Linden Lab issue statement on creator rights and IP protection

On November 6th, 2018, Linden Lab issued a statement on their stance on protecting the rights of creators producing content for use on the Second Life platform.

It would seem the statement has been issued as a result over the ongoing debate around the use of UV Maps in mesh heads, following one designer issuing DMCA notices against a number of competing creators – although it is obviously intended to outline Linden Lab’s position on content protection and their process of handling matters as a whole.

To this end, and rather than obfuscate with subjective commentary here, I’m including the entire text of the blog post below, for ease of reference.

At Linden Lab we appreciate and support the creativity of our community – a community based on the very idea that the only limit to your creativity is your imagination. That is why we feel it is important to clarify our stance on and process for the protection of community-created content. Our goal is to nurture the overall creative and competitive ecosystem that enables each member of our community to prosper — even when that means making difficult determinations in disputes between our Creators.

While we cannot comment publicly with a definitive analysis of any one case or dispute, we want to reassure our community that we closely consider all perspectives (and applicable law) before arriving at any dispute determination. When there is disagreement in our community over the integrity of a creation, we strive to be fair in our review of the facts. In particular, we do not take actions for or against any Creator lightly as we know that our Creator community is passionate about and protective of their work.

So, why make this statement now?

Due to the size of the Second Life economy and its user base, there will always be Creator conflicts and complaints under review. Recently, there’s been some debate about one of the more esoteric aspects of content creation, which impacts many in our community. For example, one high-profile complaint under review deals with a fundamental question about whether UV mapping can be considered proprietary and protect-able or part of the public domain.

Linden Lab recognizes that there are passionate arguments to be made on both sides of this and similar discussions. However, the determining factors are quite nuanced and not easily assessed without a closer review of the facts in the context of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA).

Ultimately, Linden Lab will always comply with the DMCA process, and continue to determine the validity of each DMCA notice (and any counter-notice) on a case-by-case basis. That is precisely why we have a team dedicated to reviewing all properly submitted IP claims and determining the fairest outcome within the guidelines of the policies and laws governing the process, which is described in the Intellectual Property Infringement Notification Policy.

We are ever-amazed by the ways this community utilizes the Second Life platform for creativity. Keep innovating – you make Second Life even better as we roll out new features and tools to create with — and keep supporting your fellow Creators!

Advertisements

Jason Gholston departs Sansar and the Lab

Jason Gholston

Jason Gholston, who through social media and interviews, had become something of a public “face” for Linden Lab’s Sansar Social VR platform, has left the company for pastures new.

Jason joined the Lab in April 2012, working initially on Second Life before transitioning into the Sansar team as a Director of Product.

While working on Second Life, Jason Led the maintenance engineering team with a focus on customer retention and quality of service, and oversaw the attempts to integrate Oculus Rift with the platform.

On transitioning to work on Sansar, he worked on creating the Unity prototypes used to greenlight the development of Sansar. As Product Manager, he was responsible for management of the monthly releases of Sansar from the engine, rendering, audio, level editor, terrain editor, VR level editor, avatar simulation, and content pipeline teams. He also initially hosted the weekly VR meet-ups with the creator community within Sansar to gather feedback, help troubleshoot issues.

Jason was also responsible for establishing Sansar Studios, the content creation team for Sansar. This team has been responsible for developing a range of experiences on the platform designed to help demonstrate capabilities within the platform and for working with content partners to develop unique experiences.

From left to right: Jason Gholston, Drew Struzan, Greg Aronowitz discuss the Drew Struzan Gallery in Sansar during a Deviant Art livestream event with host Matthew Holt. Credit: Deviant Art

As a part of running Sansar Studios, Jason initiated and negotiated unique partnerships and content commissions between Linden Lab and partners, valued at over US $2 million. Some of these partnerships have included the development of experiences tied-in to the Ready Player One movie – Aech’s Garage and Aech’s Basement, the Star Trek ties-ins, Bridge of the USS Enterprise and the Roddenberry Nexus, and most recently No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, a collaboration between Linden Lab, Intel and The Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Jason also managed the collaboration with Greg Aronowitz and Drew Struzan that resulted in the Hollywood Art Museum, featuring Star Wars memorabilia reproduced in Sansar, together with the art of Drew Struzan and a reproduction of his studio workshop.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise – a social space where people can watch weekly broadcasts of the Mission Log Live series by Roddenberry Entertainment, hosted by Ken Ray (seen on the viewscreen) and John Champion. One of several collaborative experiences in Sansar Jason Gholston helped bring to fruition

In leaving the Lab, Jason has moved to UK-based Speech Graphics, where he takes up the role of Creative Director, working out of the company’s Bay Area offices. Speech Graphics is one of Linden Lab’s technical partners with Sansar, the platform utilising the company’s technology to provide accurate avatar lip-syncing and facial animations, driven in real-time as users simply speak into the microphones on their HMDs or audio headsets.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of dealing with Jason on several occasions whilst preparing Sansar articles for this blog, and would like to thank him for his willingness to provide his time and assistance, and for supporting this blog through social media. I wish him every success at Speech Graphics.

Looking at the new private region and L$ fees

Village of Ahiru; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrPrivate region set-up fees and monthly tier rates are reduced from July 2nd, 2018, together with an increase in L$ purchase fees. Picture:  Village of Ahiru (blog post)

A major goal at the Lab is to “re-balance” the Second Life economy – shifting the onus of their revenue generation away from a heavy reliance on virtual land leasing to distribute it more broadly across all fronts  – land, Premium subscriptions, transaction fees, Marketplace fees, etc. Over the last few years we’ve seen some of this in action:

  • In April 2016, increases were made to all transaction processing fees and Linden Dollar processing fees (raising the latter by 30% to US $0.40 per L$ purchase).
  • In June 2017 increases were made to the maximum fee for processing credit transactions was raised to US $25, and the fee charged per L$ purchase was raised to US $0.60.
  • In November 2017, increases were made to L$ purchase fees (to US $0.99 per transaction) and to fees charged for transferring money via PayPal or Skill from the start of 2018, raising both to 2.5% with no maximum limit on the application of the fee.

Some of these increases were couched as being in part to meet the costs involved in the Lab handling the transactions and ensuring all proper fiscal and legal requirements for money handling are properly met. Doubtless, this was the case – the Lab has invested heavily in matters of compliance. However, it’s also not unfair to say that once the initial expense in performing this work has been recouped, these fee increases enable the Lab to both cover the cost of transaction handling and generate some revenue through such transactions (however modest on the individual transaction it might be).

On the other side of the scale, we’ve seen efforts to make virtual land more attractive – notably through the region buy-down offer of April-September 2016, and more recently the changes to Mainland pricing.

On July 2nd, 2018, the most ambitious change to private region pricing in Second Life came into effect: a reduction of 15% in private region maintenance fees (tier) for all current region types and reductions in the set-up fees for Full and Homestead regions (new OpenSpace (“water”) regions no longer being offered as a product from July 2nd, 2018).

These changes – it should be noted – come with a further increase in Linden Dollar purchase fees, which increase to US $1.49 per transaction.

New Private region pricing structure. Note that as from July 2nd, 2018, new OpenSpace regions will not longer be available as a product, and Linden Dollar purchase fees increase to US $1.49 per transaction

It’s fair to say that any change of this kind, be it in land pricing or transaction fees, can generate heated feedback (witness this forum thread on the 2017 increases). The changes to private region fees have been no exception, with views being expressed via in-world groups, within assorted forums (such as SLU) and even in blog comments. Some have been upset over the L$ transaction fee increase; others  – notably those in the virtual land rental business  – have been upset by the change no extending to grandfathered regions; others apparently don’t see the move as “enough”, protesting that the tier rate should be cut to US $195 (or similar). And there has been a fair amount of reaction to the L$ purchase fee increase.

Obviously, time will reveal the outcome of these changes, but as is my want, I’d pass comment on a few things.

When it comes to the land rental business, it is hard to see why the exclusion of  grandfathered regions is being taken so negatively. For one thing, these are already below the new tier rates, as the Lab states. Further, it is now 18 months since the buy-down offer closed. This should have been enough time to recover the up-front cost of converting regions to grandfathered status (US $600 / Full; US $180 / Homestead), and now leave rental companies in a position to enjoy a modest increase in income from such regions whilst also offering customers using them a degree of lower rent.

Which is pretty much also the opportunity they have with this tier reduction. Frankly, 15% is unlikely to have people leaping in droves to gain Premium membership any buying Full regions directly from the Lab. But what it might do is once again increase people’s desire to have Homestead regions as private homes. Given that these remain tied to holding at least one Full region, it’s not unfair to say that should it happen, land rental companies can only benefit. And even if the private land market remains relatively flat, such businesses should still be able to lower their rental rates to attract new customers without damaging their existing margins.

So it really is hard to see why some in the land rental business are so put out by grandfathered regions being excluded, or to claim they get “none” of the benefits of this fee reduction.

When it comes to the increase in Linden Dollar transaction fees (which with this increase will have rise by 198.4% since April 2016), the impact will perhaps be harder to gauge, simply because people can offset at least some of the impact by adjusting the amounts of Linden Dollars they purchase in a single pass. Just how much of an offset can be achieved depends on a range of factors – the amount of L$ someone buys in a single pass, how easily they might be able to consolidate purchases, etc. – but this doesn’t deny the fact it is precisely what people have been doing as a result of past increases.

Even so, it will in interesting to see what, if any, impact this has on actual spending in SL – although I suspect that changes to fees elsewhere that have been hinted at (such as with the Marketplace) might have more of a visible impact, if and when they come into effect.

There will always be positives and negatives to just about anything the Lab does. However, “the tier is too damned high!” has long been a mantra within Second Life and while it is “only” a 15% reduction in tier, this is a positive step towards addressing this mantra when it comes to private regions fees (and it’s not unreasonable to assume there might yet be more in the future – although they are unlikely to be even close to appearing over the horizon at this point in time). Similarly, while people are likely to continue to be put out by it, the increase in to the L$ transaction fee is a relatively “fair” move, as it spreads at least some of the burden of revenue generation for the Lab across a much broader section of the SL user base.

Crunching some numbers: the 2018 SL infographic

Courtesy of Linden Lab

On Monday, April 23rd, Linden Lab issued an infographic on the state of Second Life as the platform approaches its 15th anniversary. The last time the company did this was, I believe, for the  platform’s tenth anniversary in 2013.

Both infographics obviously offer a potted view of Second Life which some might choose to take as spin – but casting the platform in a positive light is what PR is about. More than that, when all is said and done, the figures do go some way to showing the platform is still a vibrant place with a healthy economy and a (broadly speaking) positive engagement on that part of active users.

The “spin” element might be seen in elements such as the number of accounts created in Second Life: a total of 36 million between 2003 and 2013, and a further 21 million in the last five years (for a total of 57 million since 2003, when SL formally opened its doors to the public at large). These figures sound impressive, but when push comes to shove, “accounts created” is a pretty meaningless figure. What really matters is the number of active accounts operating within Second Life; and the fact is that over the years these have been dropping – perhaps not by the amounts some might think – although it is admittedly hard to pin things down to a precise figure.

Similarly, the number of new user registrations (400,000  reported in 2013 and 350,000 reported in 2018) doesn’t add up to a major indicator of SL’s health – but, in fairness nor do they indicate any kind of major decline, despite the 50,000 drop over the intervening period between the two infographics. But really, the issue with Second Life is not the number of sign-ups achieved, but the number of retained active users the platform obtains.

Side-by-side: the 2013 (SL10B) and 2018 (SL15B) infographics. But how useful are they?

Perhaps of more value, to a degree, are figures like the total hours users have spent engaged in the platform. in 2013, this cumulative total for 10 years was stated as an equivalent of 217,000 years; for the 15th anniversary it is put at 482,000 years.  What these show is that while the number of active users engaged in Second Life may have shrunk somewhat (notably since its peak in around 2008), those still engaged in the platform are between them potentially spending more time logged-in to the platform than they were five years ago.

Why this might be is open to speculation; but one group of reasons could be that the time an effort Linden Lab has put into improving the overall Second Life infrastructure, making batter use of technology, improving the performance of much of the platform (simulators, back-end systems, etc.), and the work put into enhancing user-facing capabilities, which have collectively encouraged people to spend more time in-world now than five years ago.

This increase in time spent engaged in the platform has other potential benefits as well – such as in increased economic activity. This is somewhat indicated by the 2018 infographic, which indicates that Second Life creators and land holders cashed out some $67 million in 2017. During sessions such as Lab Chat, and other public meetings, it had been indicated that the amount cashed-out by users in 2015/2016 was around $60 million; so it would seem that overall, the SL economy is experience an upturn, albeit a modest one. The strength of the economy might also be indicated by the rise in the number of virtual goods for sale: 2.1 million in 2013 and a stated 5 million in 2018 – although I point to this increase with the caveat that items for sale doesn’t necessarily translate directly into increases in goods sold.

Given that the 2018 infographic would tend to indicate overall engagement in the platform among engaged Second Life users has increased, the economy has apparently undergone something of a growth as well, it’s perhaps understandable why – as per the recent town hall meeting – there is now a much stronger emphasis within the Lab to pro-actively try to grow the user base going forward – and some interesting approaches are being tried.

So, what of the issues of active user numbers and new user accounts? It is true that Second Life is experiencing shrinkage in the number of active users. However, a degree of perspective is required when discussing it. At its peak in around 2008, SL averaged around 1.1 million active monthly log-ins. Today, it is lower – but by how much? That’s a tough nut to crack.

One of the few sources of real data we have comes from the SL Statistical Charts Page put together many years ago the most respected Second Life blogger (whose insight is genuinely missed), Tateru Nino, which is still active today. Among other things, it provides a series of breakdowns of concurrent log-ins – current and over set periods of times. These tend to collectively show that by-and-large average concurrency is between 30,000 and 50,000. Even when taking the bottom end of this range as the daily “average”, it still yields around 900,000 active monthly log-ins. That’s just 200,000 from the platform’s peak.

Second Life average concurrency is around 30,000-50,000 per day, as illustrated by these two 14-day extracts from Tateru Nino’s Statistics Charts, deliberately collected just over a month apart from one another

Of course, it might be argued that some of these concurrent log-ins are alt accounts or possible bots and so “don’t count”. But how large a figure is that likely to be? It’s impossible to know. Some factor it as being more than one-third, which might not be a wholly unreasonable figure; however, a counter-point to this is that just because someone is logged-in on two accounts doesn’t mean they’re not actively contributing to things like the economy through both of those accounts; so while it might be argued such activities reduce the total user count, it may not negatively impact the platform’s economy. Similarly, and where there are no empirical numbers available, it is fair to say that bot usage today is a lot less prevalent than when SL was at its peak; thus while their influence cannot be completely discounted, they are likely to have less of an influence on concurrency today than a decade ago.

The most interesting aspect of the figures is perhaps those of sign-ups As noted above, the Lab notes a decline in monthly sign-ups of around 50,000 since 2013. Looking at Tateru’s data for 2011 (the nearest 6 month period to 2013 I have archived) and 2018, shows the average daily rare of sign-up hasn’t varied overly much across the years – although arbitrary daily figures can show more of a variation.

Sign-up across 2 6-month periods, in 2011 and up to April 2018. The averages for both are not too far apart

Both the infographic and Tateru’s stats would again point to the Lab’s optimism around growth, indicating as they do that while daily sign-ups have dropped somewhat over the years – Second Life potentially still generates interest, not all of which can be put down to existing users creating thousands of alt / bot account daily. The problem is, as noted earlier, getting more of those sign-ups converted to active, retained users.

Overall, the current infographic reveals that while there is undoubtedly room to grow the numbers of active users, and despite the downplaying of monthly active users by some, Second Life is still a healthy platform for both users and the Lab when it comes to generating revenue – and the weight of virtual goods tends to point to the Lab’s hopes to re-balance their own revenue generation away from such a heavy reliance on land tier as having merit.

More to the point, it does demonstrate that, despite all the fears about the arrival of Sansar, etc., as Second Life approaches a celebration of it’s fifteenth anniversary, it still offers a richness and depth that can keep us all engaged with it.

Peter Gray to depart Linden Lab

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Peter Gray, Linden Lab’s Senior Director of Global Communications is departing the company after nine  years.

Peter broke the news to me via e-mail on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018 prior to e-mailing a number of other people. He first joined Linden Lab in 2009 from Lewis PR, a technology-focused company, where he gained his first exposure to both Linden Lab and Second Life. This means his experience with the company extends back more than a decade.

It’s been a privilege to represent Linden Lab, our innovative products, and their incredible users as a Linden for the past nine years. I wish our user communities and my Linden colleagues all the best for the future, and I’ll be rooting for their continued success.

– Peter Gray, Senior Director of Communications, Linden Lab

Throughout his time at the Lab, Peter has been one of the public faces of the company, rising from PR Specialist to his current position of Senior Director of Global Communications, gathering a wealth of knowledge about the Lab’s products along the way. In-world, his Classic avatar has often been visible at events such as the SL Birthday celebrations, taking questions at Meet the Lindens events, VWBPE conferences and more. More recently, Peter’s role has extended beyond Second Life to encompass Blocksworld and Sansar, and he has never failed to deal with the myriad question I and a lot of other bloggers have forwarded to the Lab over the years, as and where he has been able to do so.

In departing Linden Lab, Peter is moving on to  a new role with the communications team at Facebook AI Research  – and I wish him well in the new role, although I can honestly say he will be sorely missed.

Peter Gray and his Linden alter-ego

On a personal level, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Peter for all of his help over the years; I’ve deeply appreciated our working relationship, and can say with hand on heart that his support, assistance and insight is one of the major reasons I’ve kept on blogging about SL for so long; his support – and what of the Lab as a whole – has, I believe allowed me to present news and information through these pages objectively, and in the knowledge it is as accurate as I could possibly make it.

Throughout all our time in correspondence and conversation, Pete has never been anything less than open, supportive and friendly. I’d like to further thank him for the personal invite to pop into the Lab and pay him a visit if ever I managed to get back to California and make my way up to San Francisco; I’m genuinely sad I never got to take him up on the offer.

Many thanks again, Peter, and wishing you all the best for 2018 and the future!

Linden Lab: images, logos and IP

Image via lawdonut.co.uk

Update, December 14th, 10:07 UT: Linden Lab has issued an apology on the specific situation involving Strawberry. Included in the blog post is a broader statement concerning the use of their trademarks and the guidelines thereto, and how the Lab will be revising things somewhat for the future. 

The apology and statement are both welcome (not the least by Berry herself!), and kudos is offered to the Lab for openly admitting the error both reasonably quickly and positively.

 

As I was heading for bed last night, I caught a blog post by Strawberry Singh concerning  a trademark complaint she has received from Linden Lab.

Specifically, Berry was informed that a video tutorial she had produced a year ago had been found to be in violation of the Lab’s Trademark Guidelines. These guideline specify how terms like Second Life®, Blocksworld®, SL™ , InSL™, and the eye-in-hand logo might be used.

The guidelines are reasonably clear, and even include a point that journalists and media outlets have special permission to use these marks in articles, vis:

License for Press Use of the Second Life Eye-in-Hand Logo. We’ve given journalists and media outlets special permission to use the Second Life Eye-in-Hand Logo in published articles, blog entries, and news programs specifically about the Second Life virtual world, subject to our Guidelines and Terms and Conditions

Berry, as a blogger / vlogger, thought she was in compliance with the above requirement. The replies she’s had from the Lab – both through Tia Linden, the Lab’s IP Specialist, and other Lab personnel indicate this is not the case.

One possible way of looking at this issue – and according Linden Lab due fairness in their possible concerns – is that YouTube is a platform with a reach that goes well beyond that of a Second Life audience. As such there could be concerns about the use of the various logos and trademarks, etc., being seen as some form of “official” production  – or, were they to be used with other content related to Second Life – as an implied “endorsement” of products, activities, etc. However, were this the case, the matter could perhaps have been dealt with through a request for a suitable disclaimer to the start / end of the video and to its YouTube description.

Admittedly, this doesn’t cover concerns around licensing / monetisation which some might see as being a possible cause behind the notice being issued. But then, this doesn’t appear to be the Lab’s primary concern. Rather, as indicated in Tia’s e-mail – and underscored by the updates Berry has provided since I first read and responded to her post – is over the use of images from specific Second Life web properties and the use of a logo which had – according to the trademark guideline quoted above – previously been allowed. To quote from Tia’s e-mail response to Berry:

More specifically, we do not allow images of our avatar building page, home pages or Second Life Eye In Hand Logo to be used in any capacity. Please do not use images of any Second Life web pages or logos ( with the exception of our inSL logo noted at http://secondlife.com/corporate/brand/insl/#) in your video or any other work. You may provide a link to our website or registration page in your video if you wish.

Note the bold emphasis is mine, to underscore the specific issue: the statement that certain images and logos now cannot be use in any capacity.

If this is now the case, it is worrying for many of us who routinely blog about Second Life and have used such images and logos. I  have, for example, used the eye-in-hand logo in what I have believed to be in accordance with the trademark and branding requirements. Where do we now stand if we are now seeing a shift in position from Linden Lab? Are we now in violation of a new prohibition on image use? Are the various guidelines on trademark and brand use about to be revised? If so, how do such chances sit with conception such as Fair Use?

Of course it could come down to poor wording within an e-mail, and the underpinning reasons for the notice don’t extend beyond the one specific video. But if this is the case, then we should still be given further clarification on the use of images and logos.

I’ve written to Linden Lab raising these broader questions on the use of logos and images. Hopefully, I’ll receive a reply and will follow-up with a post should this be the case.