November 15, 2006 4:00 AM PST

'Second Life' faces threat to its virtual economy

Related Stories

'Second Life' land prices get hefty hikes

November 1, 2006

Taking 'Second Life' to the next level

October 18, 2006

Name that metaverse

October 6, 2005
Groups of Second Life content creators were gathering digitally Tuesday to protest the dissemination of a program they worry could badly damage the virtual world's nascent economy.

The controversy gathered steam Monday when Linden Lab, which publishes Second Life, posted a blog alerting residents of the virtual world to the existence of a program or bot called CopyBot, which allows someone to copy any object in Second Life. That includes goods such as clothing that people purchase for their in-world avatars, and even the virtual PCs that computer giant Dell announced Tuesday it is going to sell in the digital world.

Second Life users can purchase virtual items with a pretend currency called Linden dollars--named for game creator Linden Lab. But they use real-life currency to acquire that virtual coin. In fact, there's an exchange rate between the two: One U.S. dollar will buy 271 Lindens, enough to buy a basic outfit for an avatar, which is the digital representation of a person.

Click for gallery

Problem is, it's not clear yet if there's anything Linden Lab can do to stop people from using the bot. Linden Lab said Second Life content creators who had their wares stolen had few immediate options for stopping the thefts and that the best recourse for them could be to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint--in the real world--against offenders.

Some virtual entrepreneurs now worry their livelihoods are at stake, and some are threatening to shut down their in-world businesses before they get fleeced.

"The problem with the DMCA is that it takes many weeks," said Jim Mallon, a Second Life content creator who has been in the virtual world since its 2003 beta. "By that time, someone's work could be (copied and stolen) and distributed all over the grid. I am so surprised Linden Lab did not see this coming and stop it."

Second Life is an open-ended, 3D, digital virtual world in which members can create nearly anything they can imagine, and in which anyone owns the intellectual property rights to what they create. As a result, there are hundreds of businesses selling clothing, vehicles, furniture and the like, all for Linden dollars. A complex and stable economy has sprung up around such commerce.

"I am so surprised Linden Lab did not see this coming and stop it."
--Jim Mallon,
a Second Life
content creator

The reaction to CopyBot is not the first virtual revolt. Many Second Life residents recently complained when Linden Lab announced it was raising the price for the in-world "islands" it sells. As a result, the company said it would delay the price hikes for two weeks.

Residents have also complained about other issues, such as problems with the user interface and previous issues related to the security of created content.

On Tuesday afternoon, even as the controversy raged, Linden Lab posted a second blog entry addressing CopyBot and the resulting fallout.

Titled "Use of CopyBot and similar tools a (terms of service) violation," the post by Cory Ondrejka, Linden Lab's chief technology officer, attempted to ease concern that in-world merchants were at risk of having valuable goods stolen.

"Second Life needs features to provide more information about assets and the results of copying them," Ondrejka's post began. "Unfortunately, these are not yet in place. Until they are, the use of CopyBot or any other external application to make unauthorized duplicates within Second Life will be treated as a violation and may result in your account(s) being banned."

To "Baba Yamamoto," the Second Life name of one of the members of the group that created CopyBot, the uproar over the software is understandable but disappointing.

Yamamoto told CNET News.com that CopyBot was created as a tool for testing and demonstrations and was never intended to be used for illegal theft. But because the tool was created using an open-source license, some Second Life users have gotten hold of it and are now freely using and distributing it.

"It's not that the code is some kind of exploit," Yamamoto said. "It deals with legitimate client data that every client receives, but it takes that data and converts it to a packet and sends it back to the servers, duplicating the appearance of objects and avatars. It acts like an import/export tool."

CONTINUED: Out-of-control tool…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
Second Life, virtual worlds, creator, economy, DMCA

37 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Virtual Economy
Hahahaha,
They have a virtual crime wave, how pathetic
your hard earned money, facing virtual inflation.
It's a virtual Bear's market. Real estate prices will drop into nothing, a virtual 1929.
Posted by jackrabbitslam (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
how sad
Still supprised nothing has yet been done after 48 hours.
Posted by UnhappyTroll (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Considering
It wasn't long ago that there was a security breach which was (mis)handled on the slow track, so the fact that this is still out there doesn't surprise me.
Posted by MrNougat (78 comments )
Link Flag
how sad - people are paying for this
I am still surprise of how easily some people waste there money. What kind retarded mind(I apologize to anyone with this disability) pays for this?? You could send money to a charity, to people in need, buy food to a homeless, BUT NOO. Let's buy a virtual land, YEEE. Give me a break.
Posted by yacahuma (530 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do you watch tv?
Do you pay for premium channels? do you own movies? Do you play any video games? Its obvious you have internet do you ever use it for entertainment purposes? They are mearly spending money on entertainment. It doesn't matter how much they spend to entertain them selves. Do you send all the money you spend on entertainment to charity?
Posted by Godplas (2 comments )
Link Flag
how sad - people are paying for this
I am still surprise of how easily some people waste there money. What kind retarded mind(I apologize to anyone with this disability) pays for this?? You could send money to a charity, to people in need, buy food to a homeless, BUT NOO. Let's buy a virtual land, YEEE. Give me a break.
Posted by yacahuma (530 comments )
Reply Link Flag
webspace?
I pay monthly for a service called 'web hosting', wherin I get virtual 'webspace' and a 'domain name'. Wow. Doesn't seem so retarded now, does it? (For the record, land owners can often easily make back all the money they spend on land by selling items in-game.)
Posted by DraconumPB (229 comments )
Link Flag
An Interesting Future
I'm curious to know how long it will take for a new copyfree economy to become accepted and what shape it will ultimately assume. It's interesting to see a virtual world struggle with a situation the real one has yet to face. When technology finally allows us to copy physical objects, how long will it take us to realize that a different economic model must replace the old one? Legal actions may slow the change and the benefits to society at large, but sooner or later the way in which we make a living will undergo a dramatic revision. Better yet, creators (artists) will create simply because they do (i.e. that is their nature) and also for the benefits to society. Truly, artists will create art for art's sake.
Posted by Allan Ziskey (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Artists need food too
As an artist I still need to eat, pay rent, and oh yeah, pay off those
student loans from art school.
Posted by huggablebunny (1 comment )
Link Flag
This is Horrible!!!
I quess you'll have to get a fake life now, No Wait - you already have one.
HTFC
Posted by mssoot (169 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is Horrible!!!
I quess you'll have to get a fake life now, No Wait - you already have one.
HTFC
Posted by mssoot (169 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If only someone invented something to stop copying
Let's see, could that hypothetical invention be DRM? I'm sure it could easily be implemented into this virtual world. Every worthwhile object comes with a certificate from an in-world CA that allows the object to stick around. Only authentic creators get to assign certificates.
Spam
Spam
Humbug
Guess DRM and copyright protection isn't so bad after all. Guess no-body's going to complain about the DMCA after all
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DRM will help all
Let's see, could that hypothetical invention be DRM? I'm sure it could easily be implemented into this virtual world. Every worthwhile object comes with a certificate from an in-world CA that allows the object to stick around. Only authentic creators get to assign certificates.
Spam
Spam
Humbug
Guess DRM and copyright protection isn't so bad after all. Guess no-body's going to complain about the DMCA after all
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And You Are Surprised?
And you are surprised?

1) The real world does face it. As long as there are speaker wires on stereos, music can be stolen. This is the digital VR equivalent. RIAA buys you nothing but trouble and legal fees. Good people buy; bad people steal. Good people deal and bad people learn.

2) A virtual economy is still a game and like online poker, it will be regulated eventually by the meatspace economy. Laws are passed, they are difficult to enforce, pirates load up and 'arggh matey' to that. It becomes a game of percentages just as shipping gold out of the devastation that was the Aztec kingdoms became a bet on getting enough stolen gold past the pirates ready to steal it again did.

3) The real danger to Linden Labs is pilfering of server logs for industrial chats. On the one hand, the Sun announcment and program could have used a utility that sends the chat log out as an Atom-formatted blog so that those without the high-speed connections required by SL could read the announcment. Companies hosting private events such as the kinds of design sessions held in the Jewel of Indra VRML worlds do can use those blogs for internal distribution. On the other hand, when security fails and someone outside the company either inside LL or outside LL gets and distributes those logs for sale or profit, LL will be sued for fiduciary abbrogation or some other neat legal and expensive cause.

The VR market is still emerging as Eric Maranne notes on the www-vrml and X3D lists. VR is a message and real-time 3D is a medium. The medium can be used for many different kinds of messages and not just VR in communities. Companies and individuals interested in the technologies and not just LL's implementation will do well to study the open unencumbered standards for VR on the web, and real-time 3D for other applications.

Don't confuse the houses with the bricks and the mortar.

Meanwhile, LL is a snow plow uncovering the roads that VRML built ten years ago. They had the same problems of pilfering but responded for the most part in accepting that and insisting that pilfered code retain the copyright notices but otherwise in the interests of building an open virtual reality on the web, copy and learn. The artists on Linden Labs server farm are late to this party and now learning what the VRML artists accepted from the beginning. "Sorry 'bout that" is the standard answer; call it the price of risk management and the learning curve.

CNet doesn't get this yet. It isn't news yet. When it is, they will be the first to report it and the last to know.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey, wait a second...
I thought copying and distributing unauthorized digital content was ok? I was in a discussion about downloading MP3s of songs that artists had created for free and many many people think that's just fine.

I guess that in reality, stealing is only in the eye of the beholder. If it's someone else's stuff that's being stolen, it's ok, but when it's YOURS, it's not. People's ethics on the internet makes me want to puke.
Posted by mattumanu (599 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't blame them
Have you even gone INTO SecondLife?? It's nothing but advertisments and thousands of people trying to sell you something. Everything. This cyber-world is even worse than real-life, and the web, for ads. It's everywhere you go. Go to any (at least) half-developed island and you're bombarded by advertising. Want to avoid it? Fly away - but make sure you fly around that 40-storey billboard first. I was intrigued when I first learned of SL but forcing you to buy with real money just wrecked it (what can you do without your own land??). Maybe this CopyBot is a form of revolt. I uninstalled SL. Oh, and all the people I met were very rude. I was just a newbie looking around!
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Waaaaa???
Someone in a software environment, managed to use a software application to duplicate a wireframe and mapped image? No.. say it isn't soo..

You didn't see this one coming? You took money from the real world where item duplication would mean molecular level science fiction then paid it into a software generated environment where informations natural state is to duplicate and spread then cried fawl when information duplicated and spread.. really???

Everybody want's a quick easy buck and thought a computer game was the place to get it.. good show

This is about as rational as people buying multi-player game items off Ebay cause they just gotta have the baddest dragon slayer in all (insert fictitious setting name here).
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is a joke, right?
I'm not really up to speed on this Second Life thing. Is this a virtual world, inhabited by pretend people, in a make believe economy? Do some of the players have anything that they could contribute to the world all of us live in? Something real? How much time do people spend in there? Don't they like our world? Don't they like who they really are? Good material for a Thesis.
Posted by m.o.t.u. (96 comments )
Reply Link Flag
moove online 3D world economy
moove online (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.moove.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.moove.com</a>) has extended possibilities to offer creations or services to other members. View the following link for an example of a members shop list in moove  in addition to her own manually designed shop pages on external websites:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://community.moove.com/cs/as.dll?ecitems&#38;m=MK9M" target="_newWindow">http://community.moove.com/cs/as.dll?ecitems&#38;m=MK9M</a>
Posted by mooveonline (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It boggles...
It boggles the mind that they _dont_ already have some means of uniquely identifying every item of worth in the system. Failure to do so makes any 'cash' in their game worth less than the, hmm, paper its printed on.

This is just a huge failure by the developers that should never have occurred in the first place.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
two questions for you mattumanu
What puts -you- on such a high moral pedistal ?
Too many times I've seen your posts, and they ALL smack of a self-righteous superiority.

Instead of being a jerk, why don't you actually contribute something constructive?
Posted by ShadowGryphon (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I did contribute something constructive.
There people who are saying it's just peachy keen to copy protected content and spread it around. Obviously a number of people in second life have taken this stance and are using the Bot to copy things that are normally paid for, and from what I've seen on other sites they think it's ok to do this. But what they are doing could destroy the entire economy of second life, or at the very least bankrupt many people who have made thier living creating the copied content.

Instead of reacting with your gut all the time, why don't you think about these things and the consequences of your thoughts and actions. Nothing puts me on a high moral pedistal, but at least I stop to think about what might happen if we continue the way we are going.
Posted by mattumanu (599 comments )
Link Flag
I did contribute something constructive...
There people who are saying it's just peachy keen to copy protected content and spread it around. Obviously a number of people in second life have taken this stance and are using the Bot to copy things that are normally paid for, and from what I've seen on other sites they think it's ok to do this. But what they are doing could destroy the entire economy of second life, or at the very least bankrupt many people who have made thier living creating the copied content.

Instead of reacting with your gut all the time, why don't you think about these things and the consequences of your thoughts and actions. Nothing puts me on a high moral pedistal, but at least I stop to think about what might happen if we continue the way we are going.
Posted by mattumanu (599 comments )
Link Flag
I think the whole Idea is Ridiculous Anyway...
I will comment on the actual incident eventually but first i must say... Second Life is ridiculous... I have a friend who participates in the online community and I cannot believe it... I understand the need and desire for an online marketplace. Why does it have to be modeled like and MMORPG and not more like a non-bidding form of ebay (ebay express?) . I do not mean to attack the people who use and enjoy second life but It is such a frivolous, stagnant excercise that does nothing to advance society, in fact, if anything it simply further isolates people from one another! Now, on to the subject at hand.. While I agree Linden Labs should try to prepare for attacks on its economic infrastructure in the form of malware, viruses, hackers whatever.. but on the other hand as a participant in this (or any other marketplace) you have to know the risks involved A similar experience is being felt in the music industry with Limewire, torrents, and the music stealing scene. Stealing of music is nothing new and if someone decides to sell a record it is known that it will be bootlegged. I think there should be a countermeasure or fix of some kind to stop this copyBot but I also say that in any online world this has to be expected!

(a little side note I wonder if any of those people being "fleeced" steal music online... I guess they would know how it feels now!)
Posted by nickmanc86 (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can you believe it its the end of the second life world
Its so sad and so understandable that LLabs is brought down to their feet with these hackers. LLabs doesnt want to stop this copybot nor does it really care. Lindens are nolonger answering questerns, and lindens themselves are producing these stories ( Yes they have lindens doing stories about sl ) Look up at this writing for who wrote this that linden who is on sl.

If this copybot is some sort of story to bring even more attention to the game, then LLabs better start looking for a new concept! because Second Life is dieing a slow death.
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
Reply Link Flag
By the Way
I'm not endorsing stealing content clearly marked as owned. I'm saying that that is all DRM get you; a way to make it harder to steal and a way to prove it was indeed stolen. But you will pay a price for that defense in legal fees and if you carry it too far, in a lot of very pissed off customers who did pay for it and consider it theirs to use as they will. They will do as I saw my son did today with a game that he purchased in a store and after bringing it home, found he had to log on to the Internet and download more stuff just to play it. That kind of thing is ********.

You want protection. My point about what the VRMLers did was that without a binary, they found they couldn't protect anything and as a result, their community went into a tailspin without profits to show for legitimate hard work. So they coped as best as they could and now they are about to put their work in binaries if they so choose. That won't protect it; it will just make it a bit more inconvenient to steal.

But it is the closed system that is SecondLife that makes it possible to sell content there and it is the selling of content that makes it attractive to steal: it has value. So you live with the big bad world when you make stuff to sell. If LindenLabs can't protect it, find another place to sell it but be aware that the same scenario will repeat.

I didn't say that was a good thing; it's just Life Among the Mammals. Deal.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
By the Way
I'm not endorsing stealing content clearly marked as owned. I'm saying that that is all DRM get you; a way to make it harder to steal and a way to prove it was indeed stolen. But you will pay a price for that defense in legal fees and if you carry it too far, in a lot of very pissed off customers who did pay for it and consider it theirs to use as they will. They will do as I saw my son did today with a game that he purchased in a store and after bringing it home, found he had to log on to the Internet and download more stuff just to play it. That kind of thing is ********.

You want protection. My point about what the VRMLers did was that without a binary, they found they couldn't protect anything and as a result, their community went into a tailspin without profits to show for legitimate hard work. So they coped as best as they could and now they are about to put their work in binaries if they so choose. That won't protect it; it will just make it a bit more inconvenient to steal.

But it is the closed system that is SecondLife that makes it possible to sell content there and it is the selling of content that makes it attractive to steal: it has value. So you live with the big bad world when you make stuff to sell. If LindenLabs can't protect it, find another place to sell it but be aware that the same scenario will repeat.

I didn't say that was a good thing; it's just Life Among the Mammals. Deal.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
CopyBot Was Deliberate and Malicious
Daniel, you quote Baba and put him in a context as if he is just some serious and thoughtful software engineer who is just telling us the technical facts.

But it's all fake.

He has been outed as someone utterly malicious and cruel in having done this CopyBot deliberately.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.sluniverse.com/forums/Topic12867-1-1.aspx" target="_newWindow">http://www.sluniverse.com/forums/Topic12867-1-1.aspx</a>
Posted by Prokofy Neva (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I commented about this concept a long time ago...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/5208-1030-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=22182&#38;messageID=195793&#38;start=-69" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/5208-1030-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=22182&#38;messageID=195793&#38;start=-69</a>
and
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/5208-1030-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=22182&#38;messageID=195795&#38;start=-69" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/5208-1030-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=22182&#38;messageID=195795&#38;start=-69</a>

yeah... Their arguments are worthless. The internet is a completely different economic system where the models of supply and demand simply do not and can not exist... It just inherently doesn't work that way. Everyone calls me a lier and a thief... That's like saying that the fact that gravity exists is wrong and that we should all attempt to work against gravity and make it non-existent.... It's just not reasonable and not possible. This is all so dumb and trivial and ego driven... it's sad really...
Posted by coryschulz (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
life....
that is funny... I was thinking the same thing. This thing is just dumb. People really do need to get out more and have a "real" life.
Posted by aSiriusTHoTH (176 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Second Life: For when your first life sucks.
It seems to me that anyone that knows about Second Life falls into an extreme... Love it, hate it, or don't really care about it. My problem is with the people that so adamantly hate it. I see here and on other boards, seething posts about how they had it coming& why dont they get a real life&what do they contribute to society and I have to wonder, what is it that makes you hate these people so much? Let me point out that I dont play Second Life, I have dial-up. I would like to give it a try, but I would probably tire of it. That said, just because Im not a member of the game doesnt mean I have anything against them. The fact that they took a game and made it into a functioning world is pretty cool if you ask me. Second Lifers are no different than Star Wars Online players, or any of the other mmorpgs, and no one hates them like this. So what if people want to invest their time in fiction is that any different than a comic book reader? You criticize them for putting real money into something that isnt real. Is that much different than pumping quarters into the machines at an arcade, or paying for a sports ticket just to watch. Second Life, as with any other hobby, doesnt need to earn you money or contribute to the world to make it an enjoyable hobby. Speaking of contributing to the world, as one poster here wondered& Most Second Lifers are graphic designers, programmers or animators by trade, thats why they do so well in the game. For those that havent figured it out, those are the same people that design most of what you see online... this page for example. And as for why dont they get out and get a real life perhaps its because of people like you that outcast people left and right, that a second life might be more preferable to the first.
Posted by Bulldogg629 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.