SOPA will be the Death of the Internet

I have spent the last 15 years employed in the internet industry.  Not with one particular company, but with multiple companies, supporting pretty much every aspect of the web.  I did modem support, wireless support, search engine support, DNS support, domain name support, web server configuration, and I have run half a dozen websites, including forum administration, design practices, and kept 3 separate blogs on average 5 years each.  I have played every type of online game from the MMORPG to the ARG.  I think I know enough about the internet to be considered an expert.  So when I speak against the massive amounts of propaganda in favor of the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA), and say “SOPA will kill the Internet”, I know what I am talking about.

If you don’t know what SOPA is, start at Wikipedia, then check out the writing of Declan McCullough at C-Net.

If SOPA passes without a massive major rewrite, the collapse of the internet will start with the literal or pragmatical shutdown of some of the most popular websites like Wikipedia, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr.  I say pragmatical shutdown, because some of these popular sites will likely continue, but as gimped shadows of their former selves.  You Tube for example will likely only accept content from proven and advertising promoted sources.  No more video blogs, no more you tube stars, no more viral videos, You Tube will primarily become corporate content tube.

After the big name sites are effectively killed, the more underground sites like 4chan and something awful forums will be targeted by complaints.  Pretty much all private forums will be targeted, leaving only “official” forums as the only place for people to gather, and they will be heavily monitored for possible copyright infringing content. Second Life, IMVU and other virtual worlds that allow for user created content, will likely be forced to shutdown too.

What will the internet be like after SOPA?  Imagine a library filled with nothing but fliers, catalogues, and calling cards.  That will be the internet in a nutshell.  If content holders go crazy with copyright complaints, the only websites left will be sites belonging to companies with teams of lawyers, or advertising sites, or personal or organizational sites made by people who know how to build non-copyright infringing sites, none of which will have comment sections.  In other words, it will be boring.

There will be efforts to get around SOPA restrictions.  People in the know (like me) will change our DNS server pointers to foreign DNS hosts, and use foreign proxy servers.  Web sites will move to foreign web hosts, all in an effort to get around the “Great American Firewall“.  If the DOJ decides to start blocking these loopholes, it would break the internet completely, the IP protocol system would break down, and the reliability of the internet would be seriously harmed.

People not in the know, would simply lose interest in the internet, and will stop using it.  Internet providers, would lose billions in subscriptions, hardware builders would lose billions in sales.  One of the most recession proof industries, would go into a recession, at the cost of millions of jobs, including mine.  If that happens, I’ll surely pack my bags and get the hell out of the US, looking for a country that does not insist on up to five years in jail just for posting a video backed by a song you like.

What is the intent of this industry killing draconian monstrosity?  All they want to do is shut down American access to thepiratebay.org, and whatever sites try to impersonate it.  If that was all this bill did, I’d support it myself.  So why not just pass a law outlawing access to specifically that site and sites like it that ignore DMCA copyright complaints?  The DMCA take down process is a proven winner of a program for handling copyright complaints, and has led to the innovative internet we have today.  Why mess with perfection?

The problem is that the DMCA process is too much work for content owners like RIAA and the MPAA. They would rather force the job onto the websites themselves, or have the Department of Justice do it at taxpayer expense. That is the real issue with this bill, and that is why the internet community is so uniformly against it.  It is strange these days for a bill to get both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition at the same time, but SOPA is generating that kind of divide.

The latest is that the pro SOPA people have made amendments to the bill in hopes of narrowing the scope, but the same critics are coming out saying the “improvements” are so vaguely worded that they basically do the same damage when broadly interpreted.

I’m watching SOPA as if my livelihood depended on it, because it does.

UPDATE:  Latest word is that the House has scrubbed a vote on SOPA, killing it for now.  Meanwhile, the Senate version known as PIPA is still alive and kicking.  On Jan 18, I’m joining a very large list of websites who are shutting down for 12 hours to protest in hopes of killing PIPA too.

The Problem of a Multi Grid Economy

My last post was about the slowly being developed 3D Internet, which I am guessing is likely to be built on the Open Simulator platform. There are other open source platforms in the competition, Open Cobalt is one I mentioned, while Open Wonderland is one mentioned in the comments. For completeness sake, I should also mention Sirikata, another open source platform.

Don’t expect a battle royale between these different open source platforms.  It is possible that in the end, they all might work together.  The IEEE (a major engineering organization that develops standards for web protocols) has put together a workgroup called VWRAP (Virtual World Region Agent Protocol).  The group’s first easy to read paper on the topic can be found here in PDF form, if you are more technically inclined, you can read their preliminary drafts here.

From a Second Life perspective, a 3D Internet presents many challenges.  The biggest one on the minds of most people is “How do I make money?”  Because of the open nature of a 3D internet, any rules regarding permissions and copying simply cannot be enforced.  The Second Life economic model will not work.  There will be money making opportunities on the 3D internet, but the buying and selling of 3D goods for virtual cash can only be done in a closed off system like Second Life or an individual Open Sim grid.  The 3D internet will involve multiple grids and possibly multiple platforms.  Moving stuff from grid to grid, platform to platform, and avatar to avatar makes the SL economic system worthless.

Second Life’s Flawed Intellectual Property Policy

Before discussing what a multigrid economy might look like, lets take a look at the biggest weakness with the Second Life economic model.

Second Life is the first ever to try creating a virtual economy where people retain ownership of their creations. When Second Life decided that was what they wanted to do, a lot of people said it was unprecedented and would never work.

Guess what? It doesn’t work!

There are two court cases right now, one I mentioned here, and another detailed here.  Both take issue with SL’s Intellectual Property policy from two different perspectives.  While neither case has been tried yet, these cases are the apparent cause of  Second Life’s recent rather draconian Terms of Service changes.

The problem with making an unprecedented policy is that the legal ramifications are unclear, and it may cost quite a bit of legal fees to hammer out clarity in the courts, a price I am not sure LL is willing to pay.  Eventually, Linden Labs is going to have to change to one of these two proven models:

1. The There/IMVU/Facebook/MySpace model where “We own everything you upload, so you can’t sue us if your stuff is copied, or if we remove your stuff, because we own it, not you”.

2. The Internet Host/OSGrid/Google model where “We just sell the server space and index stuff for search, so solve your own damn Intellectual Property issues.”

SL Beta member Oz Spade made a good response to this:

I think LL intended to do #2, but wasn’t doing it fast enough or in the right ways. I recall when they first announced this whole IP thing and people were asking questions like this and the answer was “well eventually we want to be like an ISP or Linux distributor or website hoster, we host, provide access to content, and support and you do everything else.” Which is fine, and would work if they really were going for that model and not sitting on their ass trying to sweep up the cash. The problem they’re having is relinquishing control because, well, they’re a company, and not a non-profit.

The other problem with that model is, in the example of the ISP/hoster you still have to respond to take down requests and “violations.” The difference between LL and the other models is, with the other models your content can go with you, i.e. you can have all the html files on your computer and take them to another hoster. However with SL, your content, if you play by the rules, can only be accessed via SL grid. So in reality they aren’t really providing only a hosting service, which is what fucks them and is completely their mistake / stupid-attempt-to-keep-out-competition-that-might-use-their-software-features. It’s like if to host a website on a hoster you had to write your website in a special language that could only be written and hosted on that hoster and you couldn’t convert it to html without hacking around.

So basically they made a legal decision before they had worked out all the kinks in the technology that uses it. Or had made a legal decision without wanting to fully commit due to money/selfishness/whateverdouchery.

The first thing they should have done when saying “you own the IP” is make sure that you can take that IP with you, that you actually DO own it. And this is what people have been screaming for since they announced it and why we have things that people freak out about like “copybot” and other ways to “illegally” copy objects/etc. If LL had ignored the douches freaking out about “holy shit people will steal shit!” and actually implemented backup features properly that allowed content to travel with the creators, we would be avoiding a majority of this bullshit.

Seems spot on to me.

And another problem I have not even mentioned is the conversion of dollars to lindens and vice versa.  Linden Labs has insisted that the “Linden” currency has no real value outside of the game, and yet nobody believes that.  Lots of virtual worlds, both 2D and 3D, have virtual currencies exchangeable for money.  If a court were to rule that these virtual currencies should be treated like real money, it opens a whole new can of worms legally speaking.

Linden Labs is not going to be able to straddle the line between IP freedom and IP protectionism for long.

Eventually these legal difficulties could eventually follow over to other grids, or other grids could take this as a precautionary lesson and try something else.

A Possible Open Grid Economic Model

The SL economic model can only possibly work in SL, because there is one entity that controls all the asset servers.

In an Open Grid model with cross grid travel and communication there will be hundreds of asset servers controlled by hundreds of independent companies, just like the 2D internet is controlled by hundreds of web hosts. In the case of avatars, everyone may possibly host their own avatar outside the grids, so we could be talking thousands of asset servers.

An OpenSim grid is going to have to toss the whole SL paradigm out completely. Forget about inventory, selling individual units, and permissions, it won’t work in an open grid.

The open grid must work as a true 3D internet, with the internet as a paradigm.
Region = website
grid = webhost
inventory = stuff you store on your computer or via “cloud”

Think of the way the internet works now. If I have a website, or blog, or facebook account, etc. I can easily copy pictures, text, scripts, music embeds, etc, from other websites and post them on my web site. Its my responsibility to make sure I have the rights to what I post, but of course, most people don’t check the rights of everything they post. Since most sites are non-commercial, and visited by very few people, nobody gives a damn mostly.

On the other hand, if a site gets popular, and designed to make money, or has a big company behind it, then that website will be required to have the rights to all content on that site, or find itself with a cease and desist notice, or the web host might get a take-down notice and suddenly your site is gone.

This is the way an open grid has to work as well: everything is full perm, but copyrights are still in play.

What is needed are sites similar to Renderosity for open sim grids. Nothing on Renderosity is ever copy protected, because it makes it unusable. Buying a file is not what is important, it is buying a license, which is why most things are overpriced at Renderosity, but if you are using Renderosity objects for a commercial project, you damn well better have a receipt.

That has to be the model for open grid as well.  For example I make a couch object that in SL could sell for maybe 100L. For Open Sim I sell a commercial license for $10 or about 25 times the SL sales price, which I sell on a specialized website.  If someone buys it, they get a full perm object that they can edit, or copy, or give away, but can’t legally sell.  Most Open Sim grids have no in world currency so I can’t sell there anyways. I could try to post it for sale on a specialized website, but if the website is a legitimate one, they could investigate the origin of the items on sale on their site and prevent resales.

Because the object in world is copyable, why would anyone buy a copy when they could just grab a copy in world? Well that is where the “Internet” paradigm takes over. You could just grab a copy and post it on your region, but if the region is commercial in any way, you damn well have a commercial license for the object or be potentially subjected to litigation or grid take down.

The big money in Open Sim is going to be in the building of commercial regions for clients. Professional region builders who want to use your couch will definitely pay the $10 for the license to use it, just as the region builder expects to be paid for use of his region model for anyone that uses it.

I have proposed this idea to many, the primary objection is that it will limit the people that make money to only the best creators.  I’m sure that other methods of making money on the 3D internet would emerge that we have not thought of yet.  My primary point is that the SL economic model is not one we can (or should) consider.