An Obscured Opportunity: Opensim and Content Creators

Opensim is a compelling platform for virtual world development.  And some new technologies have recently popped up that could potentially make Opensim even more compelling.

Tipodean has launched a preview of their web-based viewer.  And Kitely just opened its doors for people to create on-demand Opensim installations.

Opensim continues to grow, bringing both new opportunities and new challenges.

Content Creators and Opensim – Here There Be Dragons

Opensim poses a very real challenge for content creators who are used to selling and distributing their products in Second Life.  The permissions system in Second Life offers a reasonably decent DRM solution, allowing content creators to specify exactly how their products can or cannot be shared among other people within Second Life itself.  And Linden Lab responds to DMCA takedown notices to deal with illegally copied content that slips through the cracks.

But in Opensim?  Here there be dragons.  Permissions systems can be circumvented by less reputable Opensim grid owners.  Content can flow between grids in ways that strip the original creator’s name from an object’s metadata.  And content can sometimes be found that, while appearing to be freely copyable, is actually being distributed freely without the consent of the original creator.

This situation is not too bad for folks using Opensim as a way to distribute content licensed for creative commons or public domain use.  But for content creators looking for the same DRM safety net that they currently have in Second Life, the situation with Opensim is less than optimal.

These are all technical challenges for the Opensim core developers. Over time I have no doubt we’ll see new types of DRM solutions evolving in Opensim that will put content creators more at ease.  There are also various commercial Opensim grids that have ways of implementing DRM for people selling content within their own grids (the downside being that only users of their grids can use this content).

But I think all this fear of dragons is obscuring a broad opportunity for content creators and Opensim as a whole.

How the Rest of the World deals with the Distribution of 3d Content

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring the world of 3d content development outside of Opensim.  I’ve been using Unity3d to develop virtual worlds using ReactionGrid’s web-based Jibe platform.  You can even check out my own Jibe world if you’d like to see what I’ve been building.

With Unity3d, as well as in any other professional 3d development platform, you build environments that use industry-standard mesh models.  There’s a huge amount of commercially available mesh models for folks to purchase on many different commercial websites.  If you need something, and you lack the skills to create it yourself, it’s probably out there for sale somewhere.

And almost none of it has any DRM.

All these mesh-based items for sale typically have very clear and explicit licensing agreements.  But that’s basically it.  Content creators generally rely on legal agreements to protect the use of these creations, not any kind of DRM.

Many professional and hobbyist 3d artists make a good living selling their 3d content on the web in this fashion.  It’s a business model that works.  If it wasn’t, you simply wouldn’t see so many commercial websites selling content like this.

And I personally think it’s a business model that holds a lot of potential for creators of content in Opensim.

If it’s easier and more enjoyable to buy it than to steal it, people will buy it.

The devil is in the details, of course.  You need to create systems that let people easily buy and use content.  Apple and Amazon have learned this, which is why they are very successful at selling DRM-free music.  So have very large and successful 3d content sites like Turbosquid.

The only thing worse than piracy is obscurity

Right now, I see very few people selling DRM-free content for use in Opensim.  Most content creators are probably afraid that any content they sell for use in Opensim might escape out into the wild, or even be copied illegally into Opensim from Second Life without their knowledge.  And that’s a valid concern, absolutely.

But I think the opportunity to sell content to people who want to legitimately buy it and use it in Opensim far outweighs the downside of illegal copies floating around.  Not just in terms of making money from sales that otherwise would never have happened, but also in the fact that you will be building awareness of your brand and content.

And if you discover someone has a pirated copy of your work, definitely file a DMCA takedown notice.  But consider reaching out to such people in more thoughtful and creative ways.  You might be surprised at the results.

Mind the Dragons, but don’t let them Rule you through Fear

At best, DRM helps to keep honest people honest.  If someone really wants to illegally copy 3d content, there’s no technical way to stop them.  That’s simply the technical nature of digital media.  The best way to deal with illegal copies of any kind of digital media is through effective laws and legal process.  DMCA is a step in the right direction, but the legal world still has a ways to go in catching up to the world of digital media.

If you are a content creator and are not comfortable selling any of your 3d content for Opensim use without effective DRM, then by all means don’t do it.  But don’t let your fears obscure your ability to see new opportunities.

Think about dipping your toes in the water and selling some things, or even just giving a few things away for free.  Put up a website that makes it easy for folks to buy and download your products for use in Opensim.  Publicize it.  See how much money you make and how many new customers you get.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester

If you are a content developer and are selling DRM-free content for general use in Opensim, please let me know in the comments.  I’d be happy to add a link to your website in this blog post to help raise awareness of your business.

25 thoughts on “An Obscured Opportunity: Opensim and Content Creators

  1. ‘If it’s easier and more enjoyable to buy it than to steal it, people will buy it.’ …. AMEN! Most users will do the right thing if its a simple, easy process.

    Thanks for this post Pathfinder – needed to be said! 😉

  2. Thanks for this post, Path. I’m frankly somewhat surprised that all this fell on deaf ears for so long, as there’s a lot of other posts along these lines that basically say the same things. I’m curious how many people will open up for possibilities instead of closing down for fear.

    Frankly, I think DRM does more harm than good, and in the long run, it will be a metaverse without DRM that will prevail instead of a DRM ridden OpenSim software, but that’s just my technocommunist self talking here, I guess.

    Btw., although I’m giving away instead of selling, all my stuff is (of course) DRM free and legal.


  3. John
    I agree with your post, and as you know, my interest as a creator is in building and developing content that would be more under more of a creative commons licensing. So this is one of the main reasons Opensim appeals to me and works for my use. However, unless I build everything myself, how can I be sure what I am using truly has been offered to me under similar licensing? Not being able to take advantage of sharing is losing one of the main benefits of opensim.

    As for managing a grid, I am concerned about how to determine if something in the grid is not being used within the terms of use under which it was acquired. I know we talked about having a new permission ability like public domain, but since we don’t yet have this, what should we do to ensure we don’t end up with content we shouldn’t have? I felt so bad yesterday after realizing that I had acquired something somewhere in opensim and placed it in our grid when it probably should not have been taken into opensim in the first place. I feel like I should be deleting everything I have unless I personally know the person who released it. Should we only bring in items we download from sites like those run by Vanish and Ina or are given to us in Opensim by those who we know have created them? Or should we try to create a repository of items we verify as creators as our own and indicate they are released under a creative commons license?

    • It’s a tricky question, Pam. It seems, few people have problems with using pictures they got off the web for their own websites or projects, but are more sensible when it comes to 3D content, for reasons unknown. Maybe because we’re a small community and good stuff is generally well known and you’ll be found out easier? I really don’t know.

      Personally, I don’t care when it’s just for my own private use; the Loom (my private standalone) is riddled with things I got from all over the hypergrid, and with stuff that I definitely know has been ripped off SL, but it’s just for private use, so it’s even legal in this country.

      It’s different when you’re public, and it gets even more difficult when you’re trying to make money off it. That’s why TGIB is (almost) exclusively filled with my own creations, and what’s not mine is licensed so I can use it there. I do realize that not everyone can make everything they need for themselves. So one of the goals of TGIB is to also find creations that can be used for OpenSim which have been licensed under a public license. The fact that there’s not much of that on it is simply because there isn’t much of this stuff around (although I keep finding more of it, and plan on putting a new finding up soon).

      In the end, we all need to comply with the law, and assess our risks at what we’re doing, even though it can be quite complicated when it comes to copyright. I tried to give some insight into this in a recent article, but it’s up to everyone to find out for themselves.

      I am hoping that with the advent of mesh there will be a much broader range of freely available 3D creations, because, as Path already pointed out, the web holds a great many of those already in different places, some for sale, some free. I’m looking forward to play with it.

  4. OpenSim can have commerce, but the model may be a bit different from the “online mall” we are used to. I have a store full of freebies that help get my name out there. I have also made a profit! Not a big one by most standards, but I am still new to the game. And hey, it has paid a few bills when we needed it most.

    First: don’t try to sell something that everybody needs. Instead, give it away and use that to market yourself. People are using stolen hair, furniture, apparel, plants, etc. It’s supply and demand: the supply is small, the demand is high, people are going to meet the demand any way they can.

    Most of the time, people don’t even realize they are getting “hot” merchandise: they find it in a freebie market somewhere and take a copy, then they share it with their friends. Unless they are familiar with that particular creator’s work, or the copier was particularly sloppy and things are obviously missing, it can be difficult to tell. If you provide *legal* quality freebies in critical areas, grid owners will do half your marketing for you!

    Second: having made a name for yourself with the freebies, you can market your skills. My profit has been made doing custom work on commission. In one case, a philanthropist paid me to make something specifically to be licensed under Creative Commons. They wanted it for themselves, but they also wanted it for the community. This worked great for me, as that is the license I use for my freebies anyhow.

    This may sound like a rare thing, but: can you make animations? (I can’t.) Somebody with a skill at making dance animations might be able to find a grid owner or even group of residents who really want more of these for their area. (I’d chip in a few bucks! Can you do a nice couples danceball? Shall we pass the hat?)

    Third: find a niche. The stuff “everybody needs” and looks for in a landing zone freebie shop is more likely to be copied due to that supply and demand thing. Specialized stuff, like tools that an educator needs for their online class or furnishings branded with their school logo in a tasteful way, they are either going to take the time to do it themselves if they can, or they might pay you to do it for them. They can either pay for a license that fits their needs, or pay more and get the full rights to the creation. If they pay for a license, you can possibly sell it again. If they pay for the rights, guarding those rights becomes their problem, not yours.

    It’s possible to make money in OpenSim, even in a grid that has no currency. You just have to understand supply and demand.

  5. Glossing over the problem by saying to take the plunge and sell anyway, regardless of lack of protection and having to rely on DMCA and other mechanisms that still end up equating to legal fees for final resolution is not an answer. This is too costly and time consuming an undertaking for many independent artists.

    People who spend 40 hours of time as graphic artists have every right to expect to expect to be compensated for their 40 hours of time, however they wish, regardless of the open mentality of some opensim grids. Let’s face it, people running grids aren’t in the business of content, they’re in the business of hosting and value added features and are unaffected, and thus less driven to address these issues financially. Anything that doesn’t add a level of trust and responsibility on top of DMCA and legal mechanisms are not going to gain the trust of people who make a professional living at graphics/content work, period.

    Even Second Life is not immune to lack of trust. Case in point, many merchants on Renderosity now have specific clauses that content cannot be used in Second Life without express permission.

    Daz3D has commercially available models now which cannot be used in Second Life without express agreements, although they’re able to be licensed easily for games.

    Make no mistake, that TurboSquid and other sites will also start having clauses to limit their use in Second Life and other grids once these professional artists start catching wind of the fact that their content is being used without due compensation, and increasing violations of licenses.

    The virtual world that doesn’t go above and beyond the DMCA, will only cause more and more restrictions on licenses with content creators, 3D artists, etc. Take it to the bank, because this is how people earn their livings and they will not be happy about it when the problem becomes more widespread. It has already caused restrictions as mentioned above for Second Life. It will be made worse by worlds that have even less controls and responsibility than Second Life.

    • You can not honestly expect a grid owner or unsuspecting users to know that content is stolen 100% of the time.. I do not promote stealing on any level, but you also can not expect grid owners to be able to know what content is stolen or not there is just way to much stuff out there literally billions of creations, the content creators if they wish to protect their content are going to have to be proactive on some level and let the grid owners know that content is in violation, there will never be a time when a content creator can just sit back and say my stuff is 100% safe. I challenge you to name one DRM mechanism that has ever been successful.. honestly you can not, because one has never existed, and in the end they end up costing millions of dollars and are usually cracked within days of their release, take BlueRay and PlayStation3 for instance, Sony spent millions trying to protect both systems and failed miserably at doing so, it literally obliterated any profits they would have made for years. I totally agree that there can probably be something better, but there is going to need to be some level of middle ground where grid owners and content creators can work together to overcome these issues, DMCA is a good start to that.

  6. We’re obviously on the same wavelength on this one. I posted a very compatible post on the same topic this morning. Hopefully more content creators will start seeing expanded platforms and new markets as bright opportunities rather than dark alleys.

  7. I am not selling content, but i am giving away lots of things I made for free at unfortunately my computer died a few days ago and now I am stuck working on this junker pentium 4 computer until i can replace my core2quads motherboard.. hopefully soon i can get back to adding more content, because I have a lot more to add up.. If anyone is interested in hosting their original creations on my website please let me know ( maybe we can work something out if I feel that your creations are 100% original.

  8. Excellent post, Path. While I sympathize with the professionals who think that DRM will be needed atop DMCA protections, I hope they’ll work with an emerging market to find an ethical and feasible solution that lets them continue to make a decent income.

    I do not know how quickly tools and the skills-base to use them will evolve. My hope is that as the skills of students on college campuses develop, our Hypergrid-connected community can release CC-licensed content to other OpenSim users.

    We faculty, who rarely get any professional rewards for learning 3D building skills, will pay students to do the work and practice their skills. It won’t often rival what professionals can do, but it suffice, in most cases, for our projects. And if these worlds ever get the sort of recognition I believe they deserve, we’ll be hiring professionals as well for OpenSim work as we have done in SL.

  9. Pathfinder —

    Great post, couldn’t agree more. After the whole thing with my lilies — I immediately took them down, apologized, and tried to track down the source — I started worrying about the rest of the virtual stuff I own.

    Like Pam, I’ve got objects that were shared on OSGrid, and ReactionGrid, JokaydiaGrid. I know the folks behind these distributions points off-line, and I’m pretty confident in them (though some things can occasionally slip by). But I’m still scouring my inventory to remove everything that came from the same source as the lilies, just to be on the safe side.

    But while I’ve been extra careful in OpenSim, I realized yesterday that I haven’t been careful at all in Second Life. I readily buy objects from the marketplace, and from in-world stores, without knowing the legal identities of the companies or individuals distributing these objects. If it turns out that my Second Life hair, clothes, presentation materials or other content was stolen and I was sued, I wouldn’t have anyone to contact.

    I think one main difference between the market for 3D mesh models, and the market for SL objects, is that the 3D mesh market is dominated by professionals — companies and game designers and other business-types buy the models from professional designers. They all understand the importance of licensed content.

    Meanwhile, the SL marketplace is a retail market — more akin to the music industry, where people share content with one another.

    But even with the music industry, iTunes has amply demonstrated that people are willing to pay for music downloads if the buying process is convenient, there is comprehensive array of choices, and the downloads are reasonably priced.

    We don’t have this yet, either in Second Life or OpenSim. The first guy or gal who cracks this might do very well for themselves.

  10. Pingback: Designing Worlds asks – are Open Sims viable for commercial content creators? « Designing Worlds

  11. Pingback: Designing Worlds asks – are Open Sims viable for commercial content creators? « Prim Perfect

  12. Thanks for the info. I’ve been on a hunt for web3d enabled virtual worlds comparable to SL (I’m a vet and love SL) and after taking a break for a few months, I come back and see that the opensims projects took off like a bat out of hell. I had no idea there were this many popping up, and that option to “roll your own” is looking more appealing.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this whole DMCA business. As a consumer and resident of SL for years, I’m not alone when I say I’ve spent literally THOUSANDS of REAL money on CARTOON shit. So when put in those terms, I could care less about “laws” – it belongs to me. Of course I didn’t make everything, but I purchased it, so that should entitle me to take it to any other location the same as it does if I buy a wardrobe at the mall. I take it home, I can give it away, sell it at a garage sale, toss it in a river, rip it to shreds, throw paint on it – I bought it. At no point does the maker of the wardrobe have any further rights to determine when, where, how I wear or use those items and that should be common sense for SL – especially there.

    I also think that some of the ones harping are just uptight anyway and need to overdramatize things…in reality, it’s still cartoon stuff. I mean there’s some talented creators out there but come on, you didn’t create a Michaelangelo here, you made a cartoon shirt or something. In this respect, who cares if it leaves SL and ends up on some other grid, that’s all it can do really. Now, if it was a case of people looking at good designs in SL and then making them in the real world, I might feel more compassion, but it’s unreasonable for any law and LL even to presume to declare ownership above all to any content to the point of banning people who take it somewhere else.

    I have 3 avis full of inventory I’ve bought for years. If I move to a roll your own or other option, you bet I’m taking it all with me (except the crap stuff). I paid real cash. Now if the creators of the cartoon content I bought want to give me my money back to impose some restriction on what I can do with it, we can talk. Virtual worlds SHOULD be networking and cross compatible. Opensim should be competing with SL anyway, and SL/LL should pull its head out of its ass and lighten up on what they’re doing. Evolve to cross migration and teleporting, expand the grid and let content move freely across borders…free trade, people.

    I don’t condone someone using a program to steal something that isn’t theirs, but if a resident in SL BUYS something with REAL money, then they should (and do if they just do it anyway and not be pansy assed about it) take their stuff with them and do what they want. Some content creators are a little too snotnosed and uptight and act like they’ve made something worth millions when they’ve doodled in photoshop and painted a toon. I know the controversy but really…it’s a toon.

    Lighten up. If you’re that scared somebody might rip off a texture or whatever, you’re playing the wrong game. You’re too paranoid to deal with the public. Find a job at the DMV.

  13. Now, on a more upbeat note, I seriously need some good easy tutorials on the best options for the rolling your own version of OS. I would like a browser based network of SL style worlds, no user registration, just pull up a webpage and you’re ‘in’ – and with some actual interactivity. I was considering Unity3d for the plugin, but hear Shive3d also has the option and they are cheaper.

    There is that has something very similar to what I’d like to accomplish, but I genuinely need to know how/where it would be hosted. Would I need something else or need it to be hosted online, or could this work with a self hosted sim in the OS or HG network?

    It’s all so confusing. I don’t know whether a game engine is enough or I need other stuff to make other stuff and then need servers and databases – arrgh! ;-p Help!

    I checked out the jibe thing and it’s sort of what I want, but I didn’t see much interactivity option and I definitely would want that. Where’s a good Step One starting point? Thanks!

  14. Reblogged this on metaversemina and commented:
    I came across this blog today while I was searching for Opensim resources. I think it makes complete sense. Would I pay for content that I really love? Yes, I do it all the time on the legacy grid. Heck, I have even paid a little more to have items (textures, templates, sculpts, etc.) specially licensed so that I could bring them with me to other virtual worlds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if creators were able to be rid of the fear they possess that keeps them from sharing their creations with other Opensim grids? I think so.
    Anyways… read on and enjoy this post by John “Pathfinder” Lester.

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