Bots Back in the Box?

by prokofy on 14/11/06 at 12:47 am

Baba Yamamota’s alt showing off his cloning capacity on Pi last night.

By Prokofy Neva, Copy Desk

After huge public outcry about the replicating facilities of a new toy created by the controversial libsecondlife, the bots have been put back in the box, Jesse Malthus, a member of the 88-member libsecond group announced today.

In the comments section on my blog, Second Thoughts, Jesse said, “we did yank the source for copybot temporarily from subversion until we can develop ways to prevent theft and resale.”

Naturally, this elicited the response that libsl might have thought about the impact such a copier would have on an economy largely dependent upon the ability of creative people to make and sell their wares.

Last night, however, Baba Yamamota offered your faithful correspondent a copy of the device that made the bots. (I declined; I find most people find one of me more than enough : ). That means…

…numerous copies could be replicating all over the grid. When confronted with this information, Jesse replied, “We estimate that very few people, if any, were able to access the source code, fix the error that stopped compilation, and get a working binary of CopyBot in the time in which the source code was availible,” he explained. “We’re currently looking at ways to prevent sales of copied objects in the future, as copybot was neither the first nor will be the last prim copying utility,” he said.

The more serious tone taken by Jesse at this juncture contrasted with the happy-go-lucky antics of Baba and other libbers who were giddily putting on shows of their armies of avatars, rezzing one after another in rapid succession, posting pictures and passing around an unknown number of copies, saying the device would be “open source”. (Later when some residents asked for copies, they were ignored, prompting some to doubt the claim of the “openness”).

To be sure, the version Baba was distributing last night had a disclaimer card that came up and told the would-be target of a copy that he had the right to decline being copied.

“Theta/Pi Show-and-Tell Version) copies only avatars that IM the bot and agree to a standard disclaimer,” said Jesse explained.

Earlier, a meeting had been held inworld with Robin Linden, convened by the Sellers’ Guild, a residents’ group that has been lobbying for better protection of their virtual creations from copyright theft.

Attendees left angry that Linden Lab declined to address their concerns by dealing with libsecondlife’s reverse engineering program or stopping the bot-maker server-side.

Appearing at the packed meeting, Robin Linden, VP of Community Affairs, did little to quell concerns.

“Next, let me say something I think you all may have a problem with, and that is that copying something does not mean theft; there can be legitimate uses for copying, just as there are on the web,” she told the Sellers’ Guild. “That said, if you DO think someone has copied something you made and is violating your copyright by profiting from the copying, then you do have the option of using the DMCA process to file a complaint. It’s an onerous process, but it is one that we’re willing to pursue on your behalf,” she said.

On forums such as Second Citizen, content-creators ranged from outraged to cynical about the sudden loss of the already-threadbare IP protection in SL. “Unless there’s some permission reworking on the horizon, including closing some of the more gaping holes in the client, then I guess its game over for profit-making,” wrote builder Maxx Monde. “Any guesses on economic implosion?”

Others dismissed concerns about product theft and tried to urge their fellow residents into the Brave New World of endlessly flowing free content. “The idea of DRM a) doesn’t work, b) puts restrictions on things that could render them unusable (how many music download sites are there, each with their own flavor of IP rights restrictions/management?),” argued Spin Martin. “I can give something away for free and make money off of it too. This sounds zany, but it starts showing up time and time again.”

17 Responses to “Bots Back in the Box?”

  1. Kitten Lulu

    Nov 14th, 2006

    I don’t think that preventing this kind of copying is technically feasible.

    The solution must be social, if there is one. I fear DMCA may be the closest thing to a passable solution that we have. Unfortunately, it is routinely abused (outside SL, just search for ‘DMCA abuse’ on google for a sample).

  2. Cocoanut Koala

    Nov 14th, 2006


    The TOS already prohibits this reverse engineering. LL decided to let these guys do it, and are even in their group.

    LL is refusing all responsibility for everything, even though it is IN THEIR TOS not to do this. In fact, they aided and abetted it.

    They have broken their contract with us, as I see it. Seems to me that sort of thing is against the law.


  3. Aznavour Wolfe

    Nov 14th, 2006

    Kitten: I’m not convinced that DMCA is a solution, for reasons other than the current blatant abuse: if you build something really cool, hunting down the 5000 people who pirated it is going to be a right PITA. However, now that I think about it, there might be ways to copy-protect an object using a system similar to online software validation. This would only work for copy/no-trans/no-mod objects though, and there’s always the possibility that the region or asset server will bork out and cause a perfectly legit customer to lose their object – as well as the possibility that the object could be cracked.

    If that doesn’t work out, we may be moving towards a model of free stuff and tip jars. Which is not necessarily a bad thing when you look at it on the overall social level, although it will be horrible for many individual creators, especially those who hope to do business by selling many copies of a smaller range of objects rather than providing customized, tailor-made objects to the wealthy.

    In terms of demographics, Magic 8-ball sez:
    Big Corporate – no real change.
    Consulting groups like ESC and many of the people in Prok’s FIC – no real change.
    Newbies and the downtrodden – stand to gain.
    “Mass-sale” content creators, including many other alleged FIC members – stand to lose big.
    Casino operators – probably stand to lose. If everything is free, there’s less of an incentive to try and win the jackpot, although the thrill of the game could still be a draw.
    Tekkie-wikinistas – stand to gain (minor gain), unless they have aspirations to actually sell their creations.

    The bottom line, though, is that if the majority of the content-creators decide that SL isn’t worth their energy anymore, the world stagnates, and pretty much everybody loses – especially Big Corporate and their consultants, since if the masses leave, they have no reason to stay.

    This could be… interesting. I’m not sure I want to know what will happen, but do we have a choice?

  4. Prim Revolution

    Nov 14th, 2006

    You can’t put CopyBot “back in the box”, that’s just silly. In fact it’s available right here:

  5. Lucius Templar

    Nov 14th, 2006

    Interesting analogy with free music on the web. I see free music downloads as positive exposure and advertisement for bands/artists. The more popular they are, the higher the billing. However, prefabs don’t give concerts and skins don’t give recitals. I don’t see how builders and clothiers can make money if they have to give everything away. nor do i see a lot of innovative and high quality content in the future if there is no monetary incentive to do it. SL wants to attract legitimate RL businesses and corporations. What sort of environment are we inviting them into – where there is unstable client performance, no respect for content creators and a complete impotence of the managing company to enforce TOS. I totally understand that LL would not have the manpower to be able to chase up on all such complaints or queries regarding copyright – so perhaps they should try and fix this loophole to render the script unusable or at least have some repercussions for copying for profit. Surely prevention is better than cure! Copying someone elses prim work manually is a part of learning – I did that when I started building but I never sold anything I copied. Copying someone elses work with a program involves no learning whatsoever – what is the merit in that?

  6. Dwayanu Weyland

    Nov 14th, 2006

    Can we get any milage out of a one-way watermark system for all image formats, where the creator only (or SL copyright office), keeps the original image, and the watermark algorithm shifts a few color bits such that the checksum or digital signature of the original file can no longer be reconstructed from the watermarked file ? As a similar concept, perhaps only pre-compiled scripts could be allowed inside prims, and compilation would mark the output file with a checksum derived from author name plus code text.

    Socially, IMO, copy bots if left alone or if left to the worthless-because-too-slow-and-cumbersome DMCA, would certainly be the quick end of the SL economy — social/ethical/cultural constraints will never stop the couple of percent of thieves in any population, and people who write things like copy bots will always gleefully pass them out to script kiddies just to prove that they’re not impotent losers (as just happened !).

    The only solution to maintain the society, as I see it, is that we must provide the ability for the Lindens to immediately ajudicate disputes, and to hell with appeals and lawyers and DMCA process.

    Personally, I would support very strong Linden-initiated suspension and banning policies against copying, because our society needs a level of teeth in our social compact protections. I trust the Lindens to, at the very worst, always mean well.

  7. Magnum Serpentine

    Nov 14th, 2006

    Preventing copying is not possiable. But, the RIAA has come up with another method… the Lawsuit. And Linden Labs has another tool in its tool box. The Permi-Ban.

    The Inventors of Copybox can be perminantly banned and prevented from ever coming into Second Life again.

    Its that simple. We do not need techinology to prevent this, just the law and a good old fashined Perminant ban.

  8. Urizenus

    Nov 14th, 2006

    In the land of the alt, permabans are about as effective as a slap on the wrist with a fruit rollup.

    The geenie is out of the bottle here.

  9. Prokofy Neva

    Nov 14th, 2006

    So, LL is going to perma-ban *its own staff* who are members of libsl, and perma-ban Cory Linden, who gave libsl his blessing at the SLCC in August 2006? Hardly.

    What’s baffling is that the Lindens would *participate in* making a copy-bot that so undermined confidence in their world, merely for the sake of creativity and freedom to program.

    This is likely to be one of those “destroy the village in order to save it” type deals, as LL will likely argue that they encourage and participate in libsl in order to have reverse engineers test and find holes in the software, and that’s good for the long-term future of the platform. This is, of course, den Platforme uber alles thinking.

    I think they can be this cocky now because the probably figure that the 3,000 who make their livings from content production are now easily replaced by new sign-ups, and that corporations who will pay out of their own PR or R&D pockets to sponsor creators will replace the model of the old-fashioned individual proprietor.

  10. Prokofy Neva

    Nov 14th, 2006

    >The only solution to maintain the society, as I see it, is that we must provide the ability for the Lindens to immediately ajudicate disputes, and to hell with appeals and lawyers and DMCA process.

    While a solution, it’s one the Lindens will never take, as you can see from Robin’s remarks yesterday to the Sellers’ Guild, and many other Linden statements over the years. The Lindens have always said you’re on your own when it comes to copyright. Robin said something different now indicating that LL will “help you” with this, but that’s very vague, and may mean nothing more than cooperating, as a would, in being swift to take down something pre-emptively IF they are persuaded there really is a copyright issue.

    Given the current overwhelming lack of response from Live Help and from support@, I hardly think there’s any reasonable expectation of remedy.

    LL has resolutely rejected the concept of any Linden adjudication of resident disputes, ever (unless, of course those involved are their FIC friends, in which case, as we recall from the dispute between Hank Ramos and Adam Zaius, LL will intervene on the side of their preferred resident if the stakes are high enough).

    That means what we’ve always suspected: Lindens don’t scale.

  11. Oki Sakai

    Nov 14th, 2006

    From slexchange:

    Item Details
    Prims : 0
    Permissions : None
    SLX Sales Rank : #3

  12. Joannah Cramer

    Nov 14th, 2006

    “in the time in which the source code was availible”

    the source code is still fully available. I don’t think Jesse is ignorant about how SVN works, so that’s a bare faced lie and gamble on people’s ignorance in attempt to pacify them.

    All one needs to do is, simply request earlier revision of the source code from the repository and it’s there intact and up for grabs (copybot was yanked in build 581)

  13. Jesse Malthus

    Nov 14th, 2006

    Joannah: Yeah, I know, I lied to try to contain the spread of source, since GNA will not allow us to go back and wipe those revisions.

  14. Prokofy Neva

    Nov 14th, 2006

    Could you explain what SVN and GNA are, and why the Lindens couldn’t deprecate all or part of the Copybot script on their side of the servers?

    Also, can you comment on what this *temporary anti-copy bot*
    thing is that is being circulated now as somehow being able to resist the botting effect? Can it? Why temporary then?

    Since Copy-Bot requires the making of an alt and the logging on of that alt to ensure permissions (supposedly other avatars are going to be able to click “no” to the options or avoid being hit), then one obvious thing for the Lindens to do is bar all members of libsl from creating more alts.

    Just in time for Nov. 7, the Lindens created a new feature — pay for as many alts/bots as you like.

    That bot then becomes the mule for all the copied stuff to be sold later.

  15. Joannah Cramer

    Nov 14th, 2006

    “Could you explain what SVN and GNA are, and why the Lindens couldn’t deprecate all or part of the Copybot script on their side of the servers?

    Also, can you comment on what this *temporary anti-copy bot*
    thing is that is being circulated now as somehow being able to resist the botting effect? Can it? Why temporary then?”

    SVN (or Subversion) is one of available systems for version control, a software which allows developers working on a project to keep track on changes done over time. It’s very useful in environment with multiple people working on many different source code files, as no matter what changes are done, the version control system preserves earlier versions of code and allows to see who made changes to the files and what these changes actually were. But in situation like this it can be most inconvenient, because rather than remove elephant from the living room you can at best put tablecloth over it and pretend it’s no longer there. The official Subversion page is at

    GNA is a service site for free software developers, supplying them with web space to host such source code repositories, amongst other things.

    I don’t know enough about the issue to comment on Lindens’ decisions here, but it seems they cannot do much at the moment because copybot is simply altering communication coming from SL client, so from the server point of view it is no different from a regular SL client issuing the commands. And since LL were relying on their client being closed source to skip a lot of client-server verification, the client has a lot of leeway about what it can tell server to do. Which in turn grants the same amount of power to 3rd party application like copybot.

    The “temporary anti-bot” works by issuing IM’s to everyone in its vicinity, with a command that’s interpreted by the copybot as signal to quit, and as annoying spam to anyone who is not a bot. It’s “temporary” because it only takes small change in bot code to either change the quit command to something else, or to stop it from taking commands from anyone and anything as it currently does.

  16. Kelly Regent

    Nov 15th, 2006

    Biggest loser? Linden Labs. (IMHO)

    Retail has been paying the tab all over SL, in fact it’s encouraged a kind of retail sprawl. If retail isn’t making money, they can’t pay the tier fees so they’ll sell land. If this issue has been solved, it’ll be one more part of SL’s sordid history. If it hasn’t, look forward to a radical restructuring of the land and economy.

    Widely used, CopyBot would depress price level towards free. The drop in sales would depress rents and land prices, forcing many malls to close (hopefully shutting down billboards farms), followed by a glut of property for sale.

    For creatives, this could actually be the best thing that ever happened. At first LL would be tempted to buy back land in order to maintain price levels, but if left with enough dark servers LL would be hard pressed to not just open them up and accept that their profit model had to change (eg charge the visitor, not the host for bandwidth).

    Maybe hosting large-scale sims for pure recreation will become affordable again. There are some incredible sims – legendary sims – that never made a cent, that I’d love to see come back to life.

  17. Simon Whiteside

    Nov 17th, 2006

    As a developer of server-side software, I try to remember the dictum “never trust data sent by the client”.

    It sounds like the SL server software needs to think this way too.

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