We are the Goon Squad…

…and we’re coming to town
beep beep*

In the last few weeks, certain channels of comment about Second Life (and, one infers, channels within SL) have been flooded by the issue of content theftThis thread at SLUniverse, where I first ran across the topic, has grown to at least 47 pages in two weeks!  (I’ll get back to that in a minute…)  Meanwhile, anyone who pays attention has at least heard of the suit against Linden Labs filed by Nomine and Eros LLC (a.k.a. Munchflower Zaius and Stroker Serpentine).  The latest piece of news, only two days old as I write this, is the Lab’s clever exploit to identify and bust (i.e., permaban) 50 people using something called “NeilLife”, a poorly-hacked copy of someone else’s 3rd-party viewer, to illegally copy content.

As I combed through that 47-page thread at SLU, I found two things of particular importance.  One of them was the alleged source of the third-party viewer that was the cause for alarm which began that thread.  As the discussion developed, a lot of attention was paid to a griefer group that calls themselves “Patriotic Nigras” (PN).  We furries are very familiar with that particular bunch — they’ve got a real hate on for us, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, but if you’ve ever wondered why “Yiff in Hell, furfags!” shows up so often from those particle-spewing replicator cubes, they’re to blame (or maybe their copycat wannabes).

In the aftermath of that bust, and lining up my sources for this blog, I re-read Post #3 in that thread (also by the original poster, Jesse Barnett) which says:

This isn’t ThugLyfe as that is in closed beta. This was built by someone who had been accessing the ThugLyfe subversion and using bits of code.

“ThugLyfe”, by the way, is a viewer that the PN has been working on — I guess to invent features to make it easier for them to cause trouble.  And it turns out that NeilLife is a copied and poorly-hacked version of the ThugLyfe beta.  QED, as far as I’m concerned… and we’re left with 47 pages of “OMG!” over — what?

Good question.

The second important aspect I noticed about the tsuris over content theft is: Who’s making the most noise?  I didn’t count instances, mind you… but it sure looked to me like the people doing the most panicking are all SL fashion designers… more significantly, fashion sellers.  In their “worst of all possible world” scenarios, the NeilLife/ThugLyfe viewer will be come widespread, people will be copying their creations left and right and wearing them, selling — or *gasp* giving them away! — and pull the prim rug out from under their market.  Many of them claim to make a significant chunk of RL income from cashing out Linden dollars, converting them to real-world currency, and they see any challenge to the status quo as threatening their individual livelihoods.  Many of those, at least in the early pages of that thread, played the “drama quit threat” card.

Oy, weh ist mir! Whatever would we, the common folk of SL — human, furry, or otherwise — do if the high-end, high-priced purveyors of clothing and accessories had to abandon the grid because their profit margins (after paying tier or rent) shrank back to the level of providing them with a little in-world cash for tipping DJs in the clubs they go to to show off their must-have creations?

[OK — obviously, I’m a guy.  One hairstyle and a handful of jeans and shirts is all I need to look how I want to.  And I’m a furry, which for me means I don’t wear shoes.  So I’m not into the fashion scene anyway.  Granted, a furry avatar itself is an “outfit” consisting of a skin and prim attachments worn over a human shape, and there are plenty of furs (mostly female, big surprise) who collect avatars the way their human counterparts collect skin, hair and shoes.  But we’re a minority and a niche market… and I was one of only two furs who posted on the never-ending thread in SLU, the other being Argent Stonecutter.]

Synchronicity time:  While all the ohmygodding is being raised about protecting intellectual property,  Pixels and Policy is asking “Is Virtual Consumerism Built on Social Pressure?, and Mahala Roviana is answering the question in her blog Second Slice with a resounding “Well, duh…”, and Santino Pintens started up a Virtual Consumer’s Union, which has some other people (see the comments to that post) saying “Huh?”

I’m saying “Huh?” too.  But I’m saying it for a different reason.

Santino Pintens uses shoes that cost L$1000 as an example.  Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  You can get a full furry avatar for less than that!  To someone who engages with Second Life on the “no payment plan”, it looks positively prohibitive.  But let’s put it in what I believe is the proper perspective: not Linden Lab’s version of “Monopoly money”, but real-world currency.  I generally use a conversion ratio of L$250 = $1 (USD) — yes, I know it fluctuates, and it’s slightly better than that, but it makes the math convenient.  This means that those “expensive” shoes cost a whopping $4.  As Ari Blackthorn seems fond of saying:

Wow.

Just, wow.

Unless SL borks your inventory, you have those shoes forever; they don’t wear out on virtual dance floors.  Not bad for 4 bucks, eh? So, here’s some friendly advice: You want the look? Bite the bullet, cough up the cash, buy the monopoly money. Pay to play.

It’s true: stuff does go “out of fashion”  Why?  The important reason is: technical improvements in how things can be constructed.  For example, there are a lot of furry avatars that just plain look “old tech,” because they are… which is why Luskwood Creatures, for one, is systematically going through their entire avatar line and redesigning each to the latest state of the art.  The same thing applies to clothing.  The introduction of sculpties has vastly improved the realistic look of pants, sweaters, hoodies, you-name-it.  In footwear, the latest innovation I’ve seen is open-toed shoes and sandals with sculpted toes built in, so now your feet can look like real feet, instead of whatever that is at the end of a avatar’s leg.

The unimportant reason things go out of fashion is: Somebody said so.  Which brings me back to Mahala’s Second Slice post (link above), and the reason I’ve re-written this TLDR post three times while blundering through the maze of issues relating to virtual content.

In our quest to create things more realistic, we’ve stumbled and instead made them more like reality. I thought that’s what we were trying to escape.

Right on!  And with all of that, we brought the goon squads: vandals trying to disrupt it “for the lulz”, shoplifters trying to steal it, shop owners screaming for the cops and/or threatening to sue when the cops don’t come, whiners demanding clearance sales… and, gods help us, the self-appointed Fashion Police.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
* “Fashion”, David Bowie (1980)

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6 responses to “We are the Goon Squad…

  1. Ummm… What? :)

    I like some of the individual things that you say here, but I'm not sure what if any conclusion you're driving at. Are you saying that the griefers wouldn't grief if only our fashions and our creations were less based on real life? I doubt that that's true; as you point out, furries are among their favorite targets, and furries are some of the least RListic people on the grid. I don't think the vandals, or the shoplifters, the whiners, or even the Fashion Police happened because we are being too realistic in SL: I think they happen because we are people, and people are like that.

    Are you saying that copyright infringement isn't really so bad, because even an expensive pair of shoes only costs US$4? I'd disagree with that, too; violating someone else's legitimate rights is always a bad thing, even if there's not a huge amount of money involved. (And if a ripping means a few hundreds less sales of that US$4 pair of shoes, it's not such a tiny amount of money anymore!)

    I think it would be a very bad thing if high-end fashion designers, or anyone else making stuff that people want, had to abandon the grid because of copyright violation. I like the fact that the grid works! How would you feel if high-end furry-AV makers all left because their stuff was getting ripped? I expect you would not like that?

    So I guess I am sort of Not Getting It. Maybe it is just too early in the morning for me. :)

  2. Thanks, Dale :)

    You've seen my dilemma clearly: After chasing various digressions which all radiate from the concept of virtual content (see also: intellectual property), the theft thereof, and the likely impact that theft might have on the vast majority of Grid wanderers like ourselves, I could come to no clear conclusion. What I blogged instead was a sort of “literature review” — hence, all the links. In fact, I believe you have come to what may be the only attainable conclusion from all of it: “I think they happen because we are people, and people are like that.”

    Therein lies the crux of the realism issue. Whether the cause is (as PixPol supports) social pressure, or (as you put it, and I agree) human nature, the end result is: “As in 'first' life, so in Second.” Lamentable, but unavoidable: it's why no utopian social experiment has ever worked, or ever can.

    Just to address some of your questions more specifically:

    — Griefers will try to throw their sabots in the works because that's their idea of fun: “Let's break something because we can, and then laugh at everyone panicking.” Furries make an easy target because we're so noticeable (and because a false image of our collective behavior has been planted in popular culture and is easily warped into propaganda). The fashion “industry” in SL also has a pretty high profile, and the means of sabotage are obvious and exploitable.

    — Theft of intellectual property (which used to be called plagiarism when all non-physical invention was either art or scientific research) is as wrong as theft of one's physical possessions. However, the opposite face of the human nature coin is: Most people are not thieves. I doubt the doomsday scenarios painted by the more vociferous fashionistas in that SLU thread, as if their absence would bring down the in-world economy… and I also doubt all of them would leave, regardless. The smart ones (including the furry avatar designers) would remain, possibly to flourish amid the lessened competition.

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