Sunday, August 3, 2008

Permissive Society

One of the constant flame wars in second life around the Open Grid Protocol centers are around permissions. Two of the main camps are the copy/mod/trans fundamentalists, who, in defiance of all reason, think that the current cmt system is all the world needs for managing licenses to use content. These people obviously have never bought a pair of no copy shoes hidden blind behind a fast pay. My own personal policy on such vendors is to never ever shop there again, never patronize any of their establishments and warn my friends about the rip off. The other camp is the "since DRM will fail, why bother?" This is like saying, roughly, since we can't prevent all cases of theft we should outlaw locks.

These two sides are happy to go after each other for hours, and hate any other points of view. This is because, like many forms of simple minded fundamentalism, they feed off the ignorance of the other viewpoint. Each makes the same argument, basically, that a world run by the other side is unbearable, and therefore everyone must accept anything that will stop it.

Nonsense. And after having waded through hundreds of hours of this nonsense, it's time to try and put some sense forward.

One thing to accept is that no technological system is going to run the way we want it to in all, or even almost all, cases. What we aim for is a system that does more good than the time and effort to clean up the problems it creates. And preferably much more good. If we accept that nothing comes without some kind of cost, then the whole argument that some kind of perfection is required drops away. Nothing has ever been perfect, and computers are less perfect than many other forms of human endeavor.

Another is that we aren't dealing with "objects" in a physical sense, but with software, and we aren't buying it, we are licensing it. The whole attempt to get people to think of VR in the paradigm of like physical objects is a gross failure. Lots of people have lost lots of money thinking of "land" in sl as being like "land." It isn't and the virtual content we buy is not very much like real objects. Once we accept that what we are doing is buying licenses, and that what the system needs to do is make reasonable and legal licenses easy, while stopping the majority of unreasonable behavior, then we can start to look at what kinds of things would really help.

A simple step would be to attach a license URL to every object, even if, most of the time, this is a default license. We have covenants for land, so it isn't a matter of not being able to do it. But instead of being just readable text, it should also be a description in machine terms as to what is doable. There could then be license servers, and the license domain would communicate what kinds of things could be done with content in a particular environment. Compliance with this licensing description would be a requirement to be trusted.

Now on to the copmod trannies of this world. The problems with cmt as a license description are so many and so varied that truly, religious experience seems narrow by comparison. The simple example just listed, that one can be hit blind by a purchase is one. The BIAB problem is another, that is, to give content that can be used as others content or others sale, means giving full perms, even though it should be reasonable to give objects that the next person can use fully, but cannot give full perms copies of the object away. If bed makers had to live with the same conditions as sl, the only spring maker in America would go out of business.

In short, cmt is a bad licensing regime, and there is no reason to inflict it on the rest of the metaverse, nor should the rest of the metaverse feel the slightest compulsion to fit all licenses into this mold. Now they should implement it, because it is one licensing scheme, but the insanity of having to code around no mod objects not being able to easily take input, needs to go away.

What content creators need to realize is that in an open metaverse, the cost of sims will drop radically. It costs about 75 dollars a month to host the equivalent of a full sim. Now LL charges for many things through tier, but not everyone needs or wants them. Now, if people are suddenly paying smaller set up costs, and about 1/4 as much for a sim, what does that free up their money for? Content. Your content.

This is why land barons scream at me for what I write about this. It isn't content providers that have a reason for a closed metaverse, but people who rent inside of LL, and would not be able to, or fear they would not be able to, recoup their costs or rent outside of LL. For some of them, dinosim owners they are, this is probably true. But for most of us, it is not true. Think about something, SL's land system is pretty awful. People won't shift to other places until they can buy and move around in an open metaverse until the land system in such an open metaverse is no more awful than what we have now.

This means, if you can deal with LL's land system, you'll be able to cope with an open metaverse's land system. Many people think that hosting companies will take over. But they have not taken over the WWW. Most people can't even name large hosting companies. This is because buying computers and hooking them together, while a skill, is a commodity skill. There will be lots of hosting companies that will simply add running a vr sim to the mix of what they offer, and the price will drop down to the price of every other application. Cheap.

What will be important is customer service, price, content, and theme. That means in world experience and experience dealing with all the ins and outs of living in this second life.

People should not fear the open grid reality, nor should they fear a world where licenses are more complex that cmt. They shouldn't even fear the noisy extremes in the current debate, because these noisy extremes aren't going to determine what people adopt, having usable systems will.

And the road to that, is by doing it. A friend of mine tells me that a flawed diamond is better than a perfect brick, and that flawed implementations that do what people want, will pass by any theoretical prefection.


  1. There is one more aspect, Lilly.
    There is a so called 'Fair Use' doctrine and the 'First Sale' part of it particular. Basically, what it says is: the manufacturer IS NOT ALLOWED to prevent a resale of legally PURCHASED item.
    One may notice that the 'no transfer' so called 'permissions' CONTRADICT this principle. Mind that you click the button 'Buy' when you are purchasing items in SL, not the button 'Acquire the limited license'. :)
    Once again - the 'no-transfer' so called 'permissions' VIOLATE THE LAW.
    Also, what exactly do those 'permissions' mean, may I ask? Is it a special type of a license or something? Where is it described (actually it is NOT)? Is it a legitimate form of a contract? What law governs this contract?
    Questions, questions... no answers.

  2. The Doctrine of First Sale isn't part of the Doctrine of Fair Use; it's another thing entirely. And it only applies to certain items (normal atomic printed books, for instance), and only in certain jurisdictions. And the current case law on whether or not it applies to digital things is incredibly unclear. So saying that no-transfer permissions "VIOLATE THE LAW" oversimplifies the case radically.

    Wikipedia has a good summary of the mess: here.

  3. Of course I oversimplify, Dale :)
    I'm not arguing. :)

    Did you push the 'BUY' button? Or did you push the 'Acqure the limited license right' button? It's THAT simple. And that was my point.