Tank Woman

On Monday I wrote a letter to law ethics professor Lawrence Lessig about Linden Lab’s self-serving conduct in the “EmeraldGate” matter.

Also on Monday I began one of those occasional inventory-cleanings, in the vain hope that less is more.

(hoping that not, as Robert Venturi famously riposted Mies van der Rohe, “Less is a Bore”)

IDK if LL was punishing me for complaining about them, or simply trying to “help” with my spring cleaning, but exactly ONE day later, Linden Lab started deleting items from my inventory.

Below is first a screencap of, and then the text of, my email from LL:

from: Intellectual Property Team
subject: Intellectual Property Notice about Second Life Content
to: Vaneeesa Blaylock

Hi Vaneeesa Blaylock,

We are writing to let you know that we removed some content you had in Second Life under our Intellectual Property Policy. For a list of the specific content we removed, please see the “IP Complaint Details” below at the bottom of this email.

When we receive an intellectual property complaint, we investigate it and look for copies of the content identified in the complaint. Our investigation found that you had some of this content. We replaced the content with generic placeholder item(s), as described in our FAQs on our Intellectual Property Complaint Process.

If you weren’t aware of an intellectual property issue, don’t panic or take it personally! Just take steps to avoid content that may have intellectual property issues. Here are some tips to protect yourself and keep your inworld shopping safe and fun.

Many thanks for your interest in Second Life.

— The IP Team at Linden Lab

IP COMPLAINT DETAILS

Content Removed:

  • Item: Animation named “MAY-4_DANCE_AKEYO” Location: Inventory of Vaneeesa Blaylock

*If animations were removed, the replacement animation may be in your HUD or animation override (AO).


This is disturbing for a few reasons:

1. Home Invasion
2. One-Sided Policies
3. Consumer Protection

1. Home Invasion

With this act, Linden Lab has invaded my personal space, searched, and seized. It’s an extremely aggressive and invasive action by the virtual state.

In the physical world, before you can invade someone’s home, law enforcement generally has to appear before a judge, show probable cause, and receive a search warrant.

Not so when Linden Lab is judge, jury, and executioner. This is NOT our world. Linden Lab just lets up play here for a while.

On a commute I once did I used to drive past a Go Kart racing track. They had a big sign, “Drive Our Cars, Play Our Games.” The sign always annoyed me. It seemed so arrogant. I always wanted to add onto it: “Drive Our Cars, Play Our Games, Fuck Our Women.”

But the truth is, they were THEIR cars and games (and possibly women) and you were just renting them for a brief time. And MY life and MY home are really PHILIP’s personal property, I’m just leasing them from him for a time. So, why should he have to ask anyone when he wants to invade my home?

2. One-Sided Policies

My notice from Linden Lab listed some weblinks to understand this situation:

The webpage:
http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Linden_Lab_Official:Frequently_Asked_Questions_on_the_IP_Complaint_Process#When_content_is_removed_through_the_pilot_program.2C_what_generic_replacement_items_are_used_in_place_of_the_removed_content.3F

(yes, apparently that’s actually a URL! 😛

informs you that if this is your first notice, don’t panic, it’s no big deal. Well, except that if, in all your travels and all the crap that peeps throw at you, the Linden Lab Strip Search Police ever find another item in your inventory, you may be suspended or banned.

The solution? See the next equally helpful webpage:
http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Linden_Lab_Official:Frequently_Asked_Questions_on_the_IP_Complaint_Process#What_steps_can_I_take_to_make_sure_I_don.E2.80.99t_inadvertently_have_content_that_may_be_infringing.3F

which informs you that freebies have a “greater risk” of getting you in trouble and that “If you’re uncertain whether material infringes intellectual property, we strongly encourage you to consult an IP lawyer.”

Ha ha ha — so the Lab position is, if you want to use free stuff, hire an IP Lawyer!? Or to be safe, just never use free stuff, only spend money.

They similarly suggest not purchasing anything from residents who don’t have payment information on file. That’s understandable. If the Lab doesn’t have a revenue stream from them, what possible value can they be?

This focus on revenue stream, making the user responsible for IP verification, and holding your life and assets as ransom creates a climate of fear where the “safe” thing to do is not to use free products or products from “outlying” vendors. Spend with the big names and you’ll be safe to live here a while longer.

One could imagine a world where consumer freedom, consumer choice, and consumer protection were priorities and the rich getting richer was a secondary focus. This is not that world. Linden Lab makes clear: revenue stream is top priority: if you aren’t spending a lot more than a WoW monthly fee, you aren’t really welcome.

It’s comforting to know that the FL mantra “government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, shall not perish” has been ported to the virtual shores of the new world.

3. Consumer Protection

On the 18th of January this year I paid Chupacabra Decosta L$1,500 for a tank. I was planning to do an in-world recreation of “Tank Man” from the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tank_Man
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989
http://turbulence.org/blog/2009/06/03/live-stage-tank-man-tango-online/

As you’ll see in the notecard below:

Decosta’s vendor took my L$, but delivered nothing. When I tried to contact him about this Decosta was as silent as his vendor. After I couldn’t get a reply of any kind from Decosta I appealed to Linden Lab who replied [paraphrasing a bit!] “we don’t care.”

The Lab’s reply was that the purchase was a private matter between Decosta and I, that I should deal with him, that they wouldn’t get involved, and that it wasn’t their problem.

Summing up these facts then:
If a merchant files a complaint, the lab will aggressively invade your inventory, delete your content, suspend your account, and ban your account. If a consumer files a complaint, the lab doesn’t care.

Epilogue:

The Road Ahead
I really didn’t want to write this post. My bad feelings about the Lab and it’s actions are like a haze clouding over my virtual life. I don’t know what the future holds and I felt it was important to document this moment, but I hope I can move off this topic.

Sifting thru my year-and-a-half of blog posts I realize that SL Viewer 2 represents a big sea change for me. Before Viewer 2 my posts are those of a cheerleader. Perhaps the seeds of my crash were sewn in my over-the-top admiration for Philip Linden and his remarkable world. It’s embarrassing how much I admired him.

In fairness it must be said that some people like Viewer 2. Indeed, some people love it. For me, it represents contempt for the users on the part of the lab and a Web/Flash designer whose arrogance led the non-resident to believe that he knew how to live in our world better than the people who actually live here. He gave us a UI that was high on visual sex-appeal and low on ease of use.

Since then the lab has laid off everybody anybody has ever talked to and… well… you know the long list of missteps…

There are residents far older than me who have been complaining about the lab far longer than me. So whether V2 represents the start of a downward spiral for the lab, or only a perceptual moment for my own looking behind the Wizard of Oz’ curtain, I am not certain. What I do know is:

I no longer admire Philip Linden.

Perhaps that’s not fair. As Senator Franken notes in that remarkably perceptive speech I included in my original EmeraldGate post:

http://vaneeesa.com/2010/08/24/w3c/

it’s the CEO’s job to care about the corporate bottom line and nothing else. If the CEO worries about community over cash flow, she can be sued. So it’s not really Philip Linden’s job to care about community.

Which brings me to the road ahead part. I will never again have the naive faith and joy in this world that I once did. But after visiting Open Sim, Blue Mars, WoW, I do believe that SL is, for the time being, the best world to work in. In the past I used to hope that that fact would never change, now I look forward to the day that it does change. None the less, I do choose to live and work here. I don’t really have any illusions that letters to Lessig or rants about Linden will change anything.

Therefore what I’m left with is what I should be doing, the only thing that’s really worth doing: making art and building community. Linden Lab probably will cancel my account sooner or later. And the universe or nature or biology or “god” if you insist, will certainly cancel my FL account sooner or later. What matters isn’t that a higher power, Universe, or God, or Linden, can take everything that you do away, what matters is that, at least for a time, you do it.

So Linden Lab isn’t perfect. Ha ha ha! Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and even Google, certainly aren’t perfect! World leaders, nations, their laws and their judicial systems are far from perfect. And as Neil deGrasse Tyson has famously noted, the human body is, perhaps, a pinnacle of “Stupid Design”

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_nqySMvkcw]

What to do then with a finite life in an imperfect world?

Make Art.
Make Friends.
Build Community.

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Categories: Second Life

Author:Vanessa Anne Blaylock

As a Virtual Public Artist my work invites virtual communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.
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