Lessons Learned from the United Content Creators of Second Life

by Eleanor Medier, publisher, Sim Street Journal

Committed to the cause of legal education among artists, this magazine backed the United Content Creators of Second Life (UCCSL) when it formed as a uniting group. Now, while the dust settles upon its story, this is an opportunity to pause and ask: what did we learn?

The UCCSL took on an ambitious task: to represent artists in the intellectual property debate with Linden Labs (owners of Second Life®). Last fall, LL released its newest Terms of Service. Many creatives were upset and assumed that the ToS allows LL to use works created in SL any way they wish. Yet it is hard to imagine that LL would wish to sell art or fashion or furniture. Still, the vague wording of the ToS had many creatives upset.

UCCSL laws display

• identify the problem

Bells went off in my mind immediately. Suddenly I perceived the same deficit in SL that I do in real life: artists don’t understand copyright law. This is an area of my expertise in real life, so I wrote two articles:

Ten Ways to Defend Creator Rights

Copyright Clarity: Artists Informed
These are widely read in the community, and hopefully has some influence.

In the meantime, UCCSL tried to lobby the community into petition-style advocacy. The response was disappointing. So what to conclude? That the members don’t care? That they gave up? Based on SSJ’s reader numbers for this series, neither of those seem to apply. Why then, did members not follow the leader?

I hope members realized that the argument was not powerful. Everyone agrees to the ToS just to sign in. All software has one. If readers are like me, I skim-read down to where it talks about intellectual property, and read those paragraphs carefully. LL’s is intentionally vague. But to change something after agreed to is a weak legal stance.

• commit to a focus

UCCSL did a lot to help the community understand the ToS issues by sponsoring discussions of experts and communicating developments. But soon, as a member, I became confused. UCCSL switched gears into another project of certifying retailers who sell copyright-owned products. This is not a topic I cared to jump into, so I sit on the sidelines. Property theft can make a good investigation, but then it can be addressed, again, through education. Instead of UCCSL as a strong high-end organization that will protect the interests of content creators with LL, it veered into attacking content theft, which seems out of scope. To continue as an educational resource was passed by.

uccsl guilds

• if the shoe fits…

Finally, the structure of UCCSL did not fit the challenges. Talented people put many hours into constructing a guild-based organization with roles for volunteers to jump into. It made for a beautiful display at Rose Galleries, but it was like being all dressed up with no where to go. This highly defined structure tried to organize people in a way that did not fit the problem. Its inspiration is a rudimentary system from a different era, even getting caught up in form over function.

SL has taught me that providing structures for others to jump into doesn’t work well in a virtual context. Creatives wish to make choices about how time is spent and craft their involvement. It is the difference between renting a house already designed to every detail, or renting an island and finding your own house and contents to place. With a creative audience, something too structured is not going to appeal. Each member has something different to offer, and combining intentions is a managerial challenge!!!

Initiatives that lobby contribution must be grass-roots and adapt its structure to the talents and resources available. Artists tend to do the opposite: we have an idea first that is great and then wish to share it with the world. But organizations can’t work that way. They must read their members, identify needs, and inspire according to a common goal, and one that allows creative approaches.

• awareness earned

UCCSL does prove the continued need to share what we learn. SSJ readers show that content creators wish to be informed about issues and practices. This community demands flexible approaches but strong and solid goals. All involved in UCCSL wish to thrive in this creative wonderland. So I wish not miss mistake lack of response for UCCSL as apathy. Anyone who invests passion into presenting an idea cares about its acceptance. Each creator wishes to reach that understanding audience, and sometimes we are that audience. —Eleanor Medier, publisher, Sim Street Journal

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© 2014 by Eleanor Medier, Sim Street Journal. Articles cannot be reprinted without permission.