SL is an interesting laboratory because it is entirely based on artificial scarcity, i.e. making a business through designs that can be easily copied.
Jonathan Bailey has an interesting analysis of this, showing that SL administrators fail to enforce copyright, yet many designers are making a living despite the massive breaches.
Here are excerpts from his analysis:
1. A Protection-Free Environment
“For all practical purposes, SL residents are forced to assume that they have no protection of their works and that they can and will be copied regularly. Worse still, there seems to be very little in the way of means for getting them removed after the infringement took place, especially if they are held in inventories.
This has put Second Life creators in a strange position. How do you sell works at a retail price when illegal copies are available for either free or pennies on the dollar? With so little in the way of traditional enforcement to deter people from just copying and running, creators need to find other ways to reach customers.
However, for the most part, they have been successful. Though copying is still rampant and some designers left the service due to these issues, most have stuck around and continue to sell goods, with at least some success.”
2. Lessons Learned
“When looking at the relationship between content theft and Second life, the following elements leap out.
DRM Fails: It is as simple as this, DRM does not work. Protecting your content with DRM will only frustrate legitimate users and will not prevent copying. Reliance on DRM is the path to madness.
Community Enforcement Works: The SL community has banded together and protested content theft as well as in reporting and ostracizing people who copy without permission. Since SL is a social site, this has proved as effective, if not more so, than DMCA enforcement.
Most People Are Good: Despite the abundance of free or low-cost illegal goods, most people who buy products in SL still try to buy from legitimate stores. The bigger problem comes when the copycats are able to fool others into thinking that they are the authentic source.
New Works Trump Old Copies: The longer a work has been on the shelf, the more illegal copies of it that will be distributed. Thus, the best designers are constantly turning out new items to ensure that people come to them, not the shady dealers.
Name Recognition is Everything: If people know who you are and trust you, they will come to you. Well-known designers in SL are among the most copied, but continue to receive business because people know to go to them first. In short, advertising and word of mouth mitigate against plagiarism.”
There are more conclusions and links to further material at the original.
Here’s a question to readers who may know more: is the original success of Second Life due to its market approach, or to the relative openness and easyness of their metaverse? Is it volunteering or self-interest that created the success story?