Putting the paperwork in order?

I’ve been going over the ToS in more detail over the past few days (it was either that, or sit with older family members through the likes of Emmerdale Farm, East Enders, Jack Frost and re-runs of Hercules Parrot again).

What has struck me once again is the manner in which everything is being handled by Linden Lab. We have Viewer 2.0 being pushed into prime time before it is really ready. We have high-level Lindens (Amanda, T, etc.), suddenly spending a lot more time in the flogs addressing user concerns; we have the new Third Party Viewer policy coming into effect from the 30th April. We also have the new ToS coming into full effect from the 30th (although we’re all being asked to agree to it now), together with all of the policies associated with it having undergone a top-to-toe re-write.

So much so, that one has to ask why? Why all of this now? Why the paradigm shift evident in the ToS that moves Second Life from a platform to a service? Why the rush to get everything out by April 30th? Why not a phased approach that would, for example, introduce the TPV, filter in other policy updates and culminate in a new ToS and which would allow the more glaring issues with Viewer 2.0 (Search, for example), to be reasonably fixed?

Part of the reason I started chasing Amanda Linden is that I have a deep-down feeling that LL are paving the way for Second Life  – as a service – to be sold?

Many moons ago, “the Grid” (as in the underlying technology of Second Life) was ostensibly hived-off into a “separate” business element. More recently, the Grid itself has been split into three distinct “microsites” which appear to be leveraging the technology in terms of service provisioning to businesses.

Could LL now be seeking the opportunity of divesting themselves of the actual running of Second Life itself?

The reason this thought keeps popping into my head is section 13.2 of the ToS:

13.2 You may not assign your Account; we may assign this Agreement.

You may not assign this Agreement or your Account without the prior written consent of Linden Lab. You may not transfer or sublicense any licenses granted by Linden Lab in this Agreement without the prior written consent of Linden Lab, except solely to the extent this Agreement permits transfer of the Linden Dollar Licenses and Virtual Land Licenses. Linden Lab may assign this Agreement, in whole or in part, and all related rights, licenses, benefits and obligations, without restriction, including the right to sublicense any rights and licenses under this Agreement.

In other words, you cannot “pass” (or sell or whatever) your SL account to anyone else, but Linden Lab, can at any time, pass on or sell this agreement (the ToS) at any time, without any prior warning to users.

When viewed in this light, the new packaging of the ToS and all associated policies appears to make sense: LL are neatly drawing a line over all that went on prior to 30th April 2010, effectively (on paper) freeing anyone coming in to take over SL from any prior obligations and/or issues.

Other elements within the ToS also fall into place when viewed this way – Linden dollars becoming a license system for example; not only does this potentially clarify tax issues around them (it is now spelled out that Linden dollars have no fiscal value until cashed out) – it also further ring fences any potential liabilities surrounding Linden dollar accounts on the part of the “service manager” (be it LL or anyone else).

A sale of SL as a service could be beneficial to LL: they would lose the income from land, etc., certainly: but they would retain the IP on the technology and its development, and they would conceivably generate income through one (or more?) licensing deals with those wishing to run Second Life environment(s). It would be hard to work through all the details to make it work – but potentially not impossible. If nothing else, it’s interesting to speculate on the idea.