Second LifeSecond Life’s new Terms of Service make perfect sense, and are pretty much exactly what they need to be.

It’s just the communication about them that are rubbish.

Okay, maybe the legal team as well. Okay, okay. Maybe the ToS (Terms of Service) itself too – but that’s in an entirely different way.

Hmmm… Let me back up a moment and take another run-up at this.

Okay, so there have been some changes to the Second Life Terms of Service. I can see why, and it should actually be pretty obvious if you think it through. Though the changes are so poorly-explained that it is easy to get the wrong idea about what they mean.

In fact, I think it is fair to say that the Second Life Terms of Service – as actual terms and conditions – are essentially incomprehensible to the average person, that is, the sort of person who might make up the bulk of Second Life’s user-base.

The ToS is written in what I personally think of as ‘The Black Speech of Lawyers’; that is, a melange consisting of about 75% actual English language, and roughly 25% of words and phrases that appear to be English, but have diverged in meaning through centuries of custom and precedent.

Like almost every other license-agreement, contract or legal agreement, you are not really the intended audience. These things are written to be read, interpreted, and understood by judges and lawyers. Not by ordinary people like us, who are expected to agree and abide by them.

That’s pretty screwed up right there.

Ten people can read the agreement and get ten different ideas as to what it means. That’s bad for you, and bad for Linden Lab. It’s top-drawer stuff if you’re a lawyer, though.

Nevertheless, back to my original assertion: The changes make sense.

Linden Lab gets perpetual rights to use/display/blah/blah/blah your content in Second Life?

Sure – otherwise they’d have to remove everything you ever made in Second Life if you were to leave (account cancelled, or banned), including stuff other users had received. Imagine that – famous creator Laudanum Nipplesworthy cancels her Second Life account and every skin, wig, texture and accessory she ever made vanishes from everyone’s land, avatar and inventory? A nightmare. There wouldn’t be any value in the Second Life economy.

The Lab (and you and me) need that content to continue to exist, even after your account is cancelled, or you’ve been banned, or you’ve died. If it evaporates when you disappear, then it loses all value to everyone.

Linden Lab gets perpetual rights to use/display/blah/blah/blah your content outside of Second Life?

That would be things like the Second Life Marketplace, for example. Things that are not directly part of the virtual environment service, but are connected to it in some way. Some of these should be obvious, whereas others may not have been conceived yet.

Admittedly, US law does not actually permit the “unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited,…. irrevocable, perpetual” assignment or licensing of copyrights (regardless of contractual agreements), as established by numerous case precedents (unless the rights-assignment falls under work-for-hire). However, in intellectual-property circles it is fairly common for lawyers to maintain the fiction that it does and hope that nobody notices otherwise – because things actually get kind of ugly if people suddenly start revoking intellectual-property licenses and assignments, willy-nilly.

There’s more, but suffice to say the changes all make perfect sense from a purely practical standpoint.

So, long-story-short, the recent changes in the Second Life Terms of Service that have so many of us in an uproar are actually little more than a codification of how things already are and how they actually have to be from a legal standpoint for the Second Life service and economy to operate as it has been.

That the ToS has not reflected that up until now, could be viewed as a serious lapse.

The really rubbish part of all of this is that the whole thing has been dropped in your lap without any apparent attempt to explain any of this (again – god, I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened), and in a document bundle which (at average reading rates for a native English speaker) should take you more than an hour to read, and that you cannot reasonably be expected to understand without an appropriate legal background.

Now that is careless and disrespectful. The fact that pretty much every tech company seems to do it the same way isn’t an excuse so much as it is an indictment of the shooting-match.

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