Battle looms over DigiWorldz grid ownership

Welcome region on the DigiWorldz grid.

Welcome region on the DigiWorldz grid.

After a dispute between the partners of Digital Worlds Group, a US-based company offering content creation, development, and OpenSim hosting services, the group’s DigiWorldz grid has been split off as its own company, now based in the Netherlands.

Two of the former Digital Worlds Group partners, Mark Wiseman and Terry Ford, are — for now — running the new grid. Ford, who had previously founded 3rd Rock Grid, was the founder of and the person most closely identified with the operations of the DigiWorldz grid.

Ford was chiefly responsible for the technical side of grid management, while Wiseman handled business management, marketing, and customer support.

Michael Sietz

Michael Sietz

However, another former Digital Worlds Group partner, Michael Sietz, is disputing the circumstances under which DigiWorldz was spun  off as its own company.

“They are pulling a sneaky in order to get out of a contract,” said Sietz, referring to a prior agreement, also under dispute, with a former client. “It’s a mess.”

Sietz said that he plans to file suit this week.

Mark Wiseman

Mark Wiseman

“We had to make sure we were legally represented with DigiWorldz, that our customers had a proper legal company running it,” said Wiseman.

In an announcement yesterday, Wiseman and Ford said that services to grid residents will continue uninterrupted.

It’s unclear whether either of the two successor companies — what’s left of Digital Worlds Group or the new DigiWorldz Virtual World — will still be providing OpenSim hosting services to other grids.

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • Frank Corsi

    Messy! Messy!

  • markjohnwiseman

    Let me rectify and clarify a few points here:
    Mr Sietz resigned from Digital Worlds Group on May the 24th 2015 due to, we imagine, stress factors – No actual reason was ever given. Subsequently he threatened to shut down the LLC and demanded that we started using a different bank account to the official one registered to the LLC. As mr Sietz was the registered agent for Digital Worlds Group, he could actually do this, whether this was legal accoording to the LLC’s contract or not.

    As a result of Mr Sietzes threatening behaviour, Digital Worlds Group, now consisting of 3 partners after mr Sietzes resignation, was confronted with a situation in which it no longer could be legally represented in the state of Oregon. Despite this, I as CEO still carry the responsibility to ensure continued operation of the products, namely the virtual world of DigiWorldz. We found the solution by moving the operations of DigiWorldz to the Netherlands, where DigiWorldz is now once again run by a company with a business registration, bank account and paypal account. This took place on june the 1st 2015.

    On june the 6th, Mr Sietz and another former partner sent Digital Worlds Group a statement demanding re-instatement of their positions, threatening legal action if we did not comply with their demands. I must point out that MrSietz had not once since his resignation indicated regret of his decision to leave, nor that he wished to come back. As a result of these threats against us, all other members of the LLC left the company, leaving me in sole control of Digital Worlds Group. At this point I was still trying to prevent negative publicity around Digital Worlds Group LLC and DigiWorldz.

    I decided to let Mr Sietz and Mrs Webb back into the LLC on june the 11th, under the condition that the LLC contract clauses they are contesting (that led to an unfair dismissal in their eyes) would be reviewed by a legal firm and changes would be made to that operational agreement, as such that they would be fully compliant with law. Both mr Sietz and mrs Webb accepted these terms.

    Mr Sietz had signed Digital Worlds Group into a partnership agreement with absolutely terrible terms that none of the other partners can live with. Mr Sietz revealed this contract to us, just after he resigned from Digital Worlds Group. mr Sietz claims we condoned this partnership as a team – we claim we never saw the final contract. On the evening of june the 11th, I discovered exactly what it was that mr Sietz had done back in februari 2015, and what had prompted his resignation…

    At Digital Worlds Group LLC, we used Google Documents for as storage and office document tool. Inspection of the revision history by Michael Sietz shows that he took the intended work-for-pay software development contract and rewrote it in a partnership contract between DWG and a client, where a new LLC would be formed, of which mr Sietz was the managing partner (NOT as a representative of Digital Worlds Group), where the client would own 75% of the new company and DWG had no voting power, for a contract period of 5 years.

    Now having conclusive evidence for myself that mr Sietz had indeed manipulated the contract and lied to us as partners, I resigned from Digital Worlds Group LLC and signed over all assets to mr Sietz. mr Sietz has the link to the video that shows what he did in Google Drive. I invite him to share that link with the public, as he has no problem throwing out accusations in public either.

    Mr Sietzes accusation that we are trying to ‘sneak our way out of a contract’ is even today false. Although the partners that have left are in no way responsible for mr Sietzes tort and deception, just this saturday we are working with this exact client to come to a resolution, without having to take mr Sietz to court. I would suggest to mr Sietz to stop his aggression towards his former partners and take responsibility for his own actions, and gets on with making the best of Digital Worlds Group LLC.

    That is all I will be adding to this thread. I have a virtual world with rezidents to take care of, and thats alot more important than entertaining mr Sietzes ideas about what is right and what is wrong…

    • Tony Anytime

      Businesses that involve multiple people fail because of a bad business idea, not enough income, too much income or just partners that can’t get along. All this has to be defined well in advance or all this type of stuff happens. Another example of bad business practices in Opemsim… Sorry to hear about this infighting, it does no one any good. Perhaps some form of mediation would be helpful.

      • Tony —

        I don’t think it’s a bad example of business practices in OpenSim — it’s just something that happens with startups when the business changes rapidly and radically.

        The original business structure made sense — you had independent developers and designers coming together in a marketing partnership, each working on their own projects. It made sense to have a lot of autonomy in this structure, and not a lot of oversight or hierarchy was necessary.

        Once you’re running a grid, however, you now have to have people working full time, managing the grid, managing subcontractors and help desk staff, you’ve got operations to manage. This requires a dramatically different business structure, a more formal hierarchy, more clearly defined responsibilities, a chain of command.

        Not everyone is going to be happy with the transition from one type of business to another, especially if it came quickly. Keep in mind that DigiWorldz grew to almost 1,000 regions in size — and early indications are that it will be on the top ten most popular list tomorrow — all in the past three months.

        Most grids spend a long, long time getting to this point. Plus, most grids are run by companies set up specifically to run the grids, not to do something else, instead.

        Frankly, I’m not exactly sure what they could have done differently here. I guess they could have set up a new company on the day they first decided to create a grid – but who would have guessed that it would grow so fast so quickly?

        Meanwhile, in talking with the founders, and discussing the issue of transferring in-world content from one company to another, I realized that my sample TOS didn’t cover this situation.

        A grid needs to have the following three basic rights when it comes to content:

        * When you upload something to a grid, or create something from scratch, you probably want to be able to let visitors see the content, and you want to be able to sell it to other people, etc… That means that the grid has to have the right to display that content, and to distribute it to other users, on your behalf.

        * The grid needs the right to showcase the content in in-world directories, destination guides, to post photos of places in forums and on the website, etc…

        * If the entire grid is sold, the grid needs to be able to transfer these rights to new owners, so that all services can continue uninterrupted.

        I’ve added these to my sample TOS:

        http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2014/07/copy-this-terms-of-service-policy-for-your-grid/

        It’s important for the grid to say it is only asking for these LIMITED use rights, in the context of running the grid — not for any other rights to the content. The creators themselves retain all their original copyrights.

        • Tony Anytime

          I believe that must times people start a business together without planning everything out, It then grows, things get forgotten and then little things come back to bite you. Things like shareholder agreements, corporate paperwork, and then of course agreements on who owns the trademarks and contents. I would have thought that a group as experienced at DigiWorldz would have taken care of their due diligence but apparently something was not right. In business even with the best intentions stuff happens. RL legal issues require RL lawyers. to solve before they happen or after they happen.

          An example of what can happen…Just yesterday I as talking to a friend that I have know for 20 years in the hosting business. He hosts for people like Microsoft, doing over 4 mil last year… Not a small operation. Anyway, his wife ran off with his GM, and basically wrote him out of the company. So sometimes your best friend and partner is your worst enemy… Keep that in mind making partnerships and not having business contracts.

          All this shows me more of a reason that everyone should have their own grids… With some sort of directory service were you can just TP to your friends grid but you control your assets.

      • meditation, you meant, right-)))

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