Licensed to mesh

As you’re probably aware by now, the Linden Lab is implementing the ability to enable or disable your ability to upload meshes to Second Life, once the Mesh features finally arrive, and thus reducing the incidence of third-party meshes being used without permission.

It’s a pretty good idea, but what if you don’t know that you’re offending?

Linden Lab staff, for example, imported a copy of the mesh of one of Halo’s ‘Warthog’ vehicles into the Second Life beta area for Mesh testing. Elsewhere, the textured meshes of World of Warcraft’s characters stood by, uploaded by another user. Both sets of models seemed to be indistinguishable from their respective game assets.

(thanks Ann O’Toole for the image. Click for a larger version)

The Warthog is of the most concern at the moment. A Linden Lab employee imported that into Second Life. But wait… the employee, it has been argued, could have obtained that mesh from a repository where it was marked with a permissive license – it might not even be a copyright-infringing data-rip, but instead be a hand-made copyright-infringing derived work.

The Lab employee may have had no idea at all that this was (or was otherwise indistinguishable from) a commercial game asset (though the Lab has apparently shamefacedly removed it now that word has gotten out).

But that’s the problem.

You see, I wouldn’t have recognised those WoW characters either, you see. I’ve never once had the urge to even look at World of Warcraft.

So, what if our Lab staffer simply didn’t know that he or she was infringing on the intellectual property of Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios? Picked up the mesh from one of the many repositories of collada items, checked the license which declared it to be free-for-use or public-domain or whatever, and uploaded it.

All well and good… but if you or I did it, all unawares, we’d lose our license to mesh. Anyone could come along and (quite rightly) point out to Second Life customer service that asset so-and-so is from some-big-game-that-you-happen-not-to-be-familiar-with (or something that looks just like it). Nobody’s going to compare vertices with the original content to figure out if it is a rip, a derived work or just something ‘inspired by’, because it looks like you ripped off The Force Unleashed, or Two Worlds, or Sacred II or whatever – even if you didn’t know it.

On reflection, then, it seems like the safest way to keep your license to mesh is to only ever upload things you yourself have created, and never to ever take someone else’s word for the provenance of collada files.

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