Saturday, August 26, 2006

A question of ethics

Earlier I told you about joining Second Life, the online virtual world. I thought I'd share this image with you of an ethics discussion group I attended inworld. I am not in the picture since this is my first-person view. The boxes above the avatars' heads are their names and, in the case of those "chatting", their comments.

The topic of discussion was ethics surrounding intellectual property rights in Second Life. People create clothing, animations (such as dance routines), jewelry, hair, physical objects, and textures (which can be applied to many of the above things). The creator of these various items can make them available for sale or for free, and can set "permissions" for them controlling whether the recipient (purchaser or freebie recipient) can modify, copy or transfer ownership of the item. The question of ethics can arise in many ways, but most often arises when someone takes a free item which has been made fully customizable by the creator in the spirit of sharing - free to copy, modify, or transfer - and then passes that item as his own or sells it as his own, as-is or with minimal modification. The rationalization by these people is that they are not "really stealing" because they are virtual items, infinitely copyable and sellable by the original creators.

It was an interesting and free-ranging discussion that veered into other examples of intellectual property sharing - and stealing - such as downloading warez (cracked copies of commercial software, music, and movies). It was made all the more interesting by the fact that the opinions in the room, while largely sqarely on the side of respecting creators' rights, were not unanimous; a couple of participants were firmly of the opinion that downloading warez, for example, was also "not stealing because you are only taking a copy, and the creator still has limitless copies of the original to sell'.

The discussion was of great interest to me since I am extremely interested in learning to create art and clothing for distribution in-world. It certainly reinforced the importance of understanding setting permissions and what keys to your work you are giving people with the various combinations thereof.



Anonymous Sister said...

I've almost got the software downloaded. As I said before, I'm not sure if I'll be able to do much IN-world, as I only have dial-up and the webpage says you need DSL or Cable, but I'll try! It looks very interesting, and like you, I would love to try making things in-game. Or in-world, rather.

9:50 a.m.  
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3:16 a.m.  

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