Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Business Musings: Theivery in SL

I've noticed the topic of intellectual property theft, in particular, textures used for clothings and skins, has been quite hot lately. Between older instances, and newer ones that have turned quite nasty in recent times. While in secondlife it seems that a lot of designers are suprised and outraged, the truth is, "art theft" is quite old, and is just as much a problem in the world outside of secondlife as inside it. While it doesn't excuse what the theives are doing, it just highlights how an old problem has gotten a new twist.

As an artist IRL, I've had an interest in copyright and art theft/fraud for some time. Its not like forgeries and ripoffs are anything new. However, in previous eras, one actually had to have some kind of talent to make reproductions. With the digital era, its as easy as clicking a button and uploading it to a service provider. For artists who provide their work online for others to view, this has become an ever increasing problem. Some of the more popular artists around the web deal with daily reports from fans of ripped work. Deviantart has a whole section devoted to alerting artists to rips. I, myself had to deal with a really severe instance only weeks ago where a person from the UK was using my artwork to solicit commissions. She had taken my work from various galleries and posted it to deviant art after removing my signature and copyright information, then claimed it was hers. The sad part is she did sucker some people into actually paying her for work that she would never be able to do. I did my best to run damage control, contacting each of the people on her list personally to let them know that the work she was claiming she had done, she never had and that she never would. Unfortunately, some people had paid money upfront. It was quite a mess, and this is not the only instance I've cleaned up in the many years I've been showing my artwork online. So I am no stranger to having my work violated and it is the general consensus is that its only getting worse. This has lead to a search for ways for artists of all kinds to keep their work out of the hands of theives. Not only this, but also how to mark it for identification later to prove that it is their work, and get it removed.

It is notoriously difficult to enforce copyrights on the web and electronically. Most ISPs are fairly good about removing offensive or copyrighted materials if the original creator or viewers complain. However, you have to prove you are the original owner, and even then, the theif can just move. That doesn't mean they will stop. Sometimes, artists even have to resort to lawyers to protect their properties.

So how does this apply to secondlife?

The first thing I think anyone who creates content should ask themselves, " Can I handle being ripped off?" Because its going to happen. Artists online either have to develop an iron shell and plan of attack all of their own, or they end up stopping putting up their work because they can't handle the stress. Its the reality of the digital era.

The second thing is to be aware that Linden Labs is not a babysitter. We have to deal with a lot of this on our own. The other thing is that if we want Linden Labs to intervene we have to do more than just yell at them to do something. We must use the ToS to back us up, we must have proof, and we must come up with good propositions and ideas to help make stealing textures more difficult. We must also be patient and realistic. Any change will take time to impliment. They aren't going to tell us everything they are doing, and if they rush, they might bork the job. I'd think I'd rather see something that is tested and works than a half ass solution.

Currently, Linden Labs operates under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If you have a copyright issue, you have to file a notice that is, infact a legal document outside of Secondlife. They state very specifically on this page that:

Your copyright in an item is determined in the real world, by real-world processes including the DMCA. The DMCA process allows users of an online service to resolve copyright disputes using the adjudication systems available in the real world.

Once again, we see where SL ends and RL overlap. The next thing the artist must realize is that legal processes are slow. It can take months to get something delt with. Because Linden labs doesn't have a policy similar to say, webcontent hosts that basically says "if someone complains, we will remove it, no questions asked", dealing with this sort of thing can become very taxing to the artistic creature. This only adds to the frusteration when false claims and reports are filed, adding to the ever increasing workload. You must make sure that if you do file a complaint you have a stack of paper to back you up in terms of documentation.

There is also the question of intention to consider. This has been a forefront of recent drama. Copyright law generally is in the business of protecting artists and creators from having their work ripped off and used commercially without the artists permission or compensation. This is so that your artwork doesn't end up on shoes in Australia or something without you being compensated. (this actually happened to a popular webcomic artists I know of). But it also includes the DISPLAY of a work out in public without appropriate permission. There is a 'fair use' clause in copyright, but it is very specific as to what it exempts. Many theives try to hide behind it, usually failing dismally, however, it is in this clause that we look at intention of the reproduction, modification, or use of a work. The intention is generally where things get fuzzy. Generally if you are using a picture of something for a review or educational purposes, its okay. For written works, you cannot reproduce more than 30% of the original work even for those reasons. There are other instances where exerpted or partial works may be used to support other works, such as to replace a portion of a damaged copy you own, or use something to illustrate a point in a lesson. ( the full list is here.)

However, in the most recent drama, the focus has been on can you modify something you paid for, but the creator has not explicitly given you permission to do so. Now, I'm not going to get involved here on the personal level between parties. I'm looking at the overview of the whole situation, because it is the kind of thing that will probably ripple effect. If this goes over, will this send a message to other people that they can engage in modifying something they bought by using a graphics exploit as long as it is for personal use only? But what about displaying it publically when you go to a club? I don't believe there was ever a malicious intention in the current situation. But, that doesn't mean that someone else might be so benevolent. Infact, it happens all the time, which is probably why creators are so uptight. So now that the milk has been spilt, how do we deal with it? Preferably without the drama. (if you don't want it that is. I'll explain this in a minute.)

The first thing I suggest to anyone who's experiencing theft is CALM DOWN. The intial reaction to theft is usually to get angry, vindictive, or downright furious. People do not act rationally when they are angry. People do not thing rationally when they are upset. DO NOT ACT UNTIL YOU HAVE CALMED DOWN. You MUST take the time to examine all the factors involved. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and to really nail a thief to the wall, you have have to have all your facilities there, cold, calculated, and right. Walk away from the screen, go find a friend, go vent to your friends/roomie/significant other, just don't do anything until you've gotten a chance to deal with your emotions. Don't tell anyone online, at least not until you've gotten at least past step two.

Second thing to do is to gather intelligence and facts. You have to consider intention, usage, and money involved. Is there money involved at all? If there is no money involved then its pretty useless to push things further unless it is a type of theft such as identity theft. ( as in stealing your textures and presenting them as their own on their products, which are the same sort of thing as yours.) or direct rips/copies of your prim work. I know a few instances of prim by prim copies being made and put out to devalue a certain creators work because someone was personally unhappy with that creator. Generally speaking, going after someone for personal use is sketchy, unless they might be a constant public show of the work in question, which again gets highly circumstantial. If you do decide the problem is worth pursuing, you need to gather as much intelligence as you can before you move on to step three. Take screenshots, document who, when, where, what, and how. Make sure everything is dated and backed up with screenshots, times, dates, places, etc. You will want to do all of this personally before you confront the thief or tell anyone else about it. If you can drop a stack of documentation that will stand up in court on someone's desk, they are much more likely to do something about your problem.

The third step is once you've gathered enough intel, created a book on the transgression, and determined that their intentions in taking your work was malicious and ment to hurt your business, life ( in the case of identity theft/impersonation), or professional image, then you can confront the thief. It is very important that when you do so you remain polite, professional, and cold. Remember, if you are still angry, you shouldn't be at this step yet. You need to keep your head. You should tell the theif who you are, why you are contacting them, and what you want them to do. You should never swear at, or call the thief names. It makes you look unprofessional and if you get beligerent it can be verbal assault and just makes you look bad. Key to this is to make sure you are 100% right, that includes on how you handle it. Do not be accusary, this causes people to immediately get defensive. Simply tell them that the textures they are using are stolen, and request they are removed immediately. Don't actually say " Hey you stole my stuff!" because thats making an accusation without the fact of knowing exactly where they got the textures. Just state what you know, which is that they are using stolen textures. Thieves are cowardly by nature, many, when given some wiggle room to get out of trouble, will comply with your demand. No problem, no drama. If they become difficult or rude and refuse to do what you ask, then move on to the next step.

The next step is to file a report inworld about it, and supply that stack of evidence you gathered earlier. This is the step where your ability to defend your work is going to be tested. You must generally supply side by side comparisons where it is DEAD obvious that they are copied or derivative works of your textures. For this reason, I suggest to all who make their own textures to imbed key imperfections and 'security markings' into textures. This can be type, particular signature watermarks, even a slight watermark. If you stretch a texture ( like hair ) this mark will not be seen on the hair, but it sure will by anyone who tries to rip the texture! It will then also be clear when they remove it. For clothing textures, incorporate copyright type or signature marks into the clothing in clever locations. Buttons, cuffs, trims, ruffs, lace, belt buckles, etc. These will provide benchmarks for comparison, since clarity is required for such marks, bad rips and 'photoshop' jobs to try and remove these signature marks will make it obvious the texture is stolen. For skins, birthmarks, moles, freckle patterns, even slight small type in a inconspicuous spot such as the scalp will provide a signature to identify your work from others who may have simply photosourced similarly. Remember, since you are doing the accusing, the burden of proof is on you. You have to proove the thief is guilty. Innocent till PROVEN guilty, so make sure you can prove your work is your work.

At this point, if you provide enough evidence, you may have to do some additional paperwork, and go on to actually filing a copyright violation report as per Secondlife's way of dealing with this. But as with anything legal, don't count on results right away.

Now, remember I did mention the drama, with or without clause here. Depending on your tolerance for it, it can become a powerful attention tactic and thus essentially a publicity stunt. People flock to drama, and its a good way to get your name out there. Stratigically used you can humiliate the thief ( assuming you've gone through the above process and waited a reasonable period of time and nothing has happened.), and gain some recognition, making people aware of the problem. However, be aware that this also has negative implications on you because it can be seen as attention whoring, drama whoring, and generally a bad sport thing. How you handle it becomes key. It is a very delicate thing, and you have to personally be able to handle the backlash, because backlash there will be.

My personal thoughts on the situation where someone modifies something for personal use is annoying, inconsiderate of a creators work, and personally don't support the idea, but I think I'd be curious to see what they did regardless. If they did something interesting, it might be a viable business opportunity, possibly teaming up to create a special edition or new line of something. But then, I've had my work referenced and brutalized so many times that I've gotten largely used to the idea and realized that trying to ice skate uphill is pointless. If someone buys a black car, and then decides after they pay cash and drive it off the lot to paint their car red, it becomes a question of does it really matter, or should we be selling red cars in the first place? The people who are the most successful in the world tend to turn a problem into an opportunity. Be it getting publicity out of the event, or finding a new business partner. Sometimes it pays to think a little sideways and not just let our artistic ego's bull us out into unseemly behavior, particularly when we are dealing with other creators. A certain degree of professionalism and respect, even when dealing with a problem can go a really long way into solving it before you have one, and that goes just as much for creators as it does for the customers and bystanders. If it doesn't concern you and you don't have anything useful to say, it would be wise to simply let those involved deal with it and dont' make things any more complicated or messy than it has to be.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Business Musings: Advertising?

With the annoncement SLforums going the way of the dinosaurs, the host of private blogs, forums and sites cropping up for product information and discussion, and the general dubious nature of searching classifieds listings and places in game, I've been pondering. The question I've been pondering is in regards to advertising. I know the classifieds section is staying open, which is awesome, but still, what about the people who don't read the forums?

I work in an marketing department IRL. I'm a graphics monkey doing ads, posters, fliers, brochures, bus ads, airport ads, etc, etc ad nausium. ( side note: Very cool blog post on making ads for SL or for anything really.)I know how advertising works in the real world, but I've always been a little mystified by it in SL. Where is the best place to get my info as a consumer, or worse yet how do I get eyeballs to see my new products?

In the past I've seen ads in SL. Normally I cruise about on the mainland or a few private islands. I've seen big floating billboards on other wise empty expanses. I've seen 'advertising networks' that claim to get your name out there. Again, roadside billboards on those infamously overpriced 16 sq/m of land of a roadside somewhere. Occasionally I saw a billboard in a mall. This was actually the way I stumbled onto Pixeldolls when I was a noob. The billboard gave me a freebee ( pants and a top I think..) as well as a landmark. One of the better advertising I've seen done. Why? Because I actually WENT there and I've been a customer of PixelDolls ever since. Thus, that ad worked, and its placement worked. Another thing I've heard more about and seems semi popular (rather than seen, I'm not a club goer so much.) is sponsorship type advertising. Donations of money or products for events at clubs, with of course the DJ and hosts plugging the store, sometimes a big graphic in the background, although its not particularly frequent it seems.

When dwell was removed, the situation for traffic vs money has been pretty dire for things like clubs since they don't make a lot generally and typically have a higher overhead for staff, prizes, and so forth. Many of the perks of having items such as camping chairs, money trees, prize chairs, dance pads were lost with dwell. Some people will laud this as a good thing. I can sort of agree in terms of abuse of those items, but in a world where noobs don't get a stipidend anymore and jobs in SL are sparce as hen's teeth, not everyone is able to build something worth selling nore are they interested in doing so. These items provide value to newbies, as well as older residents who then use that money in turn to support merchants, casinos, and other activities. Its a great circle of life. Mostly. But what happens when the free money stops? With no Dwell a lot of places that relied on it have vanished in a virtual poof of smoke.

So this is the situation, and I've been pondering and pondering. And then a digital apple hit me on the head.

I've been pondering some more attraction type stuff at my own mall to get more butts in seats as it were, and I found a moneytree that works off donation amounts rather than suffering having your wallet permadrained. It's the Wolfhaven MoneyTree if you are curious.
I put it in a fairly obscure location, which does force people to walk through the stores a bit to find it ( i have a teleport point set which is purposefully away from it). I also put out some freebees & cheapies with a landmark so that hopefully the people picking from the tree would also take a freebee or cheapie with the landmark so they would sample my stuff and get the landmark, hopefully coming back later or bringing friends. Of course, this didn't quite work as I had thought, most people ignore the samples and go strait for the cash. I'm quite sure I'm going to have to plug the meter already as it were, which also poses a dilemma in terms of getting donations into the tree. What value, aside from philanthropy, of helping out newbies does the tree provide. Well, the obvious answer is traffic. Eyeballs. Then it dawned on me. Eyeballs have value! Some of the best value in the world, as a matter of fact.

Even if the person picking from the tree is only there for 5 minutes trying to figure out how the thing works, or maybe less if they know what to do, they are going to stare at it for at least 30 seconds. Thats 30 seconds to give them a message about your business, product, or service. Most people camera around the tree to see if there is more money hiding somewhere, or to be able to click the money in it. Thats 360 degrees of advertising space! There is also the process of getting to the tree which could also support advertising. If people paid for the advertising, it would easily pay for the tree. Newbies get money, business get eyeballs. Its win win. Value for both.

This got me thinking about other similar situations. Camping chairs/mats/dance pads, etc. You've got people coming in, why isn't there a big fat ad in the middle of the huddle? properly priced it would pay for what comes out of the chairs and the advertiser gets a captive audience. Even AFK a lot of camping locations have people popping in because of traffic numbers. Those are potential eyeballs to capture.

I'm kind of surprised there isn't MORE sponsorship for clubs and the like, seeing as if the club did it right it would probably be very lucrative. Although i'm sure most clubs don't have an advertising/marketting manager on their staff for anything aside from their own needs, they don't go out and actively solicit stores for advertising inside the club.

But the bottom line is, why be an advertising 'agency' or network in SL with just big signs in the middle of nowhere with no quantifyable traffic save perhaps flybys when you can have guarunteed eyeballs on a daily basis if you plunk your ad on a moneytree or in front of some chairs. And with all the clubs, casinos and other venue's screaming for money, why didn't they think of it? And why pay money for advertising unless you are getting guarunteed eyes for your L$?

My little moneytree is going to serve as my personal advertising experiment, of which I'll post the results. If you own a business, and want to be a part of it, let me know. Otherwise I'm going to present the offer to people I know in game and see what they think.

Scam Alert: Newbie Slot Tester Scam

This is an alert in that it is happening, although the scam itself is pretty old. I had first hand experience with this one as I ran around with a new alt. ( Will update with details when I get home and review my log)

Affects: Newbies & Junkyard/freebee place owners
Modus Operandi: The scammer approches a newbie who is picking through the junkyard or freebee area and asks if they will help them test a slots game. They then place the slots down near them and tell them to pay the machine.
How it goes down: This is simply a variation on the standard Game tester scam targetted specifically at newbies, who, of course don't know better. The scammer picks out someone very new, asks them to help them test a slot machine. They put the slot machine down, sometimes with several newbies present and several slot machines in the same place. The scammer tells the newbie to make a bet. The noob, not knowing about the game tester scam, pays the slot machine. The slot machine dings, makes noise, says things, and then claims the newbie won whatever amount they pumped into the machine, however, it never pays the newbie back. If asked about the money, the scammer will claim they never recieved it ( which is bull because you get the little blue box that says " paid scammy mcscammer 2L ") If pressed the scammer will give the newbie some freebee gestures claiming that they are worth a lot of money as 'compensation'.
Seeing through the Scam: Unfortunately, because this is targetted at newbies who do not know SL, or read this blog or even know about the Caveat Emptor group, they have no way to know whats going on. If you happen to be an oldbie strutting around in a shiny new alt and catch this sort of business, try to warn the people around you quietly and file an abuse report.
Damage control: The freebee yard owners should try to keep an eye and ear to the ground about this and either ban troublemakers or use autoreturn to prevent the scammers from putting their objects out. One could also disable rezzing on their land, but in the spirit of keeping newbies from getting frusterated, I could see how this would be problematic. Best to try to patrol your freebee zone as much as possible or hire some newbies to do it for you. :)

In this particular case, the slotmachine used was the Fairy Tale slot machine by Ryan Linden which I assume had been modified to prevent payout. The area where the incident I experienced occured was in
YadNi's Junkyard, but it may be occuring at other freebee hubs or sandboxes. When I fetch my logs, I will name the perp so that he may be banned from newbie zones.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Business Musings: "I'm not happy, and I'm telling!"

One of the fun (or not so fun) parts of being a merchant is dealing with customers. Most of them are pretty cool. They are interesting to talk to, fun, positive people who are enjoying your hardwork. And then there are those that are not so cool, and they happen to be rather loud.

If you haven't worked in customer service before your secondlife shop, it can come as a bit of a shock. Even a seasoned worker might find them difficult to deal with from time to time. But the specific sort of 'sucky customer' I'm talking about today is the " I'm not happy, I'm telling!" kind of customer.

This particular sort is the kind that buys something, then complains to you that they are dissatisfied with your product, and threatens to tell all their friends not to buy from you. They do not give you any additional information aside from that they are unhappy. They do not give you a chance to help them, or give you any sort of useful information as to how you could make your product better. They may have several reasons for disliking your product. This can include price vs precieved value, expectations from your advertising falling short, a bad permission peice, something missing, etc, but this sort of customer doesn't tell you specifically why they feel the 'buyers remorse' and feel the need to threaten your business.

Of course, when threatened the first instinct is to get defensive. But lets look at this from a slightly different perspective. While yes, the individual may have a circle of friends, they are not the be-all end-all of clients in secondlife. You have to remember for each client that objects, you've satisified a fair number more. So obviously, whatever the problem is, its likely fairly specific to that client. And their threat is actually not so big of a deal. They may tell someone not to shop from you, but people have a morbid curiousity. Sometimes controversy can be your friend in the advertising world. People when told NOT to go somewhere, almost always will, if nothing else to simply check it out for themselves. They might not buy that specific product they were warned against, but they might well find something else they like. Either way, there are fresh faces in your store without you do any of the work.

The 'boycott' threat of these sorts of customers tends to get under the skin of newer, younger retailers than older, established ones. A younger retailer, especially one that doesn't have a lot of established customers might feel that this person can actually hamper their business. However, it is my experience that most of these people are not sufficiently well connected or credable enough to do anything other than spread your name around.

In terms of customer service, you should probably see if the disgrundled individual can elaborate on why they are dissatisfied, however, do not feel obligated to meet all of his demands. Like anything else, this is about bargaining. If its simple, such as a missed part or bad permission, it might be easy to fix. If the person is difficult or non-communcative, it might be more difficult to actually deal with the problem or figure out if it is actually a problem. If it is one person out of many, it's probably not pressing.

The bottom line? Don't worry about it. You can't please everyone all the time. If you've got 50 happy customers and only 1 unhappy one, you are actually doing pretty awesome.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Inworld Group update

With the new groups system, I've set up specific roles and titles in the group for people can more clearly identify themselves. I've also created a position within the group called "Watchdog". Obviously I'm but one body and I can't be everywhere at all times, so I need some help to keep an eye out for scams and such. Watchdogs are people who are willing to help in this task. You obviously don't have to spend every day all day doing this, but basically keeping your ear to the ground in forums, blogs, and in world for fraud and scam activity and then reporting it back to me so I can look into it or report on it.

The other titles in the group identify the savvy shoppers and the Ethical merchants within the group. If you are in the group and have a preference, please let me know via IM inworld and I'll move you to the appropriate role & title.

Scam Alert: Capped 'Sploders'

Affects: people who use 'sploders', which are sort of like lotto balls commonly used at events or clubs. People put money in the pot and its distributed to the people at the event with one person winning a lion share of the money.
Modus Operandi
: The scammer places an invisible cylendar or other prim over top of the 'sploder' to collect all the money the participants at the event attempt to put into the ball.
How it goes down: In order to use a sploder, the patrons at the event ( or casino/club) have to put money into the ball. Its like paying for a lotto ticket. The scammer puts a transparent object over the ball so that the patrons can't see that they aren't actually paying the ball. The money is then funnelled to the scammer through the invisible object.
Seeing through the Scam: Like the invisible prim over vendor scam, this one can be fairly easily seen through if you are careful before you pay. If you use Alt-Control T, you can see transparent objects, use the same command to toggle 'highlight transparent' off again. If there is a strange object overtop of the 'sploder', alert the management immediately.
Damage control: Event managers with these sort of promotional items should try to keep an eye on them, or have staff keep an eye on them for people doing suspicious things near them. Disabling rezing on the land for non staff can be helpful too, provided they can't just drag it over from an ajoining parcel. Enabling auto-return is also a good idea, as it is with the other scam. However, that doesn't protect you against internal scammers. Be sure you have trust worthy staff and make sure to check your sploders frequently durring events. I would also suggest you put them away when not in use and move them about the event area from event to event.