Ch- ch- ch- ch-

Changes!

Turn and face the strain…

The new home of Telling: Like it Is.

Friends and subscribers, and especially you who honor me by inclusion on your blogrolls, please change your links. It’s a paid service, and I’ve signed up for a year, so that’s where I’ll be… none of that “bounce back and forth” jazz whenever Google appears to change its mind.

See you over there!

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Second Life™, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happinefs

Today is the 4th day of July — when, in the course of human events, a democratically-elected body of representatives of certain geographic regions on the continent of North America once all signed their names to a document which declared them, and thereby the people they represented, as free and independent states.  In doing so, they quite literally pledged their lives, as well as their fortunes and their sacred honour, for what they had determined to do could be construed as treason.  As one of them is reputed to have said, during the months-long struggle to arrive at the decision, “If we do not hang together, we shall assuredly all hang, separately.”

It is important to keep two things in mind: First, that the governing body from which independence was declared had already been attempting, with what military units could be made available, to put down the rebellion for more than a year, resulting in a mostly hit-and-run guerilla war — thus, the majority sentiment of the people being represented agreed with the declaration, and it might be said that the signed parchment merely made de jure what already was de facto.   Second, that in spite of this, not every person who lived in that part of the world desired independence.

It seems an appropriate day, therefore, to discuss a topic that has bubbled up from the miasma of blogs about Second Life; to wit, one particular blogger has raised the issue of Democracy.

I begin with my own declaration, commonly known these days as “full disclosure”:  I refuse to sully my eyes, or the brain cells attached to them, with the utterances of that particular person, who is widely notorious for conspiracism, vitriol, threats of vengeance, a baseless fear of a political/economic system which, to all intents and purposes, died thirty years ago… and a fanatical devotion to the Pope Ayn Rand.  Therefore I will address the concept of democratic rule in and of Second Life in general terms, and not waste anyone’s time responding to “talking points”.

[As a precaution, I will also temporarily enable moderation for Comments to this blog, which I don’t ordinarily do.  I apologize in advance to my friends, and to the casual readers who happen to find themselves here.  On the other hand, their eyes as well as mine will be spared the need for bleach.]

(Second) Life

Fortunately, a great deal of the counter-argument to democracy in SL has already been written.  My first inkling that the topic was even on anyone’s agenda came in one of Honour McMillan’s delightfully tongue-in-cheek “letters to Sparky”: Democracy in Second Life?

I have to start by wondering if you were using “governance” in the correct sense or if you were using it in place of the word “government” which many do. Of course the fact that you coupled it with “democratic” would lead me to believe you mean “government” but since that is patently absurd (Second Life is not an independent country. It is a corporation subject to the laws of the various real countries in which it operates.) I’ll assume you really do mean governance – in the corporate governance sense since we’re talking about a private company.

With a great deal of respect to Ms McMillan: Second Life™ is not a corporation. It is a product of a corporation: Linden Research Inc., d.b.a. Linden Lab. However, I raise the semantics to strengthen her point about consumer advisory panels, not to weaken it. In other words, the idea becomes analogous to people who have purchased — say — toasters from an appliance manufacturer demanding a voice not in how in the corporation itself is operated, but in how that corporation makes toasters.

Honour goes on to point out:

Electing representatives to be involved in corporate governance is something Trade Unions and Cooperatives have used for a long time. You probably got the idea from them.

Given the common — and I believe, correct — perception that “The Lab provides the tools, but the Residents make the world”, I had wondered if any others besides myself recognized the delicious irony in the resemblance between the above proposal and The Workers Control the Means of Production. Surely nothing so like socialism could be satisfactory to the Proponent…

Miss Emilly Orr was next to take up the quill, to expand upon Ms McMillan’s question of the feasibility of organizing a “democracy”. To summarize: representation by in-world subculture affiliation, or by real-world country of origin, would be impractical in the extreme. That second point is of highest significance: citizens of the United States are a minority in SL. Other people in other countries have different ideas about democratic rule. It would seem to me that a constitutional convention would need to be called first, to define the form of democracy… and then all the same matters of practicality apply.

Further on this point: There are, according to Tyche Sheperd’s Second Life Grid Survey, approximately 19.7 million registered accounts, of whom slightly less than 10% (1.4 million, rounded up) logged in some time during the last 24 hours. This statistical chart at Tateru Nino’s website indicates that median concurrency (avatars logged in at the same time) is around 50,000 — while this one indicates a regular periodicity in concurrency compared to time of day, peaking when most people are awake in the Americas and Europe, then plateauing a little on the overnight (in the US) downward slope when the Asians and Oceanians come online.

In short: Even if there were enough people interested in pursuing the issue — when do you get them all together? Not to mention where, when more than 25 avatars in a sim with an alleged capacity of 40 lags it all to Hell.

For the sake of further discussion, let us leave the utter impracticality (nearing impossibility) of an actual meeting of a Second Life Duma and look at those numbers again. On the face of it, you would have a maximum potential 10% of all the Resident accounts that are still on the Lab’s books claiming to represent the other 90%… and of those, only 2% online together at any one time, give or take a few thousand. Check my math: 50 thousand divided by 19.7 million = .0025 = 1/4 of one percent, which would allegedly be a “representative” democracy.

Liberty

Now let us look at the purpose of such a hypothetical democracy. Honour, as was noted above, took the proposal to mean corporate governance, as opposed to a government “of the avatars, by the avatars”. Irony again: this makes more than one kind of sense, since the proponent is known to believe (nearly single-handedly) that a form of “advisory board” has existed in SL since its early days — even to the point of giving it a name, which has become a well-worn joke, especially among those accused of being a member: “feted inner core”, or FIC in the acronym-laden, agitprop style of its creator. One could assume, therefore, that the call is for an openly-elected “FIC” to replace the alleged secret conspiracy.

But let us surmise that the purpose of the democracy in question is not to advise, let alone govern, Linden Lab’s operation of their product, Second Life™, but to govern the avatars themselves. Leave aside (for now) the obvious fact that Linden Lab owns everything, and has both the right and the power to make the rules as they see fit, and that this whole discussion is therefore moot. I invite you to examine Section 8 of the Terms of Service, and the Second Life Community Standards which it adopts by reference, for signs of oppression — political, behavioral, or otherwise. OK, so it does restrict *ahem* certain activities to regions rated for such — but it does not prevent a region owner from declaring her/his sim “Adult” if she/he wants to.

It is known and accepted universally that a sim owner may set any rules she or he wants to about who gets in and what they’re allowed to do while there. It is also known universally, “If you don’t like the rules, don’t go there.” This is a liberty granted by the Lab to tier-paying Residents: self-governance. There are others, including the liberty to lease fractions of land and make a profit thereby… but self-governance is the important one for this discussion. Quoting Honour McMillan again:

You are in charge of a large amount of land and you have tenants/residents on that land. Implement a “fair and democratic” system in your domain with processes that lead to governance for all of its constituencies and all of their needs. Then you can use that model to demonstrate to the rest of us how ideal and workable your system is.

Crap Mariner commented about this, too, to demonstrate that it can work. I daresay there are plenty of other sim owners — on private islands, groups thereof, or even on certain parts of the Mainland (Luskwood comes to mind immediately) — who could testify to the same.

And yet there are others who are, and have the liberty to be, totalitarians on their own land. There are regions in which a roleplayed form of slavery is the norm. Slavery is outlawed planet-wide in the real world (though enforcement is spotty at best) — would a hypothetical democratic government outlaw certain styles of roleplay? Once begun, how quickly would “the tyranny of the majority” become codified? “Most of us don’t like what you’re doing, so you have to stop.”

Stop, or what? Hand-in-hand with law comes enforcement. Again, sim owners have the liberty to ban anyone they choose from gaining entrance, for any reason or for no reason at all. No one but the Lab has the power to ban an account from the totality of Second Life, and I have serious doubts that anyone with two brain cells to rub together would want that power, and the liberty to use it, granted to Residents, no matter how “duly constituted” they declare themselves to be. We have already seen what happens with self-appointed “enforcers”: Power Corrupts. Absolutely.

And, once again, the irony is inescapable: this all smells strongly of “One-World Government” from someone who would otherwise deny, with all available vehemence, support of such a concept.

The Purfuit of Happinefs

Of course, all of this is beside the point. That point being–it’s still Linden Labs’ playground. We just play there. It’s our right to say whether we play there or not, and to a limited extent, how we choose to play–but we can’t stand up and ‘vote’ that the swing set is taken away and replaced with a bakery, f’rinstance. Because we don’t own the place.

We just hang out and swing. People really need to understand that, once and for all.

The above is from Miss Orr’s post (italics in the original), and she is absolutely correct. Notwithstanding the entrepreneurs who have turned their involvement in Second Life into a business (with varying degrees of success), the overwhelming majority of Residents come to SL to play. That’s what it’s for: to immerse one’s self in a world devoid of all demands except courtesy to one’s fellow avatars; to engage in all kinds of activities unavailable in organic life… to pursue happiness, however and wherever that pursuit might lead.

To summarize: Beyond the region level, “democracy” in Second Life, no matter its purpose, is impractical, unnecessary, and unwanted.

One final, most delicious bite of irony to leave you with: According to Honour’s paraphrase, the original proposal read something like this:

In short, Philip, I can only tell you once again: make a democratic and fair world with processes that can lead to governance for a wide variety of constituencies with different needs.

In other words: it’s a demand that the despised “oligarchy” impose democracy from above. Can you say “oxymoron”?

I knew you could…

;)

Creative Common Sense

You have, in front of your eyes right now, Intellectual Property. Some anonymous page designer put together the CSS to generate the layout of this blog. Google, doing business as Blogspot (or Blogger, take your pick) offers it and others — for free — for people like me to muck it up with words and pictures. That makes this webpage, in a way, a derivative work.

Most of the words in this blog are authored by me. They are my Intellectual Property — though, to be honest, the degree of intellect they exhibit is not mine to determine, but my readers’. The words in this blog which are not mine are quoted from others’ Intellectual Property, and attributed in what has become the default method for non-scholarly Web publication: a hyperlink to the original page published by that author (or that author’s employers). The portions of my words which are based on their words — my interpretations, comments, extrapolations, etc. — are also derivative works.

I am permitted to quote others by a basic principle of what you might call “common law”, and by a specific license granted by those other authors. The first instance is known as Fair Use; the second is the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license which also governs this blog, as you can see by scrolling to the bottom. I am enabled to do this easily by a simple feature of the technology through which their words, and mine, are published: copy/paste.

In short, I am a Content Creator. I join the millions of other Content Creators alive and writing now, and the tens of millions who came before, and the uncounted numbers who will come after. Like most of them, I will never receive a penny in compensation for the hours I spend in this effort. Like most of them, I won’t care. The work is done for its own sake, for the pride of accomplishment, for the satisfaction of having said something I felt was important at the time in a manner comprehensible (if not also pleasing) to my readers — if I have any readers; yet that, too, is less important than having said what I wanted to say — and yes, partially in hope that someone will say, even if only to themselves, “Y’know, that Lalo guy is pretty good at this…”

“Like most of them…” Yes, in every age there are those who have managed to receive compensation for their creative effort, and there are those others who, seeing this, think “Hey, I can do that too!” Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand of market forces determines who succeeds and who doesn’t — which is another way of saying that talent is no guarantee either way (for contemporary example: the Left Behind series). And yes, in every age you will find a tiny but stridently vocal minority of content creators whose expectation — or delusion — of success has not been met to their satisfaction and who blame their failure on any and every thing except their own bad choices.

I am also a photographer — that is: using another simple tool of the technology which brings the content of virtual worlds to my computer screen, I capture images of the work of other Content Creators. Why? For the same collection of reasons that people have expressed about taking snapshots since Kodak invented the Brownie: because the work is aesthetically pleasing; because the work is historically significant; because I want in future times to see it again and recall that I was there… et cetera. And, in the case of virtuality (though this might also be said of the organic world), by “work” and “creative content” I also mean the effort of individuals to make their avatars unique among the tens of thousands concurrently logged in.

Note, in passing, that those avatars by and large create their unique appearance through the use of others’ creations — more “derivative works”, as it were.

I “publish” a great deal of the images I capture — that is, I post them online. A few find their way to the pages of this blog; most, by far, wind up in my collections at Picasa (another Google product, incidentally). Why? Partially, again, because I hope someone will say, even if only to themselves, “Y’know, that Lalo guy is pretty good at this…”, but mostly because I’m saying “Look! Isn’t this cool?”

Now, we come to Second Life, and their new policy on snapshots and machinima, which in retrospect I believe they should have called the Image Capture Policy. I thought I was done addressing it in my last entry… silly me. I thought that a simple common-sense reading would confirm that what has always been understood as the liberty to capture screen images in and of the world, and publish them elsewhere, had now been codified. Well, I was wrong. After writing that entry, I went out into the meta-cyberspace about Second Life to see what others were saying… and I made the mistake of attempting to talk common sense to some people who, I honestly believed, were simply misreading the new policy.

Take a couple of minutes to read this exchange of comments between Cube Inada and I in New World Notes. I hope I sound to you like the voice of Common Sense, but what concerns me is Mr. Inada sounding (to me) like the voice of Fear, and my suspicion that he may not be alone in his opinion. When I boil down his comments, what remains, once again, is “it’s all about the money.”

He uses the phrases (bereft of their capital letters) “devalued”, “images have commercial value”, “revalue or resell without the Copryright owners permission and or renumeration.” [sic] Obviously, he’s not talking about the intrinsic or aesthetic value of a creation, which is a personal judgment of each mind that beholds it. Neither is he talking about the extrinsic value of a creation, such as its usefulness to the purpose for which it was made. It’s clear that his consideration here is its monetary value, which at first analysis is an arbitrary sale price a creator might put on an item, but finally is an expectation of future income, which resides solely in the mind of the content creator. As best as I can tell (and I sincerely hope he will tell me if I am incorrect), he is saying two things: [1] The mere fact that someone’s created content appears in a captured screen image will negatively influence — “devalue” — the sale of said content… presuming said content is for sale in the first place; [2] The primary purpose of image capture — snapshots and machinima — is for the photographer or videographer to sell the results, and that therefore the original creator of the items in the image should be compensated for what is, essentially, an accident of placement in the image.

In the first case, I offer a counter-example: my blog entry about soror Nishi’s sculpture exhibit, and the further images I captured on the day of its opening and published in my online collections (with emphasis that they were not merely the background of those images, but the subject). Many of Ms. Nishi’s items are for sale, and thus have a monetary value in addition to their striking aesthetic value. The images I captured cannot be used to duplicate the textures she applied to her work in order for anyone else to counterfeit them, so there is no question of “lost sales” due to cheap knock-offs. How, I ask you in my common-sense way, have they been devalued? On the contrary, I may well have increased Ms. Nishi’s subsequent sales by helping to publicize, in whatever small way, both their beauty and their availability. (I happen to have also been thanked privately by her for my presentation, and I gave her copies for her own use, one or two of which she then published in her own blog.)

In the second case, my common-sense counterexample is posed by these questions: Do you have to pay to read blogs? Do you have to pay to look at images collected at websites like Picasa, Flickr or Koinup? Do you have to pay to watch machinima posted on YouTube? Quite simply: there is no commercial market of the kind Mr. Inada fears he is being cut out of. I will grant exceptions, of course: Life 2.0, which I must assume is intended for commercial release once it finishes the festival circuit.

However, consider this: Up until now, I could not understand why the new “permission denied” clauses of the policy were written one way for snapshots and the opposite way for machinima. Without re-quoting the policy, the difference is: to deny permission for snapshots (or to force the photographer to ask first), you must say so in the Land Covenant; to deny permission for machinima, you need not say anything at all, and the videographer must ask first. Looked at another way: regarding images for which there is no potential commercial market, permission is the default condition; regarding images for which there someday might be a potential commercial market, permission must be sought.

Makes sense to me.

One more thing: Mr. Inada is concerned that permission can only be granted or denied by the owner of the land the content sits on (or floats above, or whatever), and not by the original creator… and once again, his concern seems to be about losing a potential revenue source. Gods forbid, one of his buildings (which are pretty damn cool, after all) should appear in the background of a machinima scene, or one of my photos, without proper compensation!

Mr. Inada, and any who agree with him, would place restrictions on image capture in Second Life (and other virtual worlds?) far in excess of those which exist in the real world. To create a capacity they do not have now to squeeze the last possible perceived dime from their Intellectual Property copyright, they would gladly stifle two other entire — and equally valid — branches of virtual art under a ridiculous tangle of red tape in the form of cascading permissions. They may call it “protection”; in my dictionary, it shows up as greed.

Tell you what, Cube: If I discover you’re the creator of anything that finds its way into a snapshot I take after 30 April 2010 (when the policy we all already agreed to goes into effect), I’ll send you L$ 25. That’s about a dime in US currency, and is one more dime than I’ll ever see from my work.

~

Oh, and the extra notice (and possible sales) you get as a result of my linking to your profile and website? That’s on the house.

~