Second Life News: Genus Project Wins the DMCA Complaint, Will Reopen Its Store Tomorrow

The DMCA complaint filed against The Genus Project has been settled in its favour

Please note that this news story is a follow-up to a previous blogpost (here).

The following breaking news I learned about from Second Life – FREE, which is a little-known-about Russian-language group on Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, which often lists items I don’t see on other freebie blogs (use the Russian-to-English translator in your Chrome browser). Here’s the direct link to the post.

The following brief summary is courtesy of the Second Life – FREE group:

– GENUS won the trial.
– They have registered their copyright for the products and any subsequent DMCA complaints against them will be ignored, since the court will know by default that these are false accusations against the creator’s product.
– It is not known who filed a complaint against them. It was a completely fake complainant [and] a non-existent lawyer. This man copied Genus’s head and created a fake company that allegedly has been making 3D models for 13 years. But this lie was revealed.

There’s also a link to a Facebook post by the creator, which you can read for yourself. Congratulations to The Genus Project for successfully fighting off this attempt to shut them down! It would appear that the fake creator who launched the DMCA complaint wanted to not only shut down the store completely, but also have Linden Lab remove all Genus Project content from users’ inventories.

Apparently, The Genus Project store will reopen tomorrow, September 4th, 2020.

The Latest Skirmish in the Ongoing Second Life Bento Head Wars: Genus Project Receives a DMCA Complaint, and Shuts Down Their Store as a Result

UPDATE Sept. 3rd, 2020: The Genus Project won! More details here.

The Genus Project has been highly successful with their recent line of Bento mesh heads, and even went so far as to recently give away a free gift edition of their Strong Face head in-store and via their store group, which proved to be phenomenally popular.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA for short) is American copyright law which includes a complaint mechanism which, some say, is routinely abused by those parties who want to harm or “take out” their competitors.

It would now appear that someone is doing just that. Yesterday, the Genus Project sent out the following message to their user group:

Forgive the spam if you’re already aware of the issue. For those who have not been around, the mainstore will be closed due to the DMCA situation announced here:

The Strong Face gift head is no longer available and re-deliveries will not be possible at this time. With chat being broken, we are encouraging anyone who needs help to come on to our Discord and join us there.

The above image was first shared with the Genus Project group on April 12th, 2020, and that bombshell announcement has sparked intense speculation as to the identity of the competitor who filed the DMCA complaint against Genus Project, so much so that the company quickly issued another announcement two hours later, saying:

Just a quick reminder that we do not know who filed the DMCA (read the other notice from Anna), and Catwa Clip has confirmed it wasn’t her. We are also on good terms with the wonderful people from LeLutka, and a few of us work with the good people at Meshbody. Please do not point fingers at others and while we appreciate your fervent support? Please keep the pitchforks down.

As info comes to light it will be shared. We’re not going anywhere. <3

Many people, however, automatically leapt to the conclusion that it was Catwa who had filed the DMCA against the Genus Project, which has led to further strong denials by both Catwa and Genus Project, who posted this image to their group:

Sadly (but perhaps not too surprisingly), the rumours took on a life of their own, which led to some extremely difficult times for Catwa’s customer support reps, who have been bombarded with hateful messages (please click on “Reveal Hidden Elements” in Skell Dagger’s post I just linked to). Such behaviour is absolutely shameful and reprehensible. People should be ashamed of themselves.

Other people have speculated that it was rival head store Genesis Lab who pulled the trigger, since after all the Genus Project was founded after a split from that particular brand, but they have also issued a statement that they didn’t file the DMCA, either:

So, if it’s not Catwa or LeLutka or Meshbody or Genesis Lab, who did it? Nobody knows. All we do know, is that Linden Lab received a DMCA complaint against Genus Project heads, and were obligated by U.S. law to take down the offending content.

The Genus Project company can, in turn, file a counterclaim to the original DMCA complaint, and in the following 10 to 14 days (while the offending content is removed from sale), the original complainant must file a case in court against Genus and provide Linden Lab with information on their court case. With the complaint moved to court, LL will keep the Genus content down pending the court’s decision. If the complainant fails to follow up on the DMCA claim with a court case, Genus Project heads can go back on sale (which is what some hope will happen).

So, assuming that Genus Project has filed a counter-notice, their heads could be available for sale again in a couple of weeks. We’ll see.

But this incident is indicative of the intrigue and drama that seem to erupt regularly in the world of the mesh head and body makers of Second Life. Every mesh head and body brand has its passionate adherents and just-as-passionate detractors, who do not hesitate to take pot shots at each other in such gossipy venues like Virtual Secrets (the National Enquirer of Second Life), which of course has had no shortage of submissions this week with commentary on this recent controversy, attacking various vendors and brands:

This is getting downright nasty, folks. For the love of God, behave like responsible, reasonable, sensible adults here for once. People’s livelihoods are at stake. I’m quite sure the skin, makeup, and shape makers for Genus heads are wondering what to do under the circumstances; are they suddenly out of a job?

We may be facing a new and much more intense battle, not only among the various Bento head makers, but also the mesh body makers, too, now that The Meshbody has decided to give away the fully-featured, updated version of their Classic male and female mesh bodies as L$1 group gifts to anybody who joins their group for free and visits their sim. Who knows what will happen next?

There is probably no shortage of companies who look with envy at the top-selling models of heads and bodies, and would dearly love to knock Maitreya Lara and Catwa off their lofty pedestals, and thereby potentially gain a bigger slice of this lucrative Second Life market. Stay turned for further dispatches of skirmishes to come, in what I jokingly used to call the Bento Head Wars, but which I am now officially dubbing The Great Bento War of 2020. (Chapters in history books will be written about it…documentaries will be made… 😉 )

One thing that I can guarantee is that it will not be boring. Stay tuned!

P.S. I am not a lawyer, I have never filed a DMCA complaint, neither have I ever been the recipient of a DMCA complaint. What I have written here is my best understanding of what’s going on, based on this very informative discussion thread on the incident over on the official Second Life community forums.

Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR/Virtual Worlds: A Follow-Up Editorial

Apparently, Ghoster (whom I interviewed previously) is quite peeved at me for, and I quote, “bashing [his] server and VRChat”.

I didn’t even realize he was upset with me until I started chatting with him today on his new Discord server, Hi-Fi Traders, which is set up much the same as his previous server, VRChat Traders: a forum where people seeking a custom avatar can connect with avatar designers, creators, and riggers. The services are quite popular, and some people likely make a good side or full-time income from custom avatar creation for paying customers.

Ghoster probably has a right to be angry with me, after what I wrote about intellectual property and copyright issues in virtual worlds. He might feel, and not without some reason, that it was a personal attack. (It certainly wasn’t, but I can understand where he’s coming from.)

And it would appear that I have now been banned from Hi-Fi Traders, and probably VRChat Traders, too. I was still on the Hi-Fi Traders Discord channel when I found myself suddenly kicked out.

Before I was unceremoniously booted off his server, I told Ghoster (twice) that I would gladly give him a guest blogger spot to post a detailed rebuttal of my original blogpost, but it would seem that throwing me out was the preferred approach. I still stand by my original blogpost, and the argument I am making today. Also, I am not singling out VRChat, either; I have also blogged about IP infringement on OpenSim-based virtual worlds, and what I have to say here applies to all metaverse platforms, not just VRChat.

All I have done is point out that people charging money for the creation of custom avatars, where they do not own the intellectual property, are operating on sketchy legal grounds. Ghoster told me today that the high number of concurrent users on VRChat makes it difficult to police this sort of thing. That’s true. But frankly, that’s not an excuse for clear-cut cases of copyright infringement.

Custom avatar creation is a sort of cottage industry, much like those peasants who did piecework on their weaving looms before the Industrial Revolution came along. That’s fine, and I fully and completely support that work. (Many people still make a living creating and selling content on Second Life after 15 years of operation, for example.)

And creating a custom avatar inspired by someone else’s intellectual property is okay. For example, Roger Rabbit in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit is based on a mash-up of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Goofy:

Roger is a slender, white rabbit with large blue eyes, pink nose, a tuft of red hair who wears red overalls, yellow gloves, and a blue yellow polka dot bow tie. He is an amalgamation of various classic cartoon characters; taking Bugs Bunny’s cartoon rabbit form, Mickey’s gloves, and Goofy’s baggy pants. Animator Richard Williams described the process of creating him like an “American flag” with the red overalls, white fur and blue bow tie and American audiences would enjoy him subliminally.

But, if you make an exact copy of Mickey Mouse as a custom avatar for somebody and charge them money for it, don’t be surprised to find the Disney lawyers breathing down your neck (or, more likely, going after VRChat, High Fidelity, or whatever virtual world is hosting that avatar). Even worse, if you create a Mickey Mouse avatar modified in some X-rated way, you’re really skating on thin ice if someone reports you to Disney Inc. They don’t look kindly on that sort of thing.

And I do know that Linden Lab (for example) is monitoring items placed in the Sansar Store, to ensure that no copyright-infringing items are placed up for sale. (They do have Star Trek items up, but it is with the explicit permission of the Roddenberry estate.) In fact, very recently, a lovingly-detailed, fan-made recreation of the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation was pulled offline following a cease and desist from CBS.

As far as I am aware, VRChat is still not doing that sort of checking. (And giving it away for free isn’t an excuse.) They are opening themselves up to a possible lawsuit. So is any other social VR platform or virtual world that is allowing people to recklessly copy somebody else’s intellectual property without permission. And if the company owning the IP comes after a virtual world platform, they have no choice but to comply.

And kicking me off your Discord server, because you don’t want to hear that, isn’t going to change that reality one bit.

DisneyCopyright
You might not agree with it, you can protest it, but it’s the law.

Sorry, Ghoster. I hope you can forgive me over time. But it doesn’t change the facts. Your beef isn’t with me; it’s with the system. If you disagree, then put your efforts into copyright reform, not into a personal feud with me. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Intellectual Property Issues in OpenSim/Hypergrid

I have been exploring a couple of OpenSim-based virtual worlds that were recommended to me by people who were leaving InWorldz. One of the features about OpenSim that fascinates me is the Hypergrid feature, which allows you to visit other OpenSim-based grids without having to create a new avatar from scratch.

OpenSim grid operators advertise their grids as “open” (Hypergrid enabled) or “closed” (you are unable to visit other grids from that grid). I must confess that I have never visited open grids before, so it has been quite the experience teleporting from grid to grid. Most of the time I didn’t even know what grid I was actually on!

At one of the grids I visited, someone kindly gave me a list of freebie stores, and I went exploring. I don’t even know which grid I was on when I came across this particular sim:

Hypergrid 1 28 July 2018.png

With this prominent sign:

Hypergrid 2 28 July 2018.png

I entered the Mesh Body Shop you see in the background of the first picture, and I found a lot of free items that looked very familiar to me from my time in Second Life: Catwa mesh heads, Belleza mesh bodies, Bento AOs from Vista Animations, etc.:

Hypergrid 3 28 July 2018Hypergrid 4 28 July 2018

And I thought to myself, “That can’t be right.” So I did a little investigating on the internet, and I discovered that intellectual property theft happens on some OpenSim grids. Moonrise Azalee posted an item to the Opensim Virtual group on Google+ a year ago (here’s a link to her post):

I know this isn’t a popular opinion – but when I see regions advertising themselves on OpenSimWorld with ‘freebies’ and those freebies are Catwa heads, Freya, Maitreya (clearly pictured), and upon checking these freebies out they also include Blueberry clothing and other rigged mesh items specifically for Freya and Maitreya – I find it really disappointing.

I don’t condone botting – but I know its pretty common. Someone has an item they paid good money for elsewhere and have no moral or ethical qualms about taking it out of the Big Grid so they can use it elsewhere. That in itself is a different topic outside of this. But to see these items taken from creators who spent a lot of time and money of their own to use programs and create items that take many hours to do – just offered for free to anyone as though it is some sort of good deed is kind of sad.

When I first found a body called Athena, I was pretty excited. Then I put it on and realized it was Maitreya’s Lara. Even some parts were still named as such, and the clothing for it was identical to the blueberry clothing I have for Maitreya in SL. So trying another body – one called Mesh Body I believe – I saw it was Freya and had freya clothing.

And in a few other stores I saw these same bodies not even being disguised but actually just called Freya – and the Maitreya sales box with Athena written on it.

It just kind of discredits the OpenSim community. I understanding wanting to be a free comunity – but commercial creators DO deserve to get paid for their hard work. I am sure we have people here talented enough to take on the task of creating great content and they can do so and then give it away for free. But using exported items without permission KNOWINGLY (i do realize some people might not know what these things are, especially if they weren’t familiar with them in SL) and giving it away for everyone else to use just seems kind of cruddy.

In fact, the owner of one OpenSim grid, DigiWorldz, has gone so far as to ban the Athena mesh avatar body from their grid:

Hello All,

I want to clarify a few things concerning the banning of the Athena Mesh bodies.

Some users are upset about our decision and understandably so. After you spend time setting something up, it tends to be a pain to have to change and start all over.. I get that.

Please understand, this isn’t being done based on “Rumors”. Granted, it started out with “Rumors” from users telling me the bodies were copybotted and are not legal. These rumors continued and finally I started telling people to please contact the creator and have them send me a DMCA claim and I’ll be happy to remove them. The DMCA never came. Meanwhile, other rumors started being spread about DigiWorldz allowing copybotted items and that we condone the use of illegal content, which is very far from the truth.

Since our inception that has been a basic core belief of mine.. to protect “All” creator’s content, no matter which grid they live on.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want to prove my point that I have always been interested in doing the right thing by protecting the rights of the creators in OpenSim.

I don’t care if the creator is on SL, OSGrid, Metro, InWorldz, or any other grid. I will always stand by them and do my part to help protect their content.

The facts are that this issue with the mesh bodies has been reported multiple times. We have been waiting for a DMCA claim from the creator of the “Lara” body in SL to come forward and put in this claim so that we could take action. This claim never came. Meanwhile our name was being dragged thru the mud as a haven for copybot content which simply is not true.

Today, we contacted the creator of the Lara body in SL and asked them specifically if the Athena mesh bodies found in OpenSim grids was a direct copy of the lara body. The answer was yes. We asked if she had given permission for these bodies to be in OpenSim, the answer was no.

Based on that exchange, it makes these bodies in OpenSim illegal.

Now, I don’t just remove something from the grid when I get a report from someone. I have to have substantial proof of the claim before I will act on it, otherwise, anyone could cause trouble for someone by claiming illegal content.

We now have legitimate proof these bodies are in OpenSim illegally based on direct communication with he creator in SL.

Unless someone can prove the creator of the Lara body in SL is wrong, these items will stay banned.

So, when exploring the Wild, Wild West of Hypergrid-connected OpenSim grids, you should be aware that some of the “free” items you are buying may be property stolen from Second Life creators.