The “Cesspool” that is Second Life

Second Life is a CesspoolThere have been a lot of words written trying to understand why Linden Lab makes the decisions they make. The term “Inscrutable” is probably the most apropos. In today’s post I present an Alternate Theory of Reality that is based purely on conjecture and imagination … but just might be more correct than any others I (or most others) have posted. But before we begin, I need to explain the term “Cesspool”.

Is Second Life really a Cesspool?

A typical cesspool is defined as a small, swampy, stinky puddle of waste products.  It can also mean a situation,group or organization that seems intent on doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. By this second meaning, Second Life really can be considered a cesspool, but not because of Linden Lab.

No, in truth if you really want to see the ugly, dirty, filthy and disgusting side of Second Life, all you need to do is start perusing the SL Marketplace for Mesh Models, free or cheap clothing, and gachas. You will quickly come to the realization that SLM is filled to the absolute brim with stolen merchandise and ripped-off Intellectual Property. And even if what you’re looking at isn’t “stolen” in the precise sense, there’s a good chance it is misrepresented in some fashion.

Before Your Panties Wad

Let me make it very clear right up front, there is no way in the (Virtual) World that the majority of Merchants and Sellers on the SL Marketplace are dishonest. If I had to put a number to the ratio of good people to bad, I’d estimate there are about 1000 good folks for every slimy one. But that one out of a 1000 really screws things up for everyone else.

One of those parties that gets screwed is Linden Lab.

The Early Days of Second Life

In the very early days of SL, the “Open Source” philosophy was omnipresent. Everyone both in development and management had the mindset “it should ALL be freeeeeee!” Then of course money started coming in, legal and financial types got involved, and before long the formalities of Upstanding Corporate Citizenship started being force-fit on the company. The problem was that no one knew how to make the Residents abide the new rules too.

The result was that Linden Lab had to start learning and obeying all new laws and rules regarding Intellectual Property, Copyright Infringement, Asset Ownership and all the related quagmire that goes with. But inside Second Life itself, people were still copying, giving away, stealing and just generally sharing to their heart’s content, completely oblivious of the new “Law of the Land”. Ouch!

The Conflict Grows Bigger

As time progressed, the number of stolen items found around the Grid grew larger and larger; after all people didn’t just suddenly stop sharing their favorite “Freebies”. But at the same time the legal pressure on Linden Lab to clean things up got ever louder and more strident. The company was moving further and further into rigorous procedures while the customer base was blithely carrying on as if everything in-world was Open Source and freely available.

Eventually though the majority of people using Second Life started to get the message. There was a big push from both LL itself and from the “Big Names” within SL to start cleaning things up. Then as LL began thinking about and planning Mesh, they began from the foundation of “this has to remain honest and legal”. But humans are humans and no matter how good the Lab’s intentions, the criminal (and morally lazy) among the Residents redoubled their efforts to scam and steal wherever possible.

“Why are you picking on ME?!?”

This is something we hear way too often in the Forums and in general conversation. Someone has their nose out of line because Linden Lab clamped down on them. Yet when they go look for similar offenders, they find TONS of them … and all of them are “getting away with” whatever the original complainant got dinged for. What follows is loud whining of “it’s not fair” and general sour grapes about the fact that they got caught while no one else has.

But here’s the real problem from Linden Lab’s perspective: They have laws they must obey, and sometimes they have to obey them even though they know full well there are other similar instances that are not being “picked on”. A good example is when someone files a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Notice. One of the most onerous laws they have to enforce regards child sexual abuse reports, but even simple cases of IP Theft can be confusing and very time consuming too.

And no matter what Linden Lab does, says or enforces, there is still a sizable contingent of wrong-doers that continue to flaunt the rules and make things “tricky” for the Lab. Tricky in a legal liability and responsibility sense anyway. So how do they handle this legal exposure without totally screwing up the whole Grid and pissing off all the law-abiding people that use Second Life?

The Legal Ban-Hammer

Caught between the two fully opposing forces at play within the corporate offices and the Virtual World of Second Life, Linden Lab took the most reasonable course possible: They drafted, published and made a big stink about their new Terms of Service. As many will recall, the release of the new ToS created an uproar of immense dimensions; I was one of those adding my roar to the up. But no matter what was said (or screamed) to LL, they stuck to their new rules and otherwise kept quiet.

Then not long ago it dawned on me why they might be taking such a harsh stance, especially when you consider the rampant abuses, thefts and violations swirling around SL. The only way Linden Lab could properly protect themselves and their company was to enact and make a very obvious show about their intent to enforce strict rules of ownership. This would give them the right to use (or dispose of) whatever they wanted from the Grid … no matter who “owned” it.

By my new theory their goal was NOT to steal or use the creations of others. No, it was to allow them an easy means of REMOVING content they found objectionable, that opened them up to legal liability, or that was just plain wrong under their own corporate morality. Their goal wasn’t to take and reproduce; their goal was to destroy, remove and exterminate. And for the right reasons as well.

Final Thoughts

If this theory is right then I cannot argue with it. I will have to retract my angry accusations that Linden Lab enacted the ToS for purely evil reasons. (Although I might not have gone that far, I probably did, so I’ll apologize now.) If my theory is wrong though, and LL did make the changes just so they could monetize us even more?

(* fixes Rod Humble et al with an Evil Glare *)

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