Where to get content for an OpenSim grid

One of the common complaints enterprises have about OpenSim is that if they set up a private grid, they’ll have to create all the content from scratch. Employees will have to create their own hair, fashionistas will have to make their own shoes, teachers will have to create their own blackboards, and presenters will have to build their own PowerPoint projectors.  That was, in fact, the case a couple of years ago, when OpenSim was still new. But times have changed.

Today, schools and companies can transfer content from Second Life, buy it online, or go shopping on other grids and bring stuff back to their own grid via hypergrid teleport.

Free sources for IARs and OARs

An OAR is a complete region archive, a backup file which includes the region terrain and all the objects, textures and scripts that are located on that region. An IAR is a complete inventory archive, a backup which includes all the objects, shapes, textures, scripts and other content in an avatar inventory.

Free OAR files:

  • OpenSim Worlds — A handul of OAR files, including some nice educational regions.
  • OpenSim Creations — Large and growing collection of OAR files, including a Faerie Castle.
  • KatiJack Studio — Collection of starting island regions.
  • ReactionGrid OAR — Nice starting collection of avatars, shapes, hair, and clothing.
Free IAR files:

Online shopping

Several Websites are now offering content for OpenSim grids — much of it free.

OpenSim Creations

OpenSim Creations also has a large selection of content — the site has avatars, clothing, furniture, buildings, scripts, plants, terrains, textures, and hair and other attachments. And it’s all free, thanks to designer Vanish Seriath of TGIB.

Most objects are in the form of XML files — ready to be uploaded to any grid or even to Second Life by using the Imprudence viewer. (Instructions from the Imprudence team are here. Instructions from Vanish are here.)

The site also has free, downloadable OAR files. These are complete regions, with terrains, landscaping, and all the other objects, textures and scripts located on them, ready to upload to any public or private OpenSim grid or to Kitely.

Total Avatar Shop

Total Avatar Shop is a commercial destination for OpenSim users looking for high-end, designer clothing and hair by well-known Second Life designer Sunny Whitfield. Prices are in US dollars, starting at $1, and payment is by PayPal.

Purchases are delivered automatically to avatar accounts on InWorldz, Alpha Towne, Second Life, Virtual Worlds Grid, OSGrid, My Open Grid, New World Grid, and Virtyou, but she will deliver to any grid — including private company and school grids.

KatiJack Studio

KatiJack Studio is a virtual design firm specializing in landscaping and building. The company has a website up to share some of their creations. Today, the site has ten OAR files available of different island terrains, but more OARs are promised.

All items on the site are distributed under a Creative Commons license, and are free to modify and customize.

FleepGrid Shop

FleepGrid Shop

For free clothing, textures, animations and scripts, check out Fleep Tuque’s FleepGrid Shop.  All items were either created by Tuque, or were distributed under opensource or Creative Commons licensing. Purchases are available as IAR and OAR files, which means they can only be used in OpenSim, and only by users with OpenSim console access — or OAR and IAR upload options provided by their hosting companies.

MyOpenSim Hypergrid Store offers complete regions, clothing, skins, buildings, and anything else your OpenSim grid needs. The store is run by MyOpenGrid and requires that you have a free account with their grid for some purchases. However, some items — such as free region files — can be downloaded immediately, without login. MyOpenGrid is on the hypergrid, so you can teleport to your home grid with your purchases.

In-world shopping

Even if your grid is a collection of empty islands, you can still log in and go shopping — if you’re hypergrid enabled. Most OpenSim hosting companies will hypergrid-enable your grid if asked, or hypergrid-enable individual regions.

If you’re running the grid yourself, on your own servers, the Diva Distro comes pre-configured with megaregions (no border crossings!) and hypergrid. Read more about hypergrid configuration here. .

There are downsides to being on the hypergrid, however. If your grid is behind a corporate firewall, you will have to punch holes in that firewall so avatars can fly in and out. You do this by opening ports, which many corporate IT departments are hesitant to do. If you plan to do a lot of hypergrid traveling, consider hosting your grid with an outside provider. A list of OpenSim hosting companies is here, and prices start at around $25 a month a region.

Another downside to hypergrid is that if you can get out, other people can get in. If your grid contains sensitive information, you may want to set up access controls on individual regions and set aside a public area for visitors to come and learn about your company and school.

Once you have hypergrid working, you’ll be able to travel to other grids in your area and with similar OpenSim configurations. Yes, hypergrid travel currently has a distance restrictions — not actual physical distance, but virtual distance on a virtual map. Because of a bug in current Second Life-compatible viewers, you can’t travel more than 4096 regions in any direction. So if you wanted to hop from the center of OSGrid to the center of ReactionGrid, you’ll have to make a couple of stops at regions located along the way. You will see a “region too far” error if you try to jump to a region too far away. More info about this here.

In addition, some OpenSim grid operators like to run the latest and greatest version of OpenSim. This includes the OSGrid, currently the largest single grid in the OpenSim universe, with over 6,000 regions. OSGrid is run by OpenSim developers and was initially established as a testing and development grid. Other public grids usually try to keep up, either because they are run by technologists who like to stay on the cutting edge, or because they want to make sure their users can teleport back and forth to OSGrid for shopping and events.

However, other grid operators are more focused on stability and performance, and wait to upgrade until all the bugs are worked out. This includes the public ReactionGrid and most of the private grids ReactionGrid runs for corporate and education customers. As a result, you may be able to travel from one grid to another, but not back again, or vice versa. Or you may need to travel through another grid to get to your final destination. As OpenSim evolves, and the pace of development slows down, this problem is likely to resolve on its own.

Finally, one last caveat — if you are traveling to an unknown grid, it is technically possible for the guys running the destination region to hack into your avatar inventory. There have been no reported incidents of this actually happening, and this problem has been resolved in the latest version of OpenSim, but if you want to be absolutely safe then you should travel with an alternate avatar that doesn’t have a lot of valuable stuff in its inventory.

Now that all these caveats are out of the way, here’s a list of places you can go for shopping.  Samsara and Snoopies on OSGrid have been around the longest, with a great collection of free furniture, landscaping supplies, clothing and avatar accessories.

Transferring from Second Life

If you have content in Second Life that you created yourself — including all the constituent pieces of every object — you can use a paid product like Second Inventory or free tools like the Meerkat and Hippo viewers. Videos for how to use the Meerkat and Hippo viewers to do this are here and here (the process is similar for both viewers). Imprudence viewer — which also offers this capability — no longer officially supports access to Second Life, because of recent changes to Second Life’s policies on third party viewers, the organization announced last week.

The Emerald Viewer also allows exports of items, not only those that you have created, but also those for which you have full permissions. Instructions for how to do this are here.

If you have content in Second Life that was bought from third-party designers, you will need to contact those designers and get permission to move the objects to your OpenSim grid. You may need to pay extra for the additional license, and you will also need to ask the designer to provide you with export files or deliver the objects to your private grid. In addition, if the objects include scripts, you may need to ask them to check that the scripts will work in OpenSim — there are some minor differences in the way scripts work in the two platforms, and some tweaking may be required.

Copyright issues

To avoid potential copyright infringement problems, do not accept free items from strangers — or from well-meaning acquaintances. It is possible in OpenSim to force owner permissions and perms for items on your own grid if you have administrator access. This is useful if you are the grid administrator for a corporate or school grid — you need to be able to move items around, modify them, or delete them whether you are the one who initially created them, or whether other company employees did. Once an item has been modified, the owner can easily forget what the original permission settings were, and start giving the item out to others. That opens up your organization to potential legal liability, so get your items from official distribution channels — established freebie stores or retail outlets.

Today, most grid owners in OpenSim are aware of copyright issues, and the large public grids have policies in place to enforce creator rights. As a result, content owners have recourse if their items turn up in freebie stores without their permission.

You will need to be careful, however, not to change the permission settings on the items you obtain. For example, if an item is set to “No Transfer,” and multiple employees need to have the same item, then the employees should get or buy their own copies of the object from the original store.

There is a reason for this. Some content designers use freebies in order to attract traffic to their stores. Others may make certain items available for free only for a certain time period. In addition, a copyright violation may have been filed on the item, and it’s been taken off the shelves.

If you absolutely must have additional permissions for an item, contact the designer directly. You may need to pay an additional fee to have a site license that allows you to distribute the item to all employees on your private grid, for example. You may also be asked to pay an additional fee if you want modification rights to an object — for example, to change its colors to match your branding, or to add a corporate logo.

Finally, it should go without saying that if you plan to sell or distribute an item you must get permission, in writing, from the original copyright holders for every object and its scripts and textures. In Second Life, the Linden Lab user agreement covers these issues, and you don’t need to have written agreements from every content producer.

Outside Second Life, however, you don’t have that safety net. Insist on a copyright assignment contract that spells out exactly what you can and cannot do with the content, signed by the legal copyright owner. Remember that an agreement signed by an avatar is not enough — even if the avatar has been trademarked or incorporated. If you were making a deal with McDonald’s, for example, you would not accept a contract signed by Ronald McDonald, but by a legally empowered representative of the McDonald’s Corporation.

Most companies already have such agreements in place for other content creators, such as Website designers, outside writers and editors, photographers, freelance programmers, and other third-party creative types.

Here are some typical items you may wish to include in a contract:

  • Work for hire: In a “work for hire” agreement in the United States, U.K. and a few other countries, all the rights of the work belong to the customer, as if the customers had created the work themselves. For example, when employees work on a project, all rights to the project belong to the employer. Many organizations now routinely require “work for hire” contracts from their freelancers and outside contractors so that the results of the work can be reused or adapted as needed, without having to go back to the original creator to purchase these additional rights. Companies may sometimes pay extra for a “work for hire” agreement. In a “work for hire” agreement, the original author never has copyright ownership of the work. Companies can use, modify, distribute or resell the work as they see fit.

    Sample text:
    CONTENT PROVIDER agrees that all work produced under the terms of this agreement is a “work for hire” in all jurisdictions where this provision is allowed by copyright law.

  • All rights: If you’re dealing with international contracts in jurisdictions where a “work for hire” clause may not be enforceable, add an “all rights” provision to your contract. Companies can use, modify, distribute or resell the work as they see fit.

    Sample text:
    In all other jurisdictions, CONTENT PROVIDER agrees to assign all rights to the work produced under the terms of this agreement to COMPANY.

  • Individual rights: If the content provider is not willing to sign over all rights, you may be able to negotiate individual, limited rights. The possibilities here are unlimited, but the basic rights are the following:

    Site license: This allows the content to be used on multiple grids and computers, and by multiple employees as long as its under the control of the company. The license may include limitations on the total number of grids, employees, or total copies of the object. The content may include embedded code that reports back how an object is used, and where it is being used, and the buyer may have to agree not to modify this code.

    Grid license: This allows the content to be used throughout a single grid — for example, a private company grid or school grid. The license may include a limitation on the total number of copies, or the total number of users.  The content may include embedded code that reports back how an object is used, and where it is being used, and the buyer may have to agree not to modify this code.

    Individual user license: This allows the content to be used by a single user, but in multiple locations. The license can be further limited to include a single grid. The Second Life “no transfer” permission setting, is, in effect, a single user license that allows the object to be used only on the Second Life grid.

    Modify license: Content creators have the right to specify that their work be used as is, with no modifications, or they may choose to allow the buyer to modify the content.

    Credit rights: Original creators of content may stipulate that their name or corporate brand be preserved somewhere in the object, either in the name, description, or in an attached notecard, or they may give up the right to be credited for their work.

  • Rights to constituent parts: In any contract that you send out for signature, insist that the content creators confirm that they have the rights to all the underlying materials used in the production of their content, such as textures, scripts, sculpies, and other items that go into making an object. This is not something you should be willing to negotiate away. In addition, if you have suspicions that the content provider may not be acting in good faith, you can ask to see their rights contract with the creators of the textures and scripts that they use in their objects, contact information for these original content creators, or sourcing information for all items in the public domain. If the content provider is reliable and responsible, they should have no problem coming up with the required documentation since they keep everything in an organized way for their own records, in case a problem should arise. If they aren’t able to come up with this documentation in a prompt and complete manner, it can be a warning flag that the content is in violation of copyright law. Some content creators may complain that they can’t track down the original owners of the content, and that re-creating the textures or scripts from scratch would take too much work, but that they “know” it’s okay to use the content. Unfortunately, memories are fallible and you might wind up with infringing content embedded in objects throughout your corporate grid, as future employees and designers build upon these works. Even if your grid is not open to the public, and the likelihood of theft being discovered is low, it would be highly embarrassing — and expensive — if a future visitor to your grid discovers infringing content embedded through your builds.

    Sample text:
    CONTENT PROVIDER affirms that the use of the CONTENT will not violate the rights of any third party. CONTENT PROVIDER shall indemnify the COMPANY, its successors, assigns and licensees, and the respective officers, directors, agents and employees, from and against any and all claims, damages, liabilities, costs and expenses — including reasonable legal fees — arising out of any claim that the CONTENT infringes the rights of any third party.

Staff oversight

Outside contractors aren’t the only ones who might be tempted to cut corners — and save time and money — by using content of uncertain legal provenance.

Make sure that your company’s internal policies require employees to respect copyrights, not only for software, images, and written work but for virtual content as well. And enforce these policies. If violations are ignored while content thieves are rewarded for saving costs, this will create a culture of content piracy in a company or school that will be hard to weed out later, and could set up your organization for legal problems down the line.

A few things to remember:

  • Open source does not equal free. Open source means that you are able to look a the source code of software. Some open source software is free. OpenSim is free to download, for example. But individual custom distributions of OpenSim — such as debugged and stabilized versions, or versions modified to work with corporate back-end systems — can cost money. The Diva Distro is free. But IBM’s Lotus Sametime 3D version of OpenSim costs $50,000.
  • Free does not equal open source. Free means you don’t have to pay any money — not that you can open something up and look inside. For example, Microsoft distributes free trial versions of software with Windows. That doesn’t mean you can hack into that software and see how it works. Similarly, an item from a freebie store may allow you to modify the item, or it may restrict modification rights. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you can hack it and modify it.
  • If you are technically capable of doing something, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to do it. Yes, you can give yourself administrator rights and strip protections from items. But that doesn’t mean you have the right to do it. Similarly, if you buy content from a provider with a restricted grid license, the permission setting on an item may allow you to take it off-grid — there is currently no way to flag items as only for a single grid. If the copyright agreement is grid-specific, the agreement wins out. In another example, if you have a region on an OpenSim, you are technically able to save a copy of the entire region and distribute it to anyone else, but you don’t have the legal right to do this unless you have the distribution rights for all the objects in that region.
  • If the technology is more restrictive than the copyright agreement, you can change the technology — but only on your own grid. For example, if your employees create content on your grid under “work for hire” laws, your company owns all the rights to these objects, but the “creator” settings will show the names of the individual employees. You have the right, under copyright law, to go into the asset database for your grid and change these creator names to the company name, or perform any other modifications on these objects that the company requires. However, if these objects reside on a third party grid, such as Second Life, then the agreements you have with these grid owners may supersede your copyright agreements with the content creators. Some grids may allow you to reassign ownership rights on objects, if you have the copyright agreements in place, but that would require individual negotiations with the grid management.
  • Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s free. This should go without saying, But sometimes people forget, and think that they can copy content to use, say, in a presentation or an internal document. There are limits to fair use. Just because you can copy-and-paste a graphic or text from the Web, doesn’t mean you have the right to use it to create a virtual object on your grid. Check to see what licenses are being offered, if any. Fortunately, the Internet is full of places to get royalty-free or low-cost images and other content to use in your builds, if price is a factor.

Finally, a disclaimer: the above information is for general information only, and is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice.

Maria Korolov