Copyright and Consultant Exhibits

Copyright/Mapping ExampleToday another question came up in our ongoing discussions about copyright and government. So I thought I'd post the scenario and question and see how others viewed this. It seems that many counties, at least in Illinois, arrange for the production of aerials and the creation of data such as parcel information, roadway and water features, and other infrastructure. They then allow other governmental agencies to use this information. Often this permission is granted through agreements. Sometimes it is offered for free and sometimes at an annual cost. 

While much of this information is used by other governmental agencies like cities on a daily basis as the foundation for their GIS, occasionally a city might share this information with an outside consultant for the purpose of having exhibits or reports prepared. This is allowed through their agreement with the county because the use is for the purposes allowed in the agreement. However, if the governmental agency chooses not to include an ownership clause allowing them to retain all rights to the work created by the consultant, the company preparing the exhibits or reports will often attach a lengthy copyright and license document indicating the exhibit or report is covered under a copyright claimed by them. So the governmental agency cannot use the exhibit or report in any way that lies outside the uses specified under the consultant's copyright.

The question is, does the consultant have the right to copyright work they created using copyrighted material that they themselves had been granted no direct agreement or permission to use from the original owner of the work? Another but similar question is what if the city had paid a consultant to create an exhibit and included in the agreement a statement that allowed them to take ownership of the copyright upon final payment. So now the city owns the copyright to that exhibit. Let's say for some reason, the city wants to use that exhibit as a foundation for another exhibit, and they hire another consultant to create it. They do not release their original copyright, but do allow the consultant to use the exhibit to create a new one for them. However in this case they do not include any language retaining ownership of the final product. Does the consultant have the legal right to copyright the new exhibit when they have not been given permission to do anything other than modify the original work for their client? If I am the consultant, is all that I own in the  map above the work below?

Copyright/Mapping Example 2

I don't think too many people have addressed these two questions because it has really only become an issue with the increased use of digital tools. And I believe most people, myself included, had thought all government documents are in the public domain. However, we cannot assume this – by law, only federal documents are in the public domain. States and cities do have the right to copyright their work unless they have passed laws that state otherwise. And we all know you don't have to indicate a copyright – in the U.S. it is automatically created when you create a work. I'd be very interested in hearing any opinions, policies, or how governmental agencies and consultants are handling this issue.

(Note: the actual underlying map used in the example above is in the public domain, but the questions should be considered as if it was copyrighted and given to me to be used to create an exhibit for a proposed well location.)


The Metaverse Code

City Hall on SanFrancisco Zoo Sim in Second LifeIt was only a matter of time. Throughout history, whenever people have come together and formed a dependence on each other for their physical, social, and economic well-being, they've eventually had to create some form of governance. The Old Testament, a type of code that governed a group of people no matter where they lived, is one of the oldest examples we have of a document of governance. We have also seen people develop documents of governance intended to be implemented based on a physical location such as a nation, state, or city. And this need for governance is also found in organizations and businesses because the framework in which people interact is not the trigger – it's the interaction that triggers the need for governance. And so today we are watching as this age-old practice of establishing rights and responsibilities becomes an essential need in our virtual communities.

Over the weekend, Vanish Firecaster posted an excellent beginning to an "Avatar Bill of Rights," and I encourage anyone involved in virtual worlds to read through it. While rights are important, they are not the only part of the equation. To be successful, people need their rights to be balanced with responsibilities. Last year I helped facilitate the development of a participation agreement for people who want to access the MOSES grid. During the open discussions we held to develop the document, we covered expectations, behavior, responsibility, and rights. While the choices made for each of these in MOSES is much different than what would be developed for a public and social virtual world, the process is the same. And the final agreement, which provides for a type of governance, is necessary to ensure the grid or virtual world operates in a successful and organized manner. In the case of MOSES, it also ensures those who enter and interact with others in that setting do so with a clear understanding of everyone's role and responsibilities.

It's really no different from what we have in the places where we live. I'm not sure how it is set up in other countries, but in the United States, we have federal laws to define and protect our rights. But those are not enough. The founders of our country realized each state and local region would need to further refine and develop rights and responsibilities in order to maintain order and protect people and meet their specific needs. So each of us in the U.S. accepts a different set of rules and resonsibilities based on the state and/or city where we live. And if we don't want to accept them we can either try to change them, or we can move.

Hill Valley Courthouse Mall

Perhaps in developing virtual rights and responsibilities, or a Metaverse Code, we could follow a similar type of framework. We could begin as Vanish has done and define the rights including those identified by the founders because they are "natural and inalienable rights." Then each grid, which is a type of city or region, can develop and further define these rights and responsibilities based on the culture or population dependent on that place. It would function as specific code for that grid and fit within the umbrella of the Metaverse Code and any laws imposed by the physical world. And the people who make up the population of a specific grid, even if owned by an individual or company, should help develop the code because a "government" only gets its authority from the people. And yes, I realize a private grid is owned by a private person, and they certainly can try to make up their own rights and responsibilities to impose on everyone, but without acceptance of their authority, they will face an empty grid. So it is in the best interests of their grid, if they expect people to invest time and money there, to allow those same people to have a voice in the governance of that grid.

Knight Sculpture

In the spirit of exploring the idea of governments and virtual worlds, Vanish set up a meeting on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at 4 pm CST to discuss the topic. If you have an interest in either government or virtual worlds, I highly suggest stopping by to add your voice to the conversation or even just to observe. The site is currently set to be held in OSGrid on the Public Works sim. But because some people who want to attend are banned from entering OSGrid, he will probably move it to another grid. So make sure to keep checking the listing to see the final location.



Update to “How Much Credit Do You Have To Give?”

At the end of last year, I published a post exploring copyright issues titled "How Much Credit Do You Have to Give?" Recently Bay Sweetwater contacted me to let me know some important information related to copyright and the Terms of Use for Second Life. She also shared a link to a very informative, copyright-related post published on her blog, Second Living. In her article Bay points out "Linden-granted rights are far from sufficient to monetize an SL video. And the Linden Snapshot & Machinima policy can lull you into thinking it’s all very easy. It sounds as if you can check a few land covenants, shoot your video, go post your Youtube video, receive a Youtube invitation to monetize, and you’ll be rolling in the dough. Don’t. Do not pass Go. Stop first. Make sure, for ALL content, you truly either own the copyright or have a license for commercial use."

In the "How Much Credit Do You Have to Give?" post I had mentioned the Linden Lab Terms of Use and took them to mean users were allowed to take photos and machinima of content as long as the person owning that content placed it in a publicly accessible space. Here is the actual language from those terms:

You agree that by uploading, publishing, or submitting any Content to any publicly accessible areas of the Service, you hereby grant each user of Second Life a non-exclusive license to access the User Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content In-World or otherwise on the Service solely as permitted by you through your interactions with the Service under these Terms of Service. This license is referred to as the "User Content License," and the Content being licensed is referred to as "User Content." excerpt from Second Life Terms of Use

One of the issues Bay picked up on in the Terms of Use that I missed is the fact that the word "commercial" is absent from this language. So while you might be able to take photos and produce machinima if you meet all the requirements, you still might not have permission to use it commercially. Bay also questions the permission to film avatars. Because her site offers so much more detail and more fully explores copyright issues and the use of Second Life material, I highly encourage anyone with an interest in copyright to visit Bay's blog and read through her entire article.

However, as a final disclaimer, both Bay and I are not lawyers – only a couple Second Life users interested in highlighting and sharing the incredible content we find there. But there probably are attorneys out there with knowledge and experience in this topic. It seems like it would be very useful if we could find a few willing to attend a series of talks in Second Life related to copyright issues.



The Virtual Real Estate Market

Many people might be surprised to find out there is a virtual real estate market and have had a hard time understanding how someone could pay money for something that you can't physically touch like virtual land. Before visiting virtual worlds myself, I would not have believed people would pay money for something like that. It was only after spending time in places like Second Life that I began to see the value people found in having a virtual space and virtual objects. Over the years I've watched as this value increased to create a billion dollar virtual goods industry – reported by TechCrunch to have reached $2.3 billion by the end of 2011. 

Drafting Table in Second Life

But while the virtual goods market has increased, the virtual land market, at least in places like Second Life, has seemed to follow a trend similar to that of the physical real estate market in the U.S. In both places, land values have dropped and the amount of vacant and abandoned land has increased resulting in a surplus of properties. Because of the similarities I've seen in the offline and online markets and their affects on communities, I thought it would be interesting to look at a comparison of the physical and virtual markets and explore movements towards recovery.

To get an idea of the amount of land available for sale in Second Life, I took a screenshot showing the large number of parcels for sale in an area of Second Life. Each dollar sign indicates a parcel on the market. (The green dots represent people who are visiting a space.)


In most offline communities the number of vacant and abandoned parcels would not appear to be as large as what is seen in the virtual land market in Second Life. But there is one place where it does seem close – Detroit. Below is a screen shot of a website called Why Don't We Own This by Loveland Technologies showing the number of foreclosed or tax-distressed parcels in an area of Detroit.

Why Don't We Own This - Detroit

To better understand the performance of the virtual land market, we need to know how land is handled in a place like Second Life and what drives people to buy it. The world of Second Life is made up of many islands of virtual land also referred to as sims or regions. Each sim measures 256 m by 256 m. People enter the world in an avatar form which is a digital representation of themselves that they can use to explore the world. The basic land, sky, and ocean are provided by the company hosting the world of Second Life. Everything else that someone would see there was created by users. This can include plants, buildings, and other objects placed to enhance the user experience. People can also build upon or change the ground, water, and sky features with objects they create.

Typical customization of land, ocean, and sky in Second Life

However, all of these objects take up space in the world and use up computer resources. So Linden Lab, the company hosting Second Life, assesses a fee to users who want to leave their objects permanently displayed on a parcel of land. And because it would be chaos for people to just randomly leave things everywhere, they control where people can place their items by requiring people to own the land where their objects are displayed. At a basic level, you can think of it as renting storage space on a server where you are allowed to store your files. The only difference here is that in Second Life your files can be displayed as 3D objects and you and others can visit them in avatar form. I suppose it could also be compared to renting a storage unit where you can keep your physical possessions. Although one difference is that you are only allowed to take out objects or files in their entirety if you created them – you are not allowed to take something out of Second Life's system just because you purchased it.

Anyway, here's how the costs are assessed in the virtual world. Because the fees are dependent on the resources used, Linden Lab first sets a limit on the number of objects, which are called prims (a prim is a basic building unit), allowed on a full sim to 15,000. To get an idea of how prims are incorporated into objects you can look at the photo below taken inside of a building in Second Life. The highlighting outlines each prim used to make this building.

Prims highlighted in Second Life

Then Linden Lab offers users a choice between two different types of land for display of their items: Mainland and Private Islands. Mainland is a large group of islands or sims available to anyone to purchase and then subdivide and resell. Below is a detailed map showing parcels for sale in an area of mainland in Second Life. For reference, the large, yellow square is a full sim measuring 256 m by 256 m. Before the fall of the land market, mainland islands sold by Linden Lab through auction could cost about $1,000.

Second Life map showing land for sale

Back then, the lowest resale cost was a few dollars per square meter. Today the cheapest resale cost is $0.17 per square meter. This difference is simply a reflection of what happens when supply exceeds demand. It almost sounds exactly like what happened to many developers in the physical real estate market who had invested in subdividing land and were left with vacant lots and no buyers after the market fell. Many of those developers went bankrupt and lost the land to the bank. In Second Life, when owners abandon their parcels, they return to the ownership of Linden Lab. Below are a few statistics of the status of mainland in Second Life (these numbers come from Tyche Shepherd). Because of the amount of vacant and abandoned land, the amount of mainland has remained close to the same for some time at just over 7,000 regions with no new regions being added – there's just no demand to justify the creation of new land.

  • 46.5% of mainland is owned by Linden Lab
  • 10.6% to 11.6% of mainland is abandoned (assuming not yet returned to Linden Lab)
  • 7,121 Mainland sims in total (that's about 467 million square meters of land)

Total mainland regions in Second Life 2007 to 2013

The alternative land choice available to users is a private region or island. These are available in full sim size only and can be sold or subdivided, but ownership cannot be transferred at the parcel level. Private islands vary in cost based on how many objects you can place on the land because Linden Lab does offer full private regions with different resource allotments. A full island allowing 15,000 prims costs $1,000 to purchase, a "Homestead" island allowing 3750 prims costs $375, and an Openspace island allowing 750 prims costs $250. You also have to own a full island to be able to purchase a Homestead or Openspace sim. In 2008, there were almost 27,000 private regions. Today there are about 20,700, and the number seems to be decreasing at a steady rate.

Total private regions in Second Life 2007 to 2013

One question that some of you might be wondering, if you are not familiar with Second Life, is why would people abandon the land they bought? Why spend $1,000 for a private region then just let it go? The answer is in the fees Linden Lab charges for the use of the land you buy. These monthly costs, often referred to by users as "tier," can also be thought of as a type of rental charge for the resources used to store and display virtual objects. Tier varies depending on the size of the parcel. A full sim (65,536 sq meters) on mainland costs $195 a month while 512 sq meters costs $5 (512 sq meters of land is limited to 117 prims). A full private sim or region costs $295 a month. So just like in the offline world where you might have no mortgage yet still lose your property because you cannot afford the taxes so too in the virtual world. You might have been able to buy the land at one time, but usually it's the ongoing costs that cause you to give up your property. In the physical world it might be the real estate taxes, and in the virtual world it is the land use fees or tier.

For Sale sign on mainland in Second Life

People who have owned land in Second Life, including myself, have complained for many years that tier is too high. Many of us have said that people increasingly cannot afford land if tier is not reduced. And this seems to parallel exactly what happens in the offline world. People who cannot afford the taxes in a community complain and try to get them lowered. But while there is somewhat of a relationship in the physical world between the amount of taxes and the size of the parcel, other factors influence the rate. Real estate tax is set by government based on the school costs and cost to the government for providing services. It can only be reduced so much without cutting back on education or services or investment in assets. In the virtual world, the fees or tier are also needed to pay for services such as the hardware supporting the world, upgrading of software and features, and customer support. But a significant difference is that because the virtual world is owned and managed by a private company, fees also support profit – in the physical world, profit is never part of the equation for assessing taxes.


So for those of us facing high real estate taxes in our physical spaces, we can complain to our elected officials and demand taxes be reduced or frozen. But if they decide to cut or freeze our taxes, it will be by reducing services which we might not want to accept or which might cost us more in the long run. Of course we can move to a different community, but there are several down sides to this solution. Education and government services have a similar cost across the United States. Sure there might be some areas that save money because they don't have to deal with costs for handling winter weather or they have cheaper labor costs, but most people don't analyze city and school budgets and compare them to each other to figure out if the difference in tax rate is due to these factors which are actual cost savings or if they are due to a reduction in services. Uprooting your family and moving them across the country to find the most cost effective community in which to live is also a major challenge. This would require a significant investment of time and money along with the need to find a new job and perhaps if children are involved a search for a new school or daycare. Most of us just don't have that kind of mobility in our physical world so we are limited in our ability to move.

Wastelands in Second Life

Government has tried to explore other methods of reducing the cost to live in a community. There are assistance programs for those who qualify and freezing of taxes for senior citizens. Based on a comment from one of my Facebook friends, it appears the U.K. might be trying to encourage people to downsize to a home that might be more affordable for them by assessing a fee on unused bedrooms in a home. Affordability of housing is and probably will be an ongoing challenge for communities.

Living Space from 2012 SL Home Expo

In the virtual space, people have pointed out that some of the operation costs for hosting a virtual world have been reduced because of lower costs for the infrastructure so tier should be lowered to reflect this. But others have argued that fees cannot be lowered or profits will be lost. In the end, Linden Lab has not indicated in any way that tier will ever be reduced. So people who are upset with paying the level of "taxes" or tier have to make a decision between accepting the costs or moving to another virtual world. After all, Second Life is no longer the only virtual community out there.

But a downside to making that virtual move is that people can experience an "uprooting" similar to what they would feel from a move in the physical world because they are leaving their friends and community, but that is where the similarity ends. The time and investment needed to make a virtual move is significantly less than what it takes to move in the physical world. And there are usually no jobs or schools or other factors to have to worry about. People still risk the reduction in services by moving to a world with a lower cost, but it's much easier to research and explore what those reductions will be if any.

Fantasy Faire 2012

So let's finally look at what happens to a community when costs of land do not decrease, services decline, and the population becomes alienated from its caretakers. Again we will look at Detroit – in the last decade, this city has lost 25% of its population (see Wall Street Journal article). Some of the reasons cited for this loss are affordability (taxes and jobs) and a reduction in services. It almost becomes a viscious cycle because as people move out values fall, properties are abandoned, and taxes must be raised to offset losses. So many properties in Detroit were abandoned that some sections were even closed off. But as shocking as Detroit's current situation appears to be, it seems it has been steadily declining for decades. There's an interesting discussion about the causes here: The Reasons Behind Detroit’s Decline by Pete Saunders.

Population of Detroit, Michigan

Those who follow the virtual land market in Second Life might see some similarities in that declining graph. And while the elements within the virtual and physical communities might be different and the downward trend not as long, people believe Second Life's land decline is caused by management issues that sound a lot like Detroit's: a refusal to discuss or address the decline and the cost of maintaining land, a focus on meeting the needs of one or two primary groups, and a lack of investment in the community to the point where people sense a feeling of neglect. And when I say this, I don't mean the company managing Second Life is actually neglecting the world. As a person working in government I am well aware of the essential work and effort that goes into operating a community – work that no one knows about or wants to know about. And I believe Linden Lab is taking care of all those operational duties much like a public works department works in the background to make sure a city keeps functioning. The neglect comes about because in addition to keeping the gears turning, a community needs nurturing to be successful.

Old Packard Plant Detroit - from AcrylicArtist on morgueFile

Even if you think you are meeting the needs of the people, if the population thinks you are not, then you are not. For those of you who used to play Sim City it is kind of like the newsflash you would get telling you what the people in your city thought about the job you were doing. When they were unhappy, you would try to figure out what you could do next to change their opinion to one that was more positive. Well, unless you were the type who liked to inflict disasters and mayhem on your city just to see how bad it could get.

After 60 years, Detroit is now working hard to stop their decline. They are engaging the public and offering incentives to encourage people and business to move to their community knowing it can ultimately lead to lower costs for everyone as revenue increases. And they are no longer listening to only one industry – now everyone in the community has the potential to voice their ideas and opinions through online sites and public meetings and workshops like the one shown in the image below. The people who love and care about Detroit do not want it to slip into oblivion.

Detroit Can Do Camp

Those of us who love Second Life also do not want it to slip away, but we do not seem to have reached the point yet where the owners of the world have expressed any concern about the loss of land and investment. And we face a challenge somewhat different from people in places like Detroit. Those running our community do so to make a profit and they alone have ownership. In places like Detroit, the people own the community – in the end, they have the power to keep the lights on or turn them off and walk away. In Second Life, this decision is ultimately up to the company owning that world.

Waymount in Second Life

Perhaps the owners of Second Life are content to make as much money off the world as possible while allowing the decline to occur until expenditures exceed revenue. Then at that point, they just shut it all down and go on to their next thing. Or they might expect the decline to eventually stabilize and as long as they are still making an acceptable profit, they will be content to leave the world at that size. After all, not every community wants to become a metropolis. And some communities only want a demographic that can afford to "live" there.

Land company in Second Life

Finally the other option is what Detroit has chosen – address the decline and determine a path to turn it around. And just as Detroit is investing significant effort now to accomplish growth, this option would also be the most work for Linden Lab. There are some who have suggested Linden Lab is pursuing this option by launching other potential revenue streams. And some have suggested imposing new fees unrelated to land. If these steps were taken, the company could choose to use new revenues to help meet costs of operating Second Life and still ensure profit while allowing for a reduction in tier. This is somewhat similar to a city adding new taxes or service fees or a city that works to attract a heavy sales tax or industrial base and uses the additional revenues to offset a reduction in taxes for residents. But if the company chooses to build a new revenue base, the key will be to diversify, because history shows relying on one group or industry or revenue stream eventually leads to a collapse. The video below is a trailer for a documentary about communities and the aftermath of this type of collapse.

As the young man points out in this video the "The soul of the city . . .are the people." So if Linden Lab chooses to follow Detroit's path, they need to also follow their example of engaging and informing the community and embracing the people because the people really are Second Life. Without them, there is only water, ground, and sky. And people cannot be expected to invest time and money in a community without knowing its plan for the future or feeling like they have a say in that future. As decades of emigration and our example of Detroit have shown, when people have no clear path to the future and lose faith in leadership on top of facing high costs, they will eventually seek out a new world and opportunities.

Statue of Liberty









Good FOIA Gone Bad

When I saw the map of gun owners printed online by a publication owned by The Gannett Company and the public reaction, I thought of my last supervisor. He was a wise man with whom I could discuss any idea without fear of ridicule or repercussion. When the ideas were good, he would fully support their implementation. When the ideas were bad, he would not hesitate to share why he thought so in a way that was not negative or discouraging. And in the end, I found his judgement in almost everything to be spot on. While we never discussed publishing the names and addresses of gun owners, we did talk about doing this for ordinance violators – people who had run down homes, etc. And this was one of those ideas he thought would be bad. He just thought it was going a little too far; people would not tolerate seeing their name and address publicly displayed for something like an ordinance violation. It's one of those examples where you shouldn't do something just because you can. Based on public reaction to the gun map, it appears he made a good call.

Of course, I see this as fallout from the FOIA laws, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that newspapers were the primary lobbyists for those laws. People are quick to defend FOIA because of the need for open and transparent government, and I agree we do need FOIA for those agencies that are not open and transparent. (Although when you do have an open and transparent government, FOIA actually slows down the process and causes more problems than it helps, but that is another story.) The reason FOIA is part of this problem is it does provide for full disclosure of all government information pursuant to the law yet has little language indicating what can be done with that information. And government has a lot of data on citizens, more so than people probably realize. So the map becomes the example of how this can go so very wrong and demonstrates the need to change FOIA laws so people act responsibly with the information they receive. Particularly when it involves personal information about citizens.

Some of the fallout from this has led to someone posting personal information easily found on the Internet about those involved with the printing of the map. The information can be found in an article, Sauce for the goose or, home address and phone number of Journal-News publisher. Of course, much of the information has since been removed by these jounalists because I imagine they do not want public scrutiny of themselves.

While turning the tables on people might help them better understand the repercussions of their actions, it doesn't solve the problem that FOIA laws provide the gateway to personal information with few to no limits on its use. Fortunately a New York State Senator, Greg Ball, has decided to take action. According to a press release on the New York Senate site, he "multi-sponsored Assembly bill 820, legislation which would prohibit the public disclosure of information in an application for a pistol license with exceptions for prosecutors and police conducting an active investigation." While this might help gun owners in that state, I hope that at some point, legislators everywhere realize this could occur with any personal information the government stores. And legislators should discuss and decide if it is better to change laws to restrict the release of personal information regardless of the purpose for which it was collected or to regulate the use of that information.


How Much Credit Do You Have to Give?


This is the horse and the hound and the horn,
That belonged to the farmer sowing his corn,
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn,
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the cheese,
That lay in the house that Jack built.

An issue I recently stumbled upon is how to handle giving and taking credit for work done in the virtual space. The question brought to mind the Mother Goose rhyme at the beginning of this post and made me finally understand a possible underlying message within this silly verse. The question is for people who design and create in a virtual space, how much credit must be given to others who contribute to or have a part in supporting that work?

What does the law require?

A good place to start at answering the question of how much credit to give is to look at the law. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer so the information presented here is definitely not written for the purpose of giving legal advice, but instead to offer a background to exploring this subject.) Laws that govern this matter include those related to patents, trademarks, copyright, and DMCA. Here is a quick summary of each:


According to the U.S. Patent Website: "A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted." You must file with the government to be granted a patent and related rights. Someone might be allowed rights to the use of your patent for a fee. Credit might or might not be required under the conditions of any rights granted.


Trademarks protect such things as the use of  the name, title, slogan, or short phrase adopted and used by a person or entity. Again, credit might not be required by law but instead by some terms of permission granted for the use of a trademark.


Regarding copyright, here is the excerpt from the website (U.S. law):

§ 102 . Subject matter of copyright: In general

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) literary works;

(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;

(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;

(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

(7) sound recordings; and

(8) architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

The architectural works provision was added in 1990 and so buildings constructed after 1990 are now protected by this law. Although people retain the right to take photos or make other represenations of the building as long as what they create can be seen from a public place such as a street. No credit to the architect is required nor usually given. The interior can only be represented through photos or other mediums if it is a public building. Otherwise the architect must grant permission for someone to take a photo or make a video of it – credit might be required as a condition of that permission.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

This law addresses the handling of copyright claims – a summary of the law can be found here: Summary of DMCA. It was brought about by changes in technology and to address treaty obligations made by the U.S. The act  protects service providers from liability for copyright infringements made by those to whom they provide service.To receive this protection, the law requires service providers to have a process by which copyright holders can submit a notice informing the service provider there is a violation of their rights by someone using their service. And the provider must have a process in place to assess and handle the infringement including termination of services if a violation has been found to exist.


So in order to comply with the law, it is permission from a copyright owner that is required if the works fall into any of the categories listed above. Or someone might have to get permission from a trademark or patent owner which can often require a fee. Credit is something that would be required by the patent, trademark, or copyright holder as a possible condition of the permission granted.

What are people actually doing offline?


Next, let's look at what people are actually doing in the industry. Most of the time, this follows the law because to do otherwise risks lawsuits. But in state and local government in the U.S. we rarely consider anything we create as copyrighted. Yet, while the copyright law exempts works by the federal government, works by state and local government are not. So it appears state and local governments are not addressing copyright issues – for most, there is a distinct lack of policy and process to handle copyrights as both a creator and as a user.

So, in practice, those of us in government regularly share and modify works by each other since we often need to create the same documents, details, standards, etc. Usually there is no credit given to anyone. An example of this is that just the other day I needed to come up with a listing of what is required on as-built drawings and asked other engineers in nearby cities for copies of their lists. They did not even think twice to send them to me, nor would I have if they had requested information from me. I modified the lists for our purpose, put our city logo on the new list, and sent it back out  so it could be shared. If we were required to come up with original work each time something like this was needed, our work load and cost to do business would skyrocket. However, it appears this practice does not follow the law. (And this is another good example of how watching developments in the virtual space help to clarify and bring to light issues in the offline world. In this case, it appears this is an area where government needs to either change the law to match the practice or change the practice to comply with the law.)


Tennis Court Project

In the engineering industry, the portfolios of consulting firms include many photos of projects designed and/or managed by that firm. Even if they did not pay for the project or manufacture the products used, or even perform the actual construction required to build the project, the portfolio presents the project as their work. And many times it does not list who owned the project and paid for it, all the companies or individuals who built it, or the manufacturers who created each product displayed in the photo. This is accepted by the industry. The understanding is that the project can be presented as theirs because they played a part in the design or project mangement of the work. Based on the copyright law, this practice appears to be legal and the industry understands what the presentation of the work means. This is also the case with portfolios from architects. Although since 1990, the architect has the sole legal right to use a photo of the composition of his work that is only visible in a non-public space. The architect is not obligated to list or credit who paid for the work, who built it, or who made all the products shown in the photo.

Interior Design

Another industry I think of related to virtual work is interior design. When you search portfolios of companies providing interior design services, they have many photos of interior spaces they have created through a composition of materials and products. I picked one randomly that seems to be a good representation of what is done throughout the industry – you can visit their site here: Interior Design portfolio. They do not list the creator of each element shown. And if they were required to do so, to what degree would be considered acceptable. Some might say similar to what is often done in a magazine showing interior decorated spaces: the furniture manufacturer, the artwork supplier/creator, etc. But should they also list where the carpet came from? The paint? Maybe. How about the drywall and mud and tape? The wood supplier for the molding and furniture? The fabric supplier? How about the farmer who raised the lambs who gave the wool for the fabric? And now we begin to create our own rhyme. 

What are people actually doing online?

So let's move into the online space where the code of conduct and laws are still being developed. Here there are people contributing work at many levels. People create images or textures to be applied to 3D objects, mesh files to be used as the basis for 3D objects including avatars, sound and animation files, and scripts or programs to be embedded in the space or objects. At the macro level you have people who are the "interior decorators" or virtual "architects." They are the ones creating a composition of all the objects created by the first group. You also have photographers and machinimographers creating their own art works from these compositions and objects. Then at the micro level, you have the software developers, the host providers, and the companies providing your electricity and Internet connection. All of which are necessary in order for a 3D work to be created. To what level must credit be given to each contributing member? And what permissions must be obtained?

The permissions required are indicated in the copyright law. Yet, how does each of the works mentioned above fit into the copyright law? Are they all covered? Is an animation protected as a choreographic work? Are scripts and programs covered as a literary work? The others such as textures and mesh objects would probably be covered under the pictorial or graphics section of the copyright law. And photographers and machinimographers would have their work protected under the law. But they would have an obligation by the law to get permission from the other creators to be able to use that work in their photos or videos. Just giving credit is not compliance with the law – permission must be granted – credit is usually given as a condition of the permitted use. And finally how is the overall composition of all the elements covered?

It seems it is not required by law to gain permission from the entities providing the software, electricity, Internet connection, etc. that allow me to create and post my own work. This is also not done in practice, and this seems similar to what is done offline. For example, I don't have to get Microsoft's permission to publish a document I created in WORD. But I suspect few people who are posting photos and videos from Second Life and other virtual worlds are seeking the permission of the creator of each shape, texture, object, animation, etc that can be viewed in that photo or video. Of course some of this is because the permission has been granted through indirect means. So let's look at those:

Creative Commons Licenses

One way copyright owners can grant permission for use of their work is through a Creative Commons license. By attaching this type of license to your work, you can grant certain rights to others interested in using it without having to require them to contact you and get written permission. Sometimes this permission carries with it an obligation to give credit; sometimes it does not. While this seems to work well and has been an accepted practice, I always wonder how people are documenting this permission because at any moment someone can decide they don't like how someone is using their work and change their license. So how do you monitor the permissions attached to something you used? In my experience professionals who have worked in non-digital industries for years are still requesting written permission from me to use my work. And in the end, this is probably the safest approach to take.

Second Life Terms of Use

Photos from The Nest Sim in Second Life

Another manner in which rights are granted to others for use of your work is through terms of services. When you join Second Life, you agree to abide by their terms of use. In uploading content to the service you are granting Linden Lab and other users certain rights to use your work. These rights can be found here: This is why people creating photos and machinima in that space do not need to seek out permission from each creator. It is viewed as a professional courtesy to give credit, and this is done for some items, but not all. And giving credit is not required by the terms of use. 

OpenSim and other virtual worlds

Other virtual spaces like World of Warcraft function in a manner similar to Second Life in that they provide clear guidance of what is allowed. But I do not believe all virtual worlds created with OpenSimulator software have terms of use similar to those used by Second Life. If they do not and you plan to use photos or machinima or create compositions of objects with images from works created by others in these spaces, it appears the law puts the responsibility on you for obtaining permission from each creator whose work might appear in your creation. For some work, permission might already be granted through a Creative Commons license. I have released some work in this manner myself. And I have tried to document the permissions I have granted by including it in notecards or readme files stored in the objects or images. Scripts also often carry their own documentation of permission in the body of the script. But if there is nothing documtenting a Creative Commons license, it might be better to request written permission since people could change their mind at any time leaving you with no proof they had once offered their work with few to no restrictions. This is especially important if you are going to create a derivative work such as a photo, video, or composition like a full sim design and use it for anything other than personal use – even if you are giving it away for free. And if you hire someone to create work for your project, it would be best to clearly establish in a contract any permissions or rights granted.

So for myself, the approach I am going to take is to adhere to the copyright laws, check existing permissions, request permissions if necessary and document all received, and credit as required by any permissions granted to avoid having to guess at the level of credit needed or that is acceptable. And in granting permissions, I am going to try to really consider how I want my work to be used, establish permissions that clearly explain what can be legally done with my work, and try to continue to make it easy for people to document that permission for their records.

And finally  I'm going to keep up with what is going on in the virtual space regarding copyrights, licenses, etc. by reading the Hypergrid Business site. Maria Korolov has done a great job reporting on issues related to this discussion. For a list of articles on her site touching on the topic you can visit this link: Hypergrid Business copyright-related articles.