From #SL Griefing to Extortion


The only effective defense against having your work claimed by others and their using it against you is formally copyrighting your work. One can copyright batches of work. That greatly reduces the cost. So, all of a skin designer’s work for a year or quarter or month could be copyrighted in one group. The current US registration fee for a group of images is $65 and if eCO (electronic Copyright Office) is used $35 (but, check that. I haven’t done a copyright in a long time).

The primary goal is to establish yourself as the creator of an item with a neutral party. By submitting your creative document, for instance a Photoshop file with all the layers, you demonstrate you made the individual layers, something a bit tricky to fake. The filing establishes the date too.

Thieves have become crafty and they will steal and copyright your work. If they copyright your work before you do, your battle may be lost before it starts. If they copyright after you have copyrighted your work, they have filed a false copyright as well as violating copyright law. They are pretty much caught red handed.

You may notice that the Copyright Office has no real category for mesh models. What professionals do is place the series of development files in a  zip file and copyright it. As I develop models I save in progress versions; skirtA-001.blend, skirtA-002.blend, skirtA-003.blend, etc. This is the best evidence of creative authorship for a court. It also sets the dates in stone. Roll all those progress files into a zip file along with the final version and copyright it.

Going to the Copyright Office is work and incurs cost. Some work is not worth the effort or money. But, if it is not worth the money and effort to copyright, it is not worth worrying about when it gets stolen. One should certainly not expect others to get excited when complaints are filed on work that was never copyrighted or lacks proof of original creative effort.

Another option is embedding invisible watermarks. Digimarc copyright protection is one type of watermark Photoshop users may be familiar with as it is included in the default install of PS (Filters->Digimarc). You can try it out whether you have Photoshop or not. Add a digital watermark to your own image with the Online Services Portal – try it for FREE.

Think of digital watermarks as invisible barcodes. Rather than incorporating a visible QR code or Microsoft Tag into your layout, you embed imperceptible digital information in pictures or behind text, creating an invisible hyperlink from the printed page to online content. Readers can’t see digital watermarks, but they are easily detected by our smartphone cameras. Unlike barcodes and tags, digital watermarks do not occupy valuable space on the page nor do they negatively impact the layout or design aesthetics.

The Digimarc is useable in numerous ways. They are talking about making web links in printed-on-paper images that your cell phone can follow. Awesome.

The Adobe web site explains how to use the feature from within Photoshop. See: Photoshop / Digimarc copyright protection. One can embed and read the Digimarc from within Photoshop and other applications.

One can protect 1,000 images for US$49.00 and 2,000 for $99.

For use in SL it is a bit more complicated. Adobe explains the problems added by compressing images.

Color variation 

The image must contain some degree of variation or randomness in color to embed the digital watermark effectively and imperceptibly. The image cannot consist mostly or entirely of a single flat color.

Pixel dimensions 

The Digimarc technology requires a minimum number of pixels to work. Digimarc recommends the following minimum pixel dimensions for the image to be watermarked:

  • 100 pixels by 100 pixels if you don’t expect the image to be modified or compressed prior to its actual use.
  • 256 pixels by 256 pixels if you expect the image to be cropped, rotated, compressed, or otherwise modified after watermarking.
  • 750 pixels by 750 pixels if you expect the image to appear ultimately in printed form at 300 dpi or greater.

There is no upper limit on pixel dimensions for watermarking.

File compression 

In general, a Digimarc watermark will survive lossy compression methods, such as JPEG, though it is advisable to favor image quality over file size (a JPEG compression setting of 4 or higher works best). In addition, the higher the Watermark Durability setting you choose when embedding the watermark, the better the chances that the digital watermark will survive compression.

The Second Life system uses JPEG2000 compression on any image over 64×64 pixels. Digimarc describes their process and JPEG2000. Just take away that it works with Second Life. What this means is you can invisibly watermark images going into SL. At a cost of $0.05 per image that is pretty cheap insurance and probably less than the cost of a registered copyright. See Digimarc’s FAQ.

If one is not bothering to mark their images for the slightly more that upload cost, then the item is just not worth anyone’s attention to protect. The Lab and Law enforcement agencies are just not going to be interested in helping you.

A L$800 (US$3.00) skin should be worth a 5¢ watermark.

So, if you get that I don’t have much sympathy for TID people and their campaign to force the Lab to ‘listen,’ you are right. I have great empathy for those being abused by a griefer. But, not for the abused that become abusers.

Underlying Problem

Everyone wants to fix the problem of Intellectual Property theft… I think they generally start in the wrong place.

I think it is obvious there is a financial component to the problem. If you looked at the crime statistics in the FBI report, you saw most computer crime is reported in the USA. It would probably make sense to many people that criminals target those that have money and things of value.

I think the same is true in Second Life. Criminals/griefers hit products that sell and are expensive, the ones people base their businesses on. So, griefers can base a business on stealing them.

Because of this financial component, theft has a RL side that creates the incentive to steal. In many poor countries being able to steal a few hundred dollars is a big deal (See: Democratic Republic Of The Congo US$300/year average income). In a declining or poor economy crime becomes more prevalent (See Argentina post economic collapse as an example).

Until we solve the RL problems of theft, poverty, and declining economies we are not going to solve the problems of theft in Second Life. The less time law enforcement spends on major crime the more time they have to deal with minor crime. The better the economy is the more likely people will be out making real money than stealing pennies. I doubt we will ever get rid of crime or mental illness completely. But a better economy and prepared people reduce crime. We can conceivably get things down to a manageable size if we can improve the world economy enough.


9 thoughts on “From #SL Griefing to Extortion

  1. I LOVED your article and read it completely. I would like you to suggest someday to write a bit more about protecting our works. For example, how to fill copyrights to register mesh and textures with a bit more of detail, how to write licenses to sell mesh in SL (some people ask for custom meshes in SL that they later want to sell in website like TurboSquid!) and others ways to protect us. Maybe saving images of our projects WIP on some image hosting like someone suggested to me some ago, etc…

    BTW I would like to know your most sincere opinion about this idea. Long time ago some friends and me were talking about copybot and this kind of problems and how easy is to use some simple debuggers. Then it comes to my mind the way that some online games have to protect the game code for being injected from others processes.

    So, what if Second Life stopped being Open Source again, and those who want develop a viewer they can do it requesting a license? That license would be free and would have similar requirements than being in the Third Party Viewer directory. Each viewer will have an “identification” so others viewer aren’t able to log into the main grid, but into the beta one (this would allow access to everyone who want test or build their own features). Asides of that, SL would run with a third party software protection method. There are some out there used a lot by MMORPG like game guard for example. This kind of process doesn’t allow to debuggers to run within the main game an neither any kind of “hack” that try to inject code into the game.

    So with this we get 2 ways or protect SL:

    – For one side we get the viewer protection. Since each viewer uses a license, no one will be able to connect to the main grid unless it uses the original viewer license which would be quickly traduced in a filtration of the license making it easier to find the one responsible of it.

    – And for the other side, we get software protection making it unable to use any kind of hack to access internal viewer memory (or at least, it could be a way harder to do it). This kind of software runs in background and is often updated to be up to date with the most common ways of intrusions.

    I recognize that changing from being Open Source to this kind of license may be a big change and I am not so used to this kind of changes and what would implies for LL. But so far I think it adds great measures of protection for everyone that at least will make harder for [less knowledgeable] people to steal a simple texture.

    Thanks again for your article and hope to see soon some more info about protecting our works 😉


    • I have thought about writing more on protecting creative works. I may. I have two tutorials on other parts of building for SL in process now.

      Discontinuing Open Source viewers… I think that is a bad idea. It would have some advantages, but protecting digital Intellectual Property (IP) is not one of them. The entertainment industry has tried for decades to protect music and movies. Every idea they have come up with has been cracked. I think that route is a dead end always leading to failure. If a computer is used to protect it, and a computer has to remove protection to display it… then someone will figure out how it is done.

      • I know may not be perfect. But trust me, thirdparty software running on background as gameguard and such really works. Ive tested by myself, is impossible to use any kind of “hack” tool on them. They are very sensitive and even others harmless process may be conflictive. So everything that try to acess to the main game is always restricted and in consecuence the game doesnt connect to internet and doesnt work. The game may not be to stop being OpenSource, there are still ways to implement thos softwares. I really think we should get at least something similar to that, they are really effective, almost impossible to hack, and they are updated daily like antivirus does. I think that limits in a 2% the possiblities to hack things like textures and meshes.

        And thanks for your answer. Looking forward for those tips to protect our content 😉 ♥

  2. I really think there is only one good solution to the issue of griefing and that is to require accounts have unique payment information on file. Accounts with no payment information on file need to be restricted, and used as test accounts. If I were to setup those accounts I would make two changes 1) require that those accounts only log in with the default LL viewer, and 2) remove the ability for those accounts to hold any inventory. No freebies, nothing received from others, nothing. It is the ability to create sooooo many accounts, and make the truly anonymous that makes griefing so easy. Blocking an account is meaningless because the griefer will have a new account minutes later, and the griefer has an account already that he never griefs with that just holds all the tools he needs to grief. So its a simple invetory swap to be back up and running. What LL needs to be blocking is any account created with a specific payment method.

    In my opinion until the ability to create these accounts is gone, the griefers will never be.

    • The problem with imposing such restrictions is that you throw out other use cases in Second Life, such as educators, whom aren’t going to register all their students with payment info on file and nor should they need to.

      Then we have alts for testing purposes, although this could be somewhat mitigated if we had one account, multiple avatars, rather than one account per avatar.

      Let’s also not forget that a reason people engage with Second Life is because they can get started for free, if we take that away, we’ll lose a lot of interest at registration.

    • That would reduce SL population to at 20% my friend.

      The key of a solution is to everyone gets benefit from it harming the less possible the rest of users or even LL.

      There are also others problems with that. SL would be then restricted to some countries and ages. Not everyone can afford or even have the rights to get a credit card for the PIOF. So that idea is a bit extreme.

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  4. Oh, this is a real well thought article, thank You 🙂

    Maybe our view could be widen even more.
    griefing has for sure an increasing economical aspect, on which ppl with reason and desire love to talk.
    There are also other dimensions. Some could just seen as annoying, some as harassing.
    It’s indeed really ‘annoying’ to sail peaceful somewhere and get hit by a wave of griefing ghoul particles.
    But will giving up privacy stopping this?
    do not believe that.

    Trading privacy for the hope on less griefing will never the smart answer. Sorry but, as You Nalates said the problem is far more complex.

    central collected privacy information can not be handled so safe that i will start giving LL mine and i were ok with that the last 6 years on SL.

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