linden Dollars, which seems like a lot, but really just a tiny fraction of the total economy. For comparison's sake, look at the chart in that link. 1024 Residents spend over L$1M a month-- i.e. over ONE BILLION LINDEN DOLLARS. So those 180K comprise maybe 2-3 percent of the total in-world economy, maybe even less. (Someone wanna do the math?)

Annyka Bekkers

I'd like to see a scientific study like this one: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~ladamic/papers/SecondLife/SocialInfluenceEC.pdf

In this study, researchers were able to sample a population of 100,000 avatars and 100,000 gestures and track how the assets spread through the population, and how friendship networks affect the distribution.

This particular research is focused on how viral marketing spreads, but in theory, this sort of study could be done with stolen assets to see how big their impact truly is on the overall economy.

Chez Nabob

I read that response last week Hamlet, and I can re-paste my response just as well as you can, but it doesn't change the fact that the data that would prove your theory isn't available so I'm not sure why you continue to push it unless you have an ulterior motive.

Here's my response to you comment from last week in case you forgot:


"It still is a significant jump, Hamlet.

There are 450K users (actually 465K according to the report you referenced in your comment above) are spending money in SL. That is still a huge increase (over 50% that are spending money that weren't there before) since the introduction of copybot.

And how much has the population of "big spenders" ($10 US dollars and over) increased since that time? Do you have those numbers?

Has the number of users spending at the upper levels (L$1M plus) increased more dramatically over that period? Do you have those numbers?

How many more users are spending less than L$500 over that period of time? Do you have those numbers?

Again, you're throwing around a lot of information, but there's not enough data to illustrate your point. You'd need to know the increase in users for each category for the same period of time as your chart above.

As I've said twice now, you have no idea what the effect of copybot has been on the SL economy. The proper data is not broken out. Data showing total user-to-user transactions in the face of an over 50% increase in people spending money in-world does not reveal what effect copybot has had on the economy.

Once more, LL would have to break out every transaction of items sold in which a DMCA has been filed to even come close to revealing the effect on the SL economy, and that would be a less-than-accurate assessment as not every piece of ripped content has had a DMCA action against it.

Continuing to try to prove your point with numbers that have no bearing on the data you actually need to reveal the effect, doesn't change the fact that you don't have the data you actually need to reveal the effect."


Now that you've read that for the second time, you still seem to fail to realize that an over 50% increase of users IS significant as they are ALL spending money in SL. Yes, some of them spend more and some spend less, but you'd have to compare and see what the increase in numbers are over time in each category of spending to even come close to legitimizing the claim you just made and you haven't done that.

And all of that still doesn't take away from the fact that illegitimate sales of content are still included among legitimate sales of content in your data. You have no idea of the impact of content theft on the SL economy without breaking out those numbers.

Since you keep re-hashing "evidence" that doesn't even come close to proving your theory, I'm coming to the conclusion that you have an ulterior motive for pushing the idea.

Please give us a credible reason as to why you maintain that content theft has had no effect on the SL economy.

Hamlet Au

"why you maintain that content theft has had no effect on the SL economy"

I think that's the heart of our misunderstanding, Chez -- I never said that. I said something somewhat different: I said that it's difficult to see any evidence of substantial content theft in the user-to-user revenue transaction chart. That's not the same as saying there's isn't *any* effect. What's definitely clear is the social damage content theft and the fear of content theft causes.

Astrid Panache

Content theft is demoralizing as is plagiarism as is your competitor scooping you on the next good idea that you had but never implemented. Unfortunately, hitting that wall is one of the costs of doing business in a world like SL just as it is the cost of being say, a blogging journalist (right, Hamlet?).

Back in 2006, Raph Koster was pointing this out (http://venturebeat.com/2006/11/22/investing-time-and-money-in-virtual-worlds-caveat-emptor/). As he says, "Anything displayable is copyable."

It's business. Get past the emotion ("heartbreaking" and "demoralizing")and get on to the economics. What you should be asking is, "What am I really doing to make money here?" It's not just in those small pieces of content you provide. It's in the whole experience.

If you keep it emotional, it turns into what it is really meant to be--terrorism. Kind of amplified griefing. And I personally refuse to negotiate with terrorists.

The real question should be, "What are you doing to make sure you are providing the best interface, the best marketing, the biggest satisfaction for your customers?" That's where the money is. The best creators in SL give so much more than the clothing/skins/eyes/shoes. They give an experience. And they give continuously new innovation. And that is not as easily copied.

Chez Nabob

OK, your actual initial question was "where is the evidence that in-world content theft is having a substantial impact on the Second Life economy?"

Yes you are correct in saying that that question is different from not having *any* effect on the SL economy but only slightly.

Having said that, what really bothers me about your line of thinking on this subject is that I would expect you, a RL journalist, to be extremely conscious of your credibility.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about your blog is that you seem to realize a greater sense of responsibility in your approach to reporting events of interest in the SL community, much more than many of the bloggers who operate some of the most popular SL-related blogs, while avoiding a lot of the drama they wallow in.

But on this issue, even getting back to your word-for-word question ("where is the evidence that in-world content theft is having a substantial impact on the Second Life economy?"), you seem to be willing to throw that credibility out the window.

The data you have presented, and continue to push as confirming your theory, does nothing to illustrate the point you are trying to make. The data is too incomplete and you are drawing too many inferences from it.

You cannot know what effect content theft has had on the SL economy (substantial on insubstantial) without knowing how many of those total transactions were related to the sale of illegal content.

In your post last week you asked, "if content theft increased, wouldn't consumer spending decrease?"

How can you make that inference? I'd argue that spending is more likely to go up than down because of the influx of new users and the fact that ripped content typically (though not always) sells for less than the original content. If consumers are offered more items that are near the same quality as the original items for far less, they're likely to make more purchases.

I have no proof of this at all in the data you've provided, but it's just as logical as your conclusion, in fact I'd argue it's more logical.

Similarly you brought up the fact that of the over 50% influx of new users spending money in SL, 185k spent less than L$500 per month. But what about the 1,024 users spend over L$1 million per month? Maybe the number of users who spend that much have increased more dramatically than users who spend less and they are the ones driving the increase in the value of total-user to-user transactions.

Again, the information you are showing doesn't tell me enough to confirm it, but it too is a logical possibility for the increase (along with any one of dozens of other statistical possibilities).

My point is that you can theorize all you want as to the whys and wherefores, but until the hard data is there to tell the real story, the truth is no one knows how substantial or insubstantial an effect content theft has had on the SL economy.

I think it's disingenuous of you to continue to push a theory as though there was some evidence that pointed to it being a fact and challenging people to refute that fact when the data doesn't point to any such conclusion whatsoever.

It's irresponsible "journalism," and we all get enough of that from other SL blogs as it is. You should know better.

I will say that I do, however, appreciate your coverage of the issue of content theft over the years, and particularly the issue you are raising here about the emotional and social damage.

Naoki Ninetails

Why is it so disheartening to me? Because it occurs on such a massive scale, and LL has proven that they really don't have the capacity or the interest in trying to manage it. It's the knowledge that it continues with little to no hindrance that is so discouraging and saddening.

Sure, people like Maitreya are (thankfully) still doing well. But it's knowing in the back of my mind that when a friend gets her hair textures ripped off and sold in a massive shop, etc., that nothing will ever be done about it, that really breaks MY heart. At least, if we knew we were just enduring a pioneer phase on its way out, I could suffer it. But I don't see this ending anytime near ever.

Jumpman Lane

you want to understand the realheartache of content theft interview Briggi Bard. If you dont know who that is you will.

Tessa Kinney-Johnson aka Tessa Harrington in Virtual

There is a grid out there that does care and is fighting content theft while still giving its designers the ability to expand their businesses outside of any one grid's boarder in a more safe and sane manner and making their showrooms less of a sitting duck for copybotter clients. Here's the blog response I wrote on Gwyneth's blog site that explains how it works. Maybe this will give designers a reason to not give up? I hope so. http://gwynethllewelyn.net/2009/09/25/step-up-for-content-creation-theft-awareness/#comment-20253178 If anyone has questions about Double Dutch Delivery, the system to put the controls for selling beyond any one grid's boarders in the hands of the content creators, or suggestions and ideas on how to make it better we're all ears here. Feel free to email me personally at [email protected] or jump into our grid to take a look around. While no one can promise 100% protection, it CAN be made more secure and more obvious is not OK and more tedious to.

Melissa Yeuxdoux

Two comments:

1. Sasy mentions in her blog post how Emerald, _a third-party SL client_, has a feature that helped her track down culprits:

"You see Emerald viewer gave us this incredible function, the ability to see last owner on items in edit, yes that means that now not only were you able to see who copybotted it , but also could see who had it in their hot little hands last, and not the original , no the actual stolen item…. yes yes little thief enablers the trail to your door just swung wide open."

I find that interesting in view of the brouhaha over third-party SL clients.

2. I can only speak for myself, but... I don't want any of my L$ to go to thieves. I'd actually pay a reasonable amount for a service that tells me "store X (does/does not) offer stolen content" or "store Y sells freebies".

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