Second Life TOS – Why Bergs Should Collide

Daniel Voyager and Inara Pey have both posted excellent coverage of Virtual Worlds Best Practice In Education (VWBPE). There’s plenty to read and plenty to listen to but I want to focus on something that is closer to home for many Second Life users, the controversial Second Life terms of service changes. Inara quotes Ebbe Altberg as saying the following regarding the terms of service :

I am working with my Legal Counsel to try to try to figure out how we can make it more obvious – or very obvious – that the creators of the content own the content, and we obviously have no intent of ever stealing your content or profiting off of your content independently of the creators in some fashion.

The current terms might indicate that we might somehow have some plan to steal people’s content and somehow profit from it for ourselves, without benefitting the creator, and that’s obviously not our intent at all. It would be very damaging to our business if we started to behave in that way because this whole platform is all about the content you all create. And if you can’t do that, and trust that it is yours, that’s obviously a problem. So I’m working on that, and I can ask you right now to trust us that we’re not going to do what the current clause might suggest we’re going to do, but we’re working on some simple tweaks to the language to make that more explicit.

We also have no interest in locking you in; any content that you create, we feel you should be able to export, and take and save and possibly if you want to move to another environment or OpenSim, that should be possible. So we’re not trying to lock you in either. Obviously, it’s very important to us to get content both in and out, so I just want to put that right out there.

Whereas that mostly sounds reassuring and is completely plausible, the ownership aspect hasn’t ever really been at the heart of the TOS debate, the ownership angle hasn’t really changed but as the new terms allow Linden Lab to do anything they like with the content that somewhat undermines the ownership clause. The prior TOS granted rights to Linden Lab in order for them to provide the service, that’s a perfectly reasonable clause, the changed TOS goes way beyond that and that’s where hackles get raised. Linden Lab’s intent is not the problem, the wording however remains a problem :

Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service. The license granted in this Section 2.3 is referred to as the “Service Content License.” 

That simply goes way too far and undermines the concept of ownership that the content creator retains. In all reality Ebbe Altberg should have a meeting with Richard A Goldberg who in his interview during The Drax Files Radio hour episode 13, explained in a calm, constructive, non-confrontational and informative manner why the new terms of service are problematic.

Richard’s points are well made and he agrees that Linden Lab’s intentions are honourable. However he also points out that if a new company took over Linden Lab, they might take a different view and the terms of service would allow them to do that. This may be an unlikely scenario, but it’s still an important point in highlighting the problems with the new TOS … actually it’s not exactly new anymore!

Then there’s the issue that content creators lose some control of their content once they upload it to Second Life because of those terms. A content creator could not promise another client exclusivity to their product because the current terms allow Linden Lab to do anything they like with said content.

Richard also points out that Linden Lab do not need unlimited usage for everything, they need terms to allow Second Life to function but why not keep the terms specific to Second Life? Why is there a need to have these terms in perpetuity, why not put a time on it?

These are all excellent points and get to the heart of the matter. Ideally Linden Lab would sit down and communicate with someone like Richard, because he also knows his history on content creators negotiating rights that benefit both content creators and the platforms they publish on. Richard makes the point that it’s not a content creators versus Linden Lab issue, the ideal solution is for them to work together for the benefit of content creators and Linden Lab.

I wholeheartedly believe that Linden Lab have no intent to take advantage of people’s content and give said content away, or sell it. However the wording of the TOS does not reflect this intent and intent will never replace the terms of service.

I completely understand that Linden Lab want to protect themselves, they also want to do what is best for their platform and the terms of service do seem to reflect Linden Lab wanting to cover themselves, but those terms are simply not friendly to content creators.

I don’t know if Linden Lab are talking to people behind the scenes, I would hope that they are but I really feel that The Bergs should meet, Ebbe Altberg should most definitely meet Richard A. Goldberg to work towards a solution that best reflects the needs of Second Life content creators and Linden Lab. Content creators should understand that Linden Lab need terms that allow the platform to flourish, by the same token Linden Lab should appreciate that content creators should also be in a position where their hard work is allowed to flourish without such terms hanging over their heads.

2 Replies to “Second Life TOS – Why Bergs Should Collide”

  1. It irks me that Ebbe keeps casting it as “some people think LL wants to steal their work”.

    I *assume* it is spin, to downplay the “we screwed up the wording” and make it sound like it’s just some paranoid misunderstanding.
    In a sense, I *hope* it is, because I really, really hope Ebbe and his legal team are aware of the actual issues. But on the other hand, that makes it a rather dishonest and condescending representation. Neither is really a good position.

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