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Oct 22, 2007



Nothing has changed about the matter: Check this page: http://secondlife.com/whatis/>http://secondlife.com/whatis/ ([R]esidents retain the rights to their digital creations, they can buy, sell and trade with other Residents) and the Terms of Service at http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php>http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php:

[3.2 You retain copyright and other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create in Second Life, to the extent that you have such rights under applicable law. However, you must make certain representations and warranties, and provide certain license rights, forbearances and indemnification, to Linden Lab and to other users of Second Life.]


Luis Sotillos


Luis - I'm not talking about ownership of individual items. I'm talking about ownership of Second Life. That is 'the matter' at hand.

Linden made it very clear on their home page (and I think in public statements I remember) that it (Second Life), not just items, is owned by the Residents.

Maybe the word ‘owned’ on the front page never had any meaning beyond PR flim-flam.

Bragg vs Linden was settled recently - I suspect this may be behind the change to a more careful form of words (lest a court should take that "owned" seriously...)


So an apology to Residents for being 'accidentally' misleading might be in order then.


This change happened about a month ago. It appears to have been made in response to the Bragg pleadings, which focused heavily on that very verbiage in support of Bragg's fraud claims. (E.g. "Saying 'own virtual land' and 'transfer title' when you really mean a 'license to computing resources' is a lie, not a 'metaphor.'" (Brief, 14.) (VB's excerpts from Bragg's Motion to Dismiss.))

Sort of oddly, there is still "own" language on the "What Is Second Life" page, but I suspect that will disappear at some point too.


To me it seems to be part of an attempt to bring Linden's *marketing* representation of who owns stuff (as opposed to ideas about stuff) in SL into line with its *legal* representation of same. This trades off the previous advantages of (unintentionally or not) eliding the difference between owning an artifact and owning an idea for a more coherent but dominating posture. I guess it's possible that this new one may therefore be a detriment to their marketing efforts, but at this stage in their growth, it seems unlikely.


What sort of delusional person ever did believe they owned anything in the game? Theres some dodgy ideas about copyright 'ownership' in there, and thats it.


Right, Ren, you're not talking about ownership of individual items, but just to clarify, neither is Luis. He's talking about ownership of intellectual property rights. Virtual property rights are a different matter and have always, I think, been where the ambiguity in Linden's use of "own" has lain. Personally, I always thought the Lindens made it clear nobody owns SL on a global basis but them. Only the most wishful digital utopianists (bless your souls) could reasonably feel misled on that point. Likewise only the most hardened cynic could think the Lindens' grant of IP rights doesn't confer a meaningful sort of ownership. It's only Bragg and others like him who have any right to feel snookered here. Linden Lab created and nurtured an economy based primarily on effective possession of individual items, and only secondarily if at all on possession of IP rights. This practical, day-to-day, and economically pivotal possession of items may never have risen to the level of legal property, but can we blame residents for thinking that it was precisely what the Lindens were talking about when they talked about ownership?


I can't agree that only the most wishful digital utopians could feel misled.

The concept of ownership, generally, is broadly understood, and it is not prima facie absurd to think that you could be granted true "ownership" of digital property. At least to the degree that if they boot you, they have to let you sell it to somebody else, and if they declare bankruptcy, you get in line with the telephone provider to try to get paid.

I go to what I like to call the Nabisco test -- it's obvious to absolutely everyone above the age of four or five that the cookies really aren't made by elves, so Nabisco can say that they are without flirting with a fraud charge.

But when you advertise that users of your virtual world can, for the very first time ever, really "own virtual land," and you say users can "transfer title" in that land to other users, and you encourage users to "become a part of history by purchasing land and developing [their] own piece of Second Life," and your CEO does dozens of interviews telling everyone how this is different than any other world because of this, you're not really saying the cookies are made by elves. You're saying, "We've got a different, better approach to something you're already familar with -- here, you own it." To be fair, the TOS outright says otherwise -- they can boot you and keep your stuff if they want to according to the lawyer words. But I think that there is a very good argument, which is eventually going to be heard by a judge or jury, that you really do own it, and that the provision in the click-through TOS saying otherwise are invalid. That argument may not win, but it is a legitimate argument.


dmx says:

"What sort of delusional person ever did believe they owned anything in the game?...."

Well....i guess, at least 90 % of the SL's subscribers ?

Can you notice the difference between : " ownership of a virtual item " and " virtual ownership of an item " ? Lemme help you : it's the difference between smart advertising and false advertising.

And lemme help you with another one :
we don't use to blame the victim of a scam , because the victim believed scamer's misleading claims DESPITE the fact that the true informations was available somewhere on a small fineprint - or TOS . This is exactely what qualifies SL for a scam : the PR says " ownership " and the TOS says " no ownership ".

You know, this discussion is a dead horse , since long ago ; every scam is based exactely on what LL did : yelling " ownership " while the small fineprint said " no ownership ".

"...So, no longer owned by Residents then?..."

But yes, why not ?! As long as the residents are the avatars and LL owns the avatars , i don't see what's the problem ; you aint gonna claim that you changed your residence from LA to SL, would you ?!


@Benjamin, et al: Yeah. There's a point at which, when your puffery and your actual claims begin to overlap, you need to decide what language to use for which.

I look at the past and current language, where the only difference is "owned" and think, "Yep. The overlap is gonna start getting trimmed."

On the one extreme, if you believed that "ownership" of a digital world requires rights to the physical servers, then the statement has always been a lie. Taking that view, though, the users haven't ever really been the "imaginers" and "creators" of the world, either, if what we mean is the physical stuff.

One the other hand, if you want to get really marketing-squirrelly, you can say that if you ignore server and corporate issues, "the world" refers to the content experience; what I do in the space, how I can change things, how I can engage in social and economic communications, etc. Because, with a virtual world, what is there except the experience? In this case, "owning the world" means "controlling to a large extent what can occur." In this sense, users "own" SL much more than any other VW/MMO space, as they are not inhibited by (as many) IP restrictions and their ability to influence the experience goes far beyond playing a defined character.

To me, the issue ends up being as much about "what do you mean by the world?" as "what do you mean by own?"

On some forms, I'm asked if I rent or own my house. I put down "own," even though what I own is a mortgage; the bank still owns most of my house, when you get down to it. And, unlike my ownership of my body (which is subject to many fewer restrictions), my ownership of my house comes with all kinds of clauses. I don't own the mineral rights underneath my house, because it's a domestic property. I don't own the pipes that connect to city water and gas, but I do own the responsibility to pay for their repair. I don't own my sidewalk or the berm, but I have a responsibility for upkeep. I own my lawn, but it is subject to blah blah blah...

So do I *own* my house in *every* reading of that word? Nope. But it makes sense for me to say "yes" in most circumstances.

Should Linden have been more careful about the use of words like "own?" If they'd hired me as a marketing adviser, I'd have said "yes." Ownership is a pretty specific legal term in many cases, and it's never great to lead with that glass chin. They could have said, "Users create, imagine and control the world." Not 100% accurate either, but closer. Or, "Users have more freedom in an online, 3D world than ever before." Sure... less punch than "own," but that goes both ways.

I don't feel like I was ever fooled or tricked by their language and the word "own." And I don't think they were trying to fool anybody. I can buy virtual land in SL. I can create stuff. I can sell that land and those things without (in most cases) Linden telling me "no." Whether that means users collectively "own" the world in other senses... well, I can't run most kinds of businesses out of my house because of the zoning. Does that mean I don't really own it?

Though probably not a smart use of words, it never really troubled me.


Andy, while you're basically right , i still wonder : isn't the Law - in this sort of matters- meant exactely to protect the dumb ones - like myself - from being scamed by some smart-talking guys ? I guess , that change in the SL's website wording follows the same path as in the " gambling " issue; step by step, LL is forced to .....get a bit more " real ". And legal.


Terrific, terrific comment, Andy. I particularly like the wisdom that inheres in this phrase: "...and it's never great to lead with that glass chin."


I believe that the residents never actually owned anything in Second Life. Every thing is owned by Linden Labs and I think they just corrected it with the new tag phrase.

Suggested tag phrase:
"Created and imagined by it's residents but owned entirely by Linden Labs.


@Andy – interesting comments.
When you say ‘ "the world" refers to the content experience; what I do in the space, how I can change things, how I can engage in social and economic communications, etc.’

That is the level of abstraction and grouping that I took the “digital world imagined, created and owned” line to be picking out, not the servers etc.

The thing is that taking this as the notional ‘world’ I don’t think Linden ever were saying that Residents owned it – and if they were, back to my original question, what is it that they don’t own now.

One of the upsides of this change of language is that it might peel away another layer of obscuration that Linden seem to pile (needlessly in my option) in front of their governance.

I think a better re-statement would be:

“Second Life is a 3D online digital world imagined, created by its residents, owned and governed by Linden Lab.”


@Benjamin: Whoever you're arguing with, it ain't me! What I was calling digital utopianism was the notion that residents own Second Life itself in some sovereign, we-the-people sense. This is the sort of "ownership" I took Ren to be feeling let down about (though I may be misreading him too). The kind you're talking about -- ownership of individual items -- is, I agree, the real point of confusion here, and I think you're absolutely right to argue that the TOS may not be the final resolution of it.

I wonder, though, what will be. You say judges may yet decide the matter, but Andy's comment has me thinking of another way it might play out.

Andy's flexible and above all limited sense of ownership (I own my house, but I can't turn it into a pig farm; I own my car, but so does the repo man) is hardly idiosyncratic -- it is both pragmatically and legally correct, entirely consistent both with how we daily experience the things we own and with basic Property 101 bundle-of-rights legal doctrine. And yet no matter how many times we get into this virtual property discussion, these basic insights always seem to enter into it as either a wondrous revelation or, more often, a complete irrelevance to developers, players, and others bent on freaking out about some fantasy version of property that's going to turn the universe of virtual worlds upside down.

I suspect this is a pretty general thing, this deep reluctance to see property for the contingent thing it is. And I wonder if it isn't this, as much as the jurisprudence, that may change as a result of virtual property's encounters with the legal system. Maybe virtual worlds are simply going to complicate and loosen up the average person's sense of ownership to the point where it won't be meaningfully diminished by Linden Lab's right to take it all away "for any reason or no reason." Maybe someday, without anything changing but the general cultural gestalt, they can just put "own" back in their slogan without risking any controversy at all.


@Julian - that's why I love TN. ;) Only here are people suggesting that the net effect of virtual worlds' contact with law will be to change the law, not virtual worlds.

If recent history can be a guide, I suspect something in between these positions will ultimately occur; you will find that your bundle of rights is better defined than it is now, and yes, "ownership" itself will take on, to a degree, a different meaning. The internet (particularly easy file sharing) has certainly changed how this generation thinks of ownership of that sort of digital property, and is certainly in the process of forcing some legal clarification as well.


There are plenty of legal concepts that govern a owner's relationship with an possessor (or other third party) vis-a-vis a property (e.g license, bailment, lease, security interest, etc.). And, there are plenty of legal "ownership" regimes, called estates.

However, for any meaningful legal (and philosophical?) discussion, we must respect a difference between possessory and ownership rights.

From a legal perspective, LL constantly using "own" to promote and market SL isn't so much leading with a glass chin as it is throwing in the towel, regardless of what the EULA purports to establish.


Depends on who owns "owns." Which is sort of like depending on http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/21/newsid_2525000/2525339.stm> what the meaning of "is" is .

Which leads to the eureka moment of exactly what sort of game SL is. It's an animated political blog game. Sort of like those promo events at disney world where students get summer internships to sit around a conference table and do a united nations thing. And then go dip in the pool.

All makes much better sense now.


Yeah, but at Disney, they're surrounded by giant flying elephants. In SL the environs are so slightly different.

Fwiw, I agree with Julian that law might learn a thing or two from virtual worlds.


My first go at the post was a lot longer and got into nuances of competing claims and regional zoning – of which more in a future post. Then just thought I’d try to prize open the PR shtick and see it for what it is.

I’m with Julian to some degree here. In that I think the greatest value of virtual worlds is that they enable us to see so much of the contingent in the world around us and evaluate it on slightly fresher terms.

Though my sense of things is that if people had internalized a view of property through virtual words they would have seen the ‘owned by Residents’ tag and just laughed. Maybe everyone did. But again people still say there are 8 million residents so I don’t hold much hope for at least the journalists out there (with the exception of the special case that is Dibbell of course).


@Julian. Exactly.

When you apply the term "own" to a virtual world in this case, it may be used (as we say in some marketing/brand conversations) "directionally." That is, it doesn't have a specific, actionable definition, but is simply "more this than that."

When I say, "I own my house," it's more "own" than "rent," even though I have a mortgage.

When LL says, "Players own the world" it's more "own" than "play with" (in a WoW sense), even though the servers ain't mine.


Spiderman 3!! Own it on DVD now!!*

*but don't copy it, or watch it on an oil rig, or anything like that.


Fauxnership for teh win!


Andy Havens wrote:

When I say, "I own my house," it's more "own" than "rent," even though I have a mortgage.

When LL says, "Players own the world" it's more "own" than "play with" (in a WoW sense), even though the servers ain't mine.


On the other hand, when you go out of your way to repeatedly assure someone that you really mean that players own the world in a very real, legal sense sense you lose the ability to fall back on ambiguity.

Philip Rosedale, for instance, said,

"We started selling land free and clear, and we sold the title, and we made it extremely clear that we were not the owner of the virtual property."

Seems pretty obvious to me what he was trying to convey. He was trying to induce people to invest money into Second Life by telling them that virtual land existed as a thing that could be owned and that if you gave money to Linden you, not Linden, would be the complete, exclusive owner of that virtual thing.



Just nitpicking, but real estate is an area I'm also heavily steeped in:

On some forms, I'm asked if I rent or own my house. I put down "own," even though what I own is a mortgage; the bank still owns most of my house, when you get down to it.

Actually, you do own your house. Your bank does not own it. Your bank has a financial claim to it if you don't perform by the contractual agreement to repay them accordingly.

You enjoy all associated property rights, and carry the burden of all associated liabilities. Your bank has neither. Same as with a car you buy with a loan, or anything else.

And you don't own your mortgage. The lender/underwriter does, who then sells it to someone else (in whole or part, and sometimes quite perilously as we've recently learned) who then enjoys the rights associated with collecting your interest payments.

At best what Linden created with their quasi-ownership is a sort of derivative ownership claim on the abstract or conceptual property associated with "things" in their game created by customers. Linden always very clearly stated that anything and everything that existed on their servers, networks, or other infrastructure was effectively theirs. Linden owned the "thing", the creating customer owned the concept of the "thing".

As to customers "owning" the game itself? I'm not sure what that means. It certainly doesn't convey equity rights to the customers into Linden Research, Inc. At the simplest level, California has very specific rules about equity owners' voting, notification and other rights (even for private companies). Do customers own the product? That's an interesting dilemma for Linden, which would be why they'd yank that out of their hype once exposed. If I'm an investor into Linden and I find out that their sole product is not owned by them, merely serviced by them, then I'm a very unhappy investor.

Sounds like old fashioned false advertising to me, though potentially unintentional.


randolfe_ :"Linden always very clearly stated that anything and everything that existed on their servers, networks, or other infrastructure was effectively theirs. Linden owned the "thing", the creating customer owned the concept of the "thing"."

The Rosedale statement Matt quoted above (As well as others allegedly made by Rosedale) pretty well undermined any LL statement (e.g. in the EULA) that it effectively owned anything and everything on their servers. Rosedale's statements and the LL promo/marketing campaign provide a very good case for a player to claim some type of ownership interest in an instantiation of a "thing."

Of course, that ownership is hardly a fee simple or otherwise unencumbered. Ownership is hardly all or nothing.


Now that you've taken care of the linden farmers...Two months ago, PC Gamer declared that it would no longer accept advertisements from linden farmers such as BACOBOLO(www.bacobolo.com). In a two-page spread that appeared in the follow-up issue, Mythic Entertainment proclaimed that it would not advertise in magazines that collaborate with linden farmers.


randolfe_ You're right in the details, of course. What I was trying to say is (as Jeff puts so succinctly) "ownership is hardly all or nothing."

Allow me to wax philosophical (ie, be somewhat full of crap and hyperbolic):

1. The "real life things" in Second Life (the servers, the code [kinda], the real estate that Linden owns that houses the servers, etc.) have little or nothing to do with the experience of "the world," except inasmuch as they enable it. If I would analogize my house further, I'd say that the "stuff" Linden owns in real life is akin to forces such as gravity, molecular cohesion, etc. Without those underlying "things," I couldn't own my house, because it would be a ball of odd crud floating in space or something. So arguing about ownership of the "stuff" in Second Life is, I think, immaterial (ha ha) to the experience of "the world."

2. If the experience of SL is "the virtual world," then players "own" that experience much more so than in other MMOs. I can't create new character types in most MMOs, build a house, invent an in-game game or device, etc. The collective experience of the world *is* the world, and it is not mandated (except in the "physical laws") by the publishers.

3. The rights that Linden (I think) is trying to allow users relative to owning anything above and beyond the experience, are those that in no way (or the least ways) refer back to the "stuff" that Linden owns in RL. So, for example, if I design a dress in SL and come up with a snappy slogan to sell it there, I "own" those things that are not tied to things that Linden owns; servers, code, original prims/models created by Linden. So that which is not Linden's -- the Platonic ideal of my dress, the words of the slogan -- are mine.

So, you could argue that Linden owns the nouns, and users own the verbs. What can be traced to "things" (code, servers, etc.) is theirs; what can be traced to actions (the design of a dress, the writing of a slogan) is ours.

It's an interesting point from an IP standpoint, but not without precedent. When I print a book and sell it to you, you own the print out (and some, depending on locality, limited rights to the material). You do not own the writing. I have sold you the noun, but retain the verb.

Linden is allowing for different kinds of verbs. If SL were a musical venue, it would own the instruments and the users would own the tunes and the concerts.


.....applauses. Nice- but weak try :
LL never sold a book, but a white plain paper on wich LL invited me to write my own story.
LL invited me to rent its violin for my concert, but LL reserves the " right " to cancel my concert during my violin performance , at LL's whim. Just because there is a small fineprint called EULA/TOS claiming the " right " to destroy my story because the plain white paper is LL's hardware/software. Ever heard of the " implied assumptions /presumptions of a social contract" ?


It all depends on what the definition of "is" is.



Amarilla says:
"LL never sold a book, but a white plain paper on wich LL invited me to write my own story."

Indeed - the problem is that on the front of the paper it says: this is now yours, do with it what you want, it's yours.

On the back it says - btw we did not mean anything that we said on the front, and if you ever write anything we don't like we will erase it - oh and we don't have to tell you what we like or that we are going to erase it and you have no right to any of the writing that you did that we said was yours.

I don't have that much problem with the stuff on the back - just so long as that and only that is very prominently on the front so that people have a clear view of what the are getting into and a clear choice.

To me this has almost nothing to do with property rights and everything to do with consumer information, and to be legal about it, clarity when entering into contract.


@ Ron, i totally agree you on that. The question i ask - or, more likely, the point i wanna make - is : afterall, what's one of the meanings of the commercial laws, afterall ?! Isn't it , actually, to prevent such sort of " shady " biz , when one advertise a lie ? It bothers me to see how we lose the meanings and purposes of laws , just because some " smart " lawyers exploits the " technicity " of law's words. Look, i don't wanna " bash " the USA system/society/policy , but SL is a result of all these ; wich can be seen on many aspects of RL : we no longer have healthy food, but " something that looks like , smells like, taste like "; the same about almost everything concerning the regular Joe's life; now we see the same crap when about laws, Constitution, economic/commercial practices and all. We hide the obvious truth behind big words and lawyers' technical explanations; we're trying to find deep meanings and reasons , trying to explain LL's behavior, when actually LL's motivations to build/operate SL was : make money by all means, exploiting the law's weakeness and ppls' credulity. LL had a deal with Bragg exactely for this reason : LL knew they gonna lose if they were to go to a trial.
The TN's scholars and academics - for wich i have respect and much simpathy - " solved " SL's - and not only - issues and problems, from all points of view , since long ago; you told us ,the regular gamerz , all the important stuff worth to know about VWs and SL. My problem is : most of us the gamerz we don't read TN , nor EULA/TOS.
No matter what the smart guys talks, the harsh truth is : we the gamerz were misleaded, tricked, by LL's propaganda and we've lost time , money and mood. While most of us we can aford that lose , for the Games Industry is different : you cannot aford to lose us , and you aint gonna earn our trust and respect practicing such sort of business as LL did. My main point : is one thing to have a EULA meant to " cover your ass " just in case of hardware failures or reasonable unfortunate events , and a totally different thing to promote a PR and EULA/TOS meant to exploit /scam . It's an undeserved shame for LL's decent employers/programmers. SL and Entropia are the very examples for how an extraordinary concept can be ruined by a bunch of greedy idiots.


Buying gold breaks the game's terms of service - and it degrades the overall experience for everyone .I hate them (www.ige.com,www.world-of-warcraft-powerleveling.net,www.wowgold3000.com ).


Hey Archinaco--

If you're not going to spell out the reasons for the Lindens' about-face, then stay off the freaking board. Something tells me you've got the answers. :)


Not sure if anyone else mentioned this fact above, but I noticed the day all of this changed. They also advertised OWN VIRTUAL LAND. That is now gone as well.

What it boils down to is this. It's false advertisement. Implying that you own the land, means you own the virtual land. Now it simply states "Buy Virtual Land."

Big difference in advertisement between Own Virtual Land... and Buy Virtual Land.

They have been really working on cleaning up their
wording and messes, making sure to make you agree to new TOS when downloading new clients etc..

That statement you write was on the site.. as well as an image on the site that said "Own Virtual Land".

No, you agreed to new TOS, they cleaned up the false advertisements.





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