Op/Ed: The Biggest Threat No One Is Talking About

by Jessica Holyoke on 12/05/08 at 7:53 am

by Jessica Holyoke

I went to the Virtual Law Conference a few weeks back, courtesy of Virtually Blind.  While there, I talked to two lawyers who would bring about the end of Second Life (r) as we know it and no one seems to care.

Dave Echloness is an Employment lawyer out of Colorado.  In his presentation on one of the tracks, it was his contention that if you had employees in Second Life, then you would need to follow the employment laws of where the employee lived.  There’s two fantastic things about that.  The first is that if I lived in New Jersey and I worked for someone in New York, that doesn’t mean the New York employer has to follow New Jersey employment laws.  What he is suggesting is an impossible maze of regulatory requirements based on employee location when that location is unknown.

The second part is the suggestion that the minimum wage laws must be followed based on where the employee is logging in from.  While I’m not arguing that IBM employees who use SL would need to be paid fairly and the Dream Angels and the Club Managers might be deemed to be in similar situations, somehow store greeters now need to be paid minimum wage, even though it would be impossible to pay a greeter minimum wage based on sales.  This completely negates the immersive recreation aspect of SL as a place where, yes I could work retail, but I can work retail as a topless gorean slave girl. (True story).  In a way, the recreation aspect throws working in SL into a similar category as internships, an exception to the minimum wage rule.

The other big threat that no one is talking about is the film synch license.  In US Copyright law, you need various licenses to use someone’s music or other creations.  Radio stations pay a special license fee in order to broadcast music to the public.  Cover bands pay license fees to record songs.  If you want music in a film, you have to pay for a film synch license, which is the most expensive of any of the licensing schemes.  Record industry lawyers there at the conference were there feeling that, while listening to music streamed into SL is ok, so long as the stream is appropriately licensed, the minute you start dancing to that music, you need a film synch license. In other words, in order to shore up a sagging music industry, the users of SL who dare to dance to copyright protected music would have to pay a license to the record companies.   

22 Responses to “Op/Ed: The Biggest Threat No One Is Talking About”

  1. Peter Stindberg

    May 12th, 2008

    The first aspect is the reason I don’t accept RL jobs with my in-world translation agency, and why I don’t cash out my earnings.

    So when I dance inside SL I create a movie? Cool, then this means every player can apply for royalties for his appearance in the huge “SL your world your imagination” movie? Who would I file this with?

  2. Rip

    May 12th, 2008

    This is wonderful news! Now Linden Labs is getting ready to find out exactly how stupid it was in the first place for a corporation to get involved in the policing / protection of individual IP rights and developement of an inworld ecomony. This music and wage issue could distroy the service out right if the greedy trial lawyer start to sniff around and get their hooks in, and it seems this is in the process. From day one Linden Labs should have been nothing more than a program (game) service provider and updater, not a neo-world government unto itself. Its very likely this issue will force them into making some very hary choices soon concerning their seriously flawed business model. If they dont make these hard choices, we can expect another TSO “So long sucker’s we’re outa here” announcement. Phil if your reading this, theres not such thing as utoipa!

  3. Cincia Singh

    May 12th, 2008

    The assertion about employment law is laughable. Any “job” in SL is just part of a “game.” Those who extract real world income from the game need to pay taxes on their earnings, but the idea of enforcing employment law, minimum wages and such in a game is taking imagination to the Nth degree. Music copyright is a different issue. As long as someone is playing a radio station on their property in SL I think it’s no more an infringement than playing a radio at the counter of a RL retail shop; not covered. If you play a radio station in your Club in SL and charge admission (a cover charge), that’s another story. And if you’re a performer in SL doing covers and extracting an income to the real world, that is an interesting twist. But, employment law? For role-playing a work environment? Send the lawyers to court so they can be laughed at, please! Just my humble opinion; ok so I’m not so humble!

  4. Ciaran Laval

    May 12th, 2008

    All of these issues are going to come more to the fore as virtual worlds develop. A common sense approach is needed, which I wouldn’t hold my breath awaiting from legislators and governments (as those of us who reside in Europe have seen over the VAT issue).

    This is going to require grown up debate from all parties.

  5. Kara Harkins

    May 12th, 2008

    ALthough if dancing is the deciding factor, an interesting legal point would be that people are not actually dancing IRL. They just clicked on a point on their screen and their avatar started an animation. Since an animation is rendered on the client (rather than the server) and the music is a direct connection from you to the machine sending it LL is only involved as a coordinator of what is going on.

  6. Eye Korobase

    May 12th, 2008

    Biggest Threat? more like a big wecome to us. LL will finally get their asses kicked into telling the truth about their downfalls and failtures and the many lies they have told to get their way. Maybe Through this, jobs will become more then their are now and many millions of Linden will finally be returned to those people who put it in and never get it back.

  7. Zetaphor Tengu

    May 12th, 2008

    Between the textures, brand names, concepts, sound files, and everything else, Second Life is just one giant DMCA takedown waiting to happen!

  8. Ann Otoole

    May 12th, 2008

    Wrong on the film music. And the music industry is telling the USA where to shove it too.

    Screw the asshole lawyers. They can suck a donkey dick when they are not sucking dicks along side fucking criminal congressmen in the airport bathrooms.

    Need film music? http://www.mobygratis.com/film-music.html

    Look around. The movement to get away from dickheaded lawyers and record label mafia is growing.

    Help the planet – Run over a rich lawyer or music industry executive today.

  9. Elaine Barthelmess

    May 12th, 2008

    Ann Otoole’s comment above seems to conflict with her normal stance often seen on blogs that content creators should be fully protected in Second Life.
    It seems that other creators and artists should not be afforded the same rights of protection Ann would wish and usually argues for herself.
    Of course protection of the rights of a mere movie or album pales alongside the amount of work and investment in making a new frock in Sl.
    The argument about music royalties for instance in SL is one thing …but to turn that into an attack on other creators rights ,while arguing elsewhere to protect hers appears a little two faced.
    Willing to be corrected if I somehow misread her here.

  10. Ann Otoole

    May 12th, 2008

    Yes dipwad you stupidly missed the point entirely. The *ARTISTS* are getting tired of the lawyers fucking things up and are now making an effort to bypass the dickheads. Nobody said anything about ripping off content. Did you bother to visit the link i provided? Apparently not. You just shot your mouth off in your zealous quest to find fault with anything other than yourself. Do you know anything at all about how much a musician makes off that “record deal”? I doubt it otherwise you might know a smidgen of wtf you are talking about. And, btw, how many ripped off tunes and movies do you have in your personal collection? I have none. But if I film some lag and failed transactions in sl you can bet it will have a quality audio soundtrack courtesy of Moby Gratis.

  11. Ann Otoole

    May 12th, 2008

    One more minor point. I don’t like lawyers poking their noses in to anything or anywhere trying to stir up controversy. Such lawyers have no client(s) to represent and thus have no case(s). These lawyers are nothing but ambulance chasers. If a lawyer has a client that has been wronged then your not going to be reading much from them because they will be prepping a case for trial. Anytime I see a lawyer spouting on the internet I know that lawyer must really suck for nobody to have engaged their services. Don’t get me wrong on IP protection. I fight for it too. But I/we don’t need any lawyers coming around trying to light a fire where there is little or no smoke just to stir up possible legal work contracts. You do not need a lawyer to file or respond to a DMCA. (You may need a ton of cash to register your works in a copyright registry before too long though thanks to jackass worthless congress people on their knees servicing their corporate controllers)

    I will repeat what I said in another way in case some people cannot grasp it properly: If a lawyer has enough time to be running about doing anything except building a case then that lawyer has no client(s) and thus is unlikely to be worth anything so why would anyone want to hear what they say? Listening to them is as worthwhile as listening to armchair generals on fox news talking about what they would do next in a war. Irrelevant.

  12. Elaine Barthelmess

    May 12th, 2008

    Interesting answers Ann
    Firstly I see no need for you to be offensive,just because you have gone on the offensive,Dipwad? [lulz]
    Not to mention jumping to conclusions about my music collection , attack is best defence huh?
    I could go into a long two post answer to you but then that would just be so much “smoke and mirrors”
    Nice to see you are now an expert on music and recording contracts as well as all your other qualities.
    Have a nice day :)


    May 12th, 2008


  14. economic mip

    May 13th, 2008

    What people do not understand is that there are really two levels of Second Life employment, there is the “game” level, where people are not making anything close to a real world income, then there is the “Employment Level” which is complete with Real World information, which has applications, emails, conference calls, etc. The few individuals at the Real World level can argue that Second Life is just a program used to do a job, like Word or Excel, and not a workspace.

  15. Prokofy Neva

    May 13th, 2008

    I understand that Jessica wanted us to know how cool she was going to this conference, but…did she/he pass the bar in RL?

    Ann is often way too harsh for even my lidless eye but this comment is spot on: there is no client here.

    No client.

    Lawyers who are untethered, who are not serving the real needs of real clients spout a lot of nonsense.

    In real-life, sometimes they are called “ambulance chasers” — looking for victims, trying to drum up victims from anywhere just to have something to litigate.

    WHEN there is a client — when some interested party tries to prosecute something like this somewhere — THEN one can begin to worry about it.

    WHEN there is some actual real copyright to protect and a theft case from one of these ostensibly interested parties THEN we can look at it. SL has been running an awfully long time. Not a single record company or licenser of this sort of content has stepped forward.

    SL is like a radio.

  16. anon

    May 13th, 2008

    earth to SL residents: the world, save for some too-little-sense, too-much-money mega-corporations, doesn’t care about your e-game. that includes lawyers. so stop whining.

  17. Marc Woebegone

    May 13th, 2008

    This is really wornderful news. Linden Labs made AGAIN to follow real world laws. Yes, this is quite quite good.



  18. Jessica Holyoke

    May 13th, 2008

    See, now I can comment because Prok did. *waves hi to Prok* Mostly so I can say “asked and answered.” Oh, that and not at all sorry I didn’t say hi.

    Yes, on the employment issue, there isn’t an Attorney General known to be looking at enforcing employment law in SL. (Other than the IRS saying that the CSI:NY greeters are employees and not independant contractors for tax purposes.) What the Ech

    Now on the music side, I’m sure the EMI lawyer who was at the conference looking into this very issue would disagree. For those following at home, that’s a lawyer with a client stating that the Lindens, and the residents, are just asking for trouble streaming music into the Grid. And he admitted that if you sit there and listen to music, its ok, but once the avatar starts moving in time with the music, its a film. Even if you don’t record the images, its a film.

  19. Rip

    May 13th, 2008

    This idea Linden had for the protection of IP right was stupid from the start.

    All it has done is put the Linden in a position of being a nanny for whiny artsy fartsy types and not a service provider of game software and technology.

    Now with the opensource standard on the horizon this IP issue will be a mute point soon enough though.

    The little artsy fartsy things created on Lindens grids will be all over the new 3d web with no Linden Labs nannyism protections at all.

    Once the change starts it will happen fast, and the artsy fartsy community whinning now will then be faced with three simple choices.
    1.They can either spend a ton of money trying to protect their so called pixel dust art works in the real world (very expensive compared to what you can get out of it).

    2.Quite creating and find another hobby!

    3.Or create, sell, make a profit and move on to the next project (the most profitable).

    Thats the real world folks, not one created by a flawed and seriously defective Linden Labs business model!

    Yes i agree with Elaine Barthelmess, theres no need to get offensive here Ann!

  20. Corona

    May 13th, 2008

    but once the avatar starts moving in time with the music, its a film.

    well not really

    given the nature of animation this is not the case – how often does the dance being performed actually match the music being played ?

    the dance being performed remains the same regardless of the music

  21. Dave Elchoness

    May 13th, 2008

    Thanks for commenting on my talk at the VWC conference in New York. The comments thread is a bit hard to follow, but I gather that some of you think I’m off my rocker and have too much time on my hands. LOL. Well, that’s ok. My only point was that in the RL work context, Second Life and other virtual worlds like it are tools. Just as we do not question whether a customer service person on the phone with someone half way across the world is working, courts will not, in my opinion, have any difficulty ruling that a person sitting at his or her computer ‘greeting’ visitors to a Second Life sim, are also working. Games are a bit different, but here ‘greeting’ or helping someone else to build a building on their sim is not a game activity, it could constitute real work and be governed by the laws of real life jurisdictions.

    Yes, this leads to all sorts of hard to manage scenarios. For example, the company that hires 50 avatars to do a job in a virtual environment may indeed be subject to all of the obligations of the laws of 50 different countries.

    I suggest that the only reason why we question this (when we don’t if we substitute ‘in a virtual environment’ with ‘on the telephone’) is because of the incredibly rich and immersive nature of virtual worlds. We are, in a sense, fooled into thinking of the virtual world as a ‘place’ when in fact, for employment purposes currently, they are just a ‘tool’ of the real world.

    p.s. it’s Elchoness, not Echloness. :-)

  22. Dr. Internet

    May 14th, 2008

    No one cares as most people are hoping for this.

    It’ll definitely put Linden labs in their place.

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