Mar 10, 2013

Trust Me

Dilution of ownership in a digital world like #SecondLife


A friend of mine (Yoshiko Fazuku) was recently working on a Dr. Who inspired build in Second Life and as a finishing touch, she needed an Aphrodite statue for it. Being in an age of Marketplace and Mesh, finding one of those statues would effectively be dead simple, and so within an hour or so, she was ready to upload one for inclusion as part of her build. At the time, she was short the 100L to upload it and didn’t want to wait until she put in the extra money, so she asked to borrow the 100L and she’d pay me back. I didn’t have a problem with it, but did say she should just keep the 100L and be on with it.



Aphrodite Statue in SL_001

“Aphrodite” statue in my garden – Provided by Yoshiko Fazuku


In any event, what came about was a mesh version of a statue that looked quite good for SL, and as a thank-you she gave me a copy of it (non-transfer) for my garden. Now, this sort of thing happens a lot in Second Life, where content creators get parts or build kits with a certain terms of use attached and 3D models online come with certain rights for use (license), so I didn’t think anything of it. After all, the onus of proof is on the individual should anyone come along and dispute that authority of use.


But it got me thinking later on as I was invited to the introductory theatre presentation this evening for a new location by Minna Kurka over at the Cube Gallery. I had set it into my calendar to attend, and was interested in putting a blurb up on Google+ for anyone who was interested, but when I asked if she had a snapshot of the location to use for that she admitted she did not.


It wouldn’t be much to pop over to the location and take a snapshot, so I assured her it wasn’t a problem and teleported over only to be confronted with the same statue that I had sitting in my garden at home – except it was mirrored. Where the vines held in the right hand on mine, it was in the left for this statue out front.


Immediately, I thought – “Well, if Yoshiko and Yaiza independently uploaded this mesh, that likely means that neither of them actually made it.”


Other than being a mirrored copy of the same statue, it was effectively the same thing and I asked a very interesting question -


I wonder where the actual source of this mesh is at, and who actually owns it?


Now, this wasn’t to be construed as some sort of accusation against the “owner” of the mesh in Second Life. More accurately it was an honest question of digital lineage which did not have a solid answer, not even to the person who was denoted as the “creator” of that mesh. I had asked the quintessential question that more often than not had no answer.


More importantly, this was like claiming you had the only such statue in Second Life and it was original, only to find out other people have uploaded it as well. Or maybe confidently showing up to a party wearing an outfit only to see somebody else wearing the same thing across the room after you just finished boasting that you had yours custom made.


The jig was up!


Well, this being Second Life, such a simple question which arguably has no proper answer, was construed into the audacity that I was accusing Minna’s best friend of essentially stealing the statue. On first glance, a site I had found with this model had a strict copyright and non-commercial use clause and so I raised a very interesting question about the lineage of the file… it was a question that managed to get me both muted and banned from the theater (and ultimately earning a spot on Minna’s mute list) for even asking.


How dare I ask such a question!?


Indeed, how dare I question the legitimacy of ownership over a file which the self-proclaimed “owner” couldn’t adequately answer themselves, and was passing off as theirs in an independent art gallery collection with no indication to the contrary otherwise for clarification? Other than a terms of use as provided by whatever site they bought it from, is that actually just a guise of authority or is it ironclad proof they have any right to use that file as they are? Therein is the conundrum of the digital world, in that we rarely question those terms of use when we purchase a model from sites like TurboSquid – thinking that those terms are both binding and legitimate.


Truth be told, a lot of times they are not.


In any system that allows 3rd Party uploads of content in an automated fashion, places like TurboSquid operate mainly on the blind trust principle whereby they make the people submitting content agree to (yet another) terms of service. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from uploading tons of content that may be infringing or outright stolen… just ask Linden Lab about that. When a file actually is owned by somebody on those sites and they wish to enforce those terms of use and copyright, then Turbosquid becomes the fallback and (likely) the enforcer. But do those terms of use have any meaning when the person who uploaded it to begin with broke the terms of the site?






An anecdotal consideration is a reminder of and the book 1984 by George Orwell. Arguably, hundreds of thousands of people downloaded that book to their Kindle for reading, and just like our “content creators” in Second Life who see those 3rd party sites and a terms of usage attached, the people made the assumption that if the person who uploaded it didn’t have the right to, then clearly it wouldn’t be available on a site like


So we take those terms of use as gospel, and even point to them as if they have any authority at all in the discussion. After all, it was on a reputable looking model repository website and the terms of use attached to it seem written well enough and professionally. At no point in this chain of logic did anyone think about whether the original uploader of that content actually had the right to do so or set those official reading terms of use.


No more than did anyone bother to question the appearance of 1984 on their Kindle list as a legitimate book for them to download.




Sophie - Sculpture 100% Mesh | Marketplace for 400L



So, when I asked that simple question upon seeing the same statue presented by another person (Yaiza Galicia) in Second Life as (and I quote) “part of the collection at The Cube Art Gallery” the implication is that they made it when their name is on it as the creator and owner. After all, the legitimacy of the entire gallery itself is based on the premise that it is a location for original works by in-world artists. Clearly they did not make that model, which is fine if you aren’t representing yourself as such. But to have it “as part of the collection” is about as disingenuous as you get without outright saying “I made this”.


The bigger question was still having nothing to do with whether Yaiza or Yoshiko was responsible for this mesh, because I knew full well neither were responsible. I was, however, more interested in figuring out who actually was responsible at the root (if possible) and that meant looking for it on a model repository and seeing what the use rights were for it.


There is a distinct difference when you’re actually making the models yourself (or at least the larger premise of the art environment) as the artist versus buying them from a 3rd party site and calling it a day while not exactly going out of your way to tell anyone you didn’t make that artwork, and actually actively blocking people when they ask. It’s the difference between Bryn Oh (who makes her models from scratch) and Yaiza who buys a model from Turbosquid, imports it as is, and calls it a day while charging you 400L for a copy as “part of the Cube Art gallery collection”.


Realistically, I begin wondering at that point about how much of the “artwork” at Cube Art Gallery is actually theirs or bought from Turbosquid and imported. I wouldn’t have thought about that if Minna Kurka didn’t lose her mind when I asked a simple question… it’s the sort of reaction you’d get when you essentially bust somebody red handed and they call security before you tell anyone else for fear that word will get out.


I suppose it never occurred to her that I actually write a well read blog, and questions like this are exactly the sort thing I ask and write about. So if her goal was to just call security and shut me up… she probably did a piss poor job of it.


Putting both Yoshiko and Yaiza aside for the moment, I consider either about as condemned as the many people who bought 1984 for their Kindle. Which is to say almost blameless in this chain – however Yaiza is a lot more shady in practice since it’s just a direct import and sale as-is. Minna made the comment about this being no different than build-kits in SL, to which I had to make the correct analogy instead.


In the case of Yoshiko, she utilized the statue in a truly transformative manner in that it was included as part of a larger build whereby the statue itself wasn’t for sale directly with little or no modification. This is a more common term of usage in build-kits sold on Marketplace and in 3D Model repositories. In the case of Yaiza, that person is essentially selling the statue as-is, which is to say – they bought it from a model repository, and uploaded it to SL as a product on it own. In the world of usage terms, this latter approach is usually a violation while inclusion in larger builds is usually covered.


Maybe Yaiza actually is covered in that clause upon use rights? I’ll go that far for the hell of it, but it doesn’t make it less shady the way they went about it.


There is less of a case of leniency with a direct port of work in this arena, but again it all depends on the terms of use associated with the actual file as you purchased it originally. Therein is the nebulous situation…


If we were to look at the lineage of this model file, we’d likely find it in multiple places online. For instance, Turbosquid, FallingPixel, and of course CGTrader. TurboSquid offering it for $75.00 USD, FallingPixel for 40 euro, and CGTrader for a mere $20.00 USD


The interesting aspect about all three of these repositories is that the terms of use all state the same thing:



(ii) As purchased by a game's creators as part of a game if the Content is contained inside a proprietary format and displays inside the game during play, but not for users to re-package as goods distributed or sold inside a virtual world.




Is either Yoshiko or Yaiza considered a “user” repackaging it as goods distributed or sold? I think it can be safe to say that it applies more to the aspect of “don’t make this object for sale as-is or full permission.”


But let’s put that aside for a moment. I’m still interested in tracing the digital lineage of this statue.


Again, we’re assuming the uploader of the file was authorized to begin with, which if they were not, the terms of use are non-enforceable.


Saying TurboSquid, CGTrader or FallingPixel are any more authoritative on these terms of use than another site is erroneous at best because it starts with the assumption that the person responsible for uploading the file to begin with had the right to do so.


I could, in theory, pay Turbosquid for that mesh or I could just go to and get it. Which brings up an even more interesting point in that their terms of use are more restrictive and non-commercial!




Odalisque Sculpture 3D Models – As listed on 3DModelFree in MAX Format



All the resources on this website are the website users upload!
All the resources are not allowed for commercial use, otherwise you will be responsible for liability!

If resources have violated your copyright, please through email ( to us so that we can delete a timely manner to protect you or your company's rights!



Which may as well be the same exact line a place like TurboSquid would use in their terms of service. If somebody violates a copyright, they can email Turbosquid to take care of it.


But just because nobody has emailed either entity doesn’t make either more or less reputable than the other. The underlying premise for both sites is that all of the content they are providing is user uploaded. We’re just taking it for granted that the person who uploaded those files had the right to do so – maybe giving places like Turbosquid more merit just because they look more professional.


So we could immediately cry out “Well, of course 3DModelFree is the illegal one!” when really we have no more proof of that than the legitimacy of 1984 showing up on Amazon for Kindle. You just make an assumption at that point, and then your basis for legitimacy becomes the premise of that assumption.


In all likelihood, the lineage of this model traces back to DeEspona 3D Models and since TurboSquid and other places have that listed as the content creator, we can call this mystery solved, right gang?






Now we’re making yet another assumption… when people make accounts on websites they can type in whatever they want as a name and contact, so if somebody were to be uploading content that wasn’t theirs and they wanted to go a long time without being busted, it would make sense to write your name on those sites as DeEspona.


Well, clearly the owner of those files, DeEspona, is the one uploading those files on TurboSquid because that’s the name of the artist displayed on the site!


Yeah, as if people are wholly incapable of lying.


I suppose the premise here is that unless you purchase directly from the creator and the creator is actually verified, the legitimacy of any claim you make for your god-given rights as a consumer who purchased that model are about as legitimate as some guy in the back alley handing you a television from a van and telling you it’s totally legit.





Now, the real question has nothing to do with copyright, or whether or not Yaiza or Yoshiko have the right to import that model and utilize it as they are. The premise of all of this was just a curiosity into the eroding of digital lineage for content as it gets absorbed into the Internet.


There’s the interesting aspect of ubiquitous media, in that it becomes harder and harder to trace the origins of those digital items as they spread around – especially when it’s translated into a proprietary format (like SL) and the “creator” isn’t exactly going out of their way to tell you they didn’t make it. This, coupled with the innate ability for people to pretty much just lie and present themselves as anyone they want online (and in Second Life), we constantly make assumptions about people and by association the many things that dealing with said people would allow or affect in our lives.


We no more know that DeEspana as the artist is the same person listed on the TurboSquid profile selling the models, than if you had never met Mickey Mouse and some random drunk wandered by and told you that’s who they were. So basing our rights as consumers on similar identity assumptions for 3rd Party websites seems just as ludicrous.


That being said, I can see how it would be embarrassing when you have somebody else’s mesh sitting in an art gallery and sold by you who is listed as the creator.


In the end, I think it would probably be best if content creators in SL were going to buy models from TurboSquid and just import them for resale in Marketplace, that they at least have the decency to give a disclosure about where they got it from.


If the model is $75 USD on TurboSquid, it’s not going to really hurt you to say so when you’re reselling it in SL for $2.00 USD. It’s not really about whether you are breaking copyrights, or whether you are required to have that disclosure, but instead it’s about being more sincere in what you’re doing with that content.


Putting it as part of an art gallery, with your name on it, when it’s just a direct import from somebody else’s model (and arguably if the MAX file already came with a low poly or mid poly version it required no work before upload) is about as genuine as putting your name on the Mona Lisa and charging $2.00 for a copy.


It would only be right to say “This model is a work done by DeEpana entitled: Hera. You can find the full permission model here:” instead of renaming it Sophie and putting it in an art gallery with your name on it.


That being said, Yoshiko is at least including it as part of a larger build instead of trying to just pass the statue itself off as her own. I’m pretty sure the content creator wouldn’t have a problem with that any more than typical content creators in SL already include that use right by default.


On its own as part of what is touted as an original art gallery, with no indication that they aren’t the creator of that mesh, that is pretty disingenuous… May not be illegal or breaking any terms of use… but in this case it doesn’t make them seem any more legit by actively not saying anything.



But you make Arcade machines!


Am I a hypocrite for asking about the lineage and actual ownership of the statue mesh when I also provide arcade machines in Second Life?


I think in this aspect, the answer is unequivocally “No.”


Unlike Yaiza, I go out of my way to identify who is responsible for every single aspect of those machines up front, and those details are built into every single machine. Each one has a total history attached and a link to the actual company website. The mesh models are created by RobsterRawb Jaxxon, the cabinet plans themselves are open source, and the artwork is sourced from community vector recreations and re-edited (often times heavily) for use in-world. Finalized details and scripting are done by me, as well as quality control in testing before we call it finished. Each is non-copy, which stops “repackaging for resale”.


There is plenty of work to make those machines available in-world, but at no point do we try to hide who is responsible for what. On the flip side, until you read this post – did anyone really know that the statue was made by DeEspana?


That’s called “Lying by omission”.


In any event, I won’t be going to that grand opening after all… which is a shame. I was hoping to see something original for once.


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