Linden Lab changed the Terms Of Service (TOS) for Second Life in mid-August, 2013. At first nobody reacted, as it looked like the regular things were there. But recently there has been a controversial storm surrounding the changes.
Some call it “the big content grab” because they have added a clause stating that Linden Lab has permission to use all content made in Second Life for their own purposes without notifying the creator or sharing any eventual revenue from it.
The new text that has caused the uproar is in §2.3 of the TOS:
Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service.
Many people seem to feel that this looks like LL is preparing to steal content from its users and sell for their own profit. However, I think they need to take a step back and think first. What would LL gain from selling your shirts, cars, houses or anything you make? They might make a few pennies, but lose a premium subscriber and possibly a land renter. The loss is greater than the gain if they steal your material.
Stealing content does not appear to be the intention for this particular change in the text. The Torch feels that LL simply wants to be able to advertise SL through pictures or examples created by its residents without the risk of being sued as a result.
Now, I know intention and legal phrasing is not the same thing. As the text stands right now, LL could choose to bypass everything and just steal all your creations to sell for their own profit …. or can they?
The free texture site CGTextures has provided many a creator in SL with all their texture needs. CGTextures has now restricted their free-to-use license to exclude Second Life, as they are concerned that LL will try to make a profit off their free textures. But will LL be able to do that, even if content creators waive rights through accepting the current TOS?
Well, what most sites discussing these changes have failed to mention, and what the estimated 30% of all SL store owners that have withdrawn their in-world and Marketplace stores have failed to notice, is the piece of text that comes above this new change. This line has been there for years and is made to protect you from just this kind of exploit. The line is in §2.3:
You retain any and all Intellectual Property Rights you already hold under applicable law in Content you upload, publish, and submit to or through the Servers, Websites, and other areas of the Service, subject to the rights, licenses, and other terms of this Agreement, including any underlying rights of other users or Linden Lab in Content that you may use or modify.
In connection with Content you upload, publish, or submit to any part of the Service, you affirm, represent, and warrant that you own or have all necessary Intellectual Property Rights, licenses, consents, and permissions to use and authorize Linden Lab and users of Second Life to use the Content in the manner contemplated by the Service and these Terms of Service.
This means that if you have copyright or license on textures, sounds, animations or other material you upload to SL before you upload them, you will retain this ownership after the upload as well. In 9 cases out of 10, this will void the entire paragraph about LL getting to use your material without permission!
The second paragraph here gives CGTextures the right to deny you as a user the right to upload their textures or use them in Second Life.
As you can see, LL have provided you full rights over your own material and it is only material that is entirely created within Second Life, without aid of out-world components, such as textures, sounds or meshes, or only made with components that they already have the right to use that they get to use for their own purposes.
As LL spokesperson Peter Gray said in a public statement:
As evidenced by Second Life’s extensive history, functionality and well-documented policies for providing a platform on which users can create and profit from their creations, Linden Lab respects the proprietary rights of Second Life’s content creators. We regret that our intention in revising our Terms of Service to streamline our business may have been misconstrued by some as an attempt to appropriate Second Life residents’ original content. We have no intention of abandoning our deep-rooted dedication to facilitating residents’ ability to create and commercialize such content in Second Life. In fact, we strive to provide Second Life’s residents with evermore opportunities to do so.
What really gets me, however, is that there are many content creators out there that were outraged over this change in the TOS, to the point that they withdrew all their content and even left SL. I saw some of these creators making daily posts, with pictures, on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. These social medias have had a long history of controversy surrounding very similar TOS texts, where they claim the right to use the users uploaded materials as they see fit, without notification. A fairly recent example is from when Facebook took over Instagram. To this date I have not seen a single picture “stolen” from Instagram by Facebook, or even any of the millions of pieces of content uploaded to Facebook being used in a way that would otherwise violate a simple copyright.
In many countries you will get automatic copyright on content as you create it and in other countries you may need to apply for copyright on your material. If you are expecting to make a profit from anything you create, always make sure you have exclusive rights on your own material. Second Life is no different. The only change now from earlier is that LL clarified that they have this right — that is all.
That is not to say that you should just accept any TOS without considering it. I think it’s good when things like this come to light because it makes people read the TOS they have signed on for and think about it. I just wish controversy wasn’t what it takes to prompt people to read a legally binding contract before signing it.
Stay critical of every word written in any TOS you are about to sign and, if you have any doubts at all, research it further. There are plenty of legal resources to help you online, many of them completely free. It is worth it to take an hour or two of review before signing up for a service you will use for years and possibly both spend and earn money from.