Copyright challenges when users are creating your content

The ongoing joke about the Internet is that the new successful business models, technology advances and creative breakthroughs always come from two market sectors: games and porn.  The most important breakthrough I’ve seen in a long time cuts across all axes.  Second Life is an online environment where everything is created by the participants in what seems to be a world with never ending scope. (BusinessWeek’s cover story this week is all about this new market.) 

BusinessWeek covers virtual worldsThe joke always has the same conflicts, copyright infringement and under-age usage among the biggest problems.  Second Life has a really interesting way of handling the ongoing copyright problem which seems completely unmanageable given how much freedom participants have to contribute whatever they want to the world.

As people are creating things like clothing and posters and songs in this virtual world, they occasionally use copyrighted material.  Linden promises to remove what they can, but the control of the environment is clearly in the hands of the users who therefore are responsible for adhering to the law.  Copyright owners must chase down infringing uses and request that Linden remove them, which they are ready and willing to do.  But the participants are at risk for legal action, not the game operator.

YouTube has the same policy.  It makes a lot of sense.  And, perhaps most importantly, it’s scaleable.  Systems that are dependent on approval throughput can only scale to the size of the approval pipe.  That pipe gets really expensive really quickly even on a small scale.

The key to Second Life’s success in managing copyrighted material is distributing responsibility according to the rules of ownership, including the ownership of a person’s actions.  Very smart.