On Tuesday, David Kariuki’s article about a freebie store that distributed content that was “found and collected” on other grids — without any checks that the content was legal — drew some comments from people who defended the practice.
Let’s put aside the main issue, that infringing content opens the grid up to take-down requests that could shut it down and drives away legitimate creators and merchants.
Some of the excuses offered in the comments were just nuts.
1. But officer, it was just sitting there.
If you drive down the street, and you see some nice lawn furniture sitting in someone’s front yard, and it’s not tied down, and nobody is looking, would you just stop and grab it?
No. It’s not yours.
However, there are still folks out there who will walk around the place and if they see something that’s marked full perms, they’ll grab a copy. Seriously, stop doing that.
Even if the content is legal — which you have no way of knowing — and even if the creator deliberately put it out there for other people to take and enjoy — again, you don’t know that — it doesn’t mean that they want to see the content end up in a freebie shop promoting some random grid.
If you are distributing the content in a shop, that’s not personal use anymore. You’re now a distributor.
2. But everyone else is doing it.
First, no, they’re not. Maybe a couple of people are doing it, and you don’t know that for sure — they might have permission to distribute that content.
Second, this is a really childish excuse. The old “but everyone else is doing it” didn’t work when you were a kid, and it doesn’t work now.
3. I’m not the one who originally ripped the content, so it’s okay.
No, it’s not okay. Distributing stolen content is not legal. If you operate a shop where you distribute infringing content, you are liable.
If you resell stolen goods you’re a fence, and can go to prison. The fact that you’re not the original thief doesn’t get you off the hook.
4. But I’m not charging for it!
That doesn’t make it any better.
5. But I didn’t know it was stolen! Maybe it’s not. How do you know?
It’s your job to know. If you are distributing content, you have an obligation to source it appropriately.
Think about it this way. If you were running a real world store, and someone came to you offering ridiculously low-priced brand name products with no explanation of where they came from, you better ask for receipts. Otherwise, you’ve got “arrested for distribution of stolen property” in your future.
If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. And your customers are relying on you to ensure that the products you offer are legal and properly sourced.
6. Well, the creators infringed when they made the stuff, so it’s okay to rip them off.
There’s so many things wrong with this excuse it’s hard to know where to start.
First, yes, creators do need to check the provenance and license terms of the components they use in building their products.
If they’re making commercial products, for example, and the components are distributed for non-commercial use only, then they need to contact the original sources of those components and get permission, or buy additional licenses from them.
If you are concerned that a creator whose work you’re distributed skipped some steps there, you need to check with the creator and ask for the documentation. Yes, the main liability will be with the creators, but if you are aware that there is a problem, and you distribute the content anyway, you will share some of that legal liability. Plus, of course, the bad PR will fall on you.
Think of all the clothing brands that use third-party suppliers that violate child labor laws. Yes, it’s the suppliers breaking the law, not Kathy Lee Gifford personally, but she’s the one who bore the brunt of the bad press. And if those brands were knowingly distributing stolen content, it wouldn’t just be bad press that they’d face, either.
The fact that someone in your supply chain may be doing something wrong is a reason to be more careful around them, not less.
However, on the other hand, I can see how ripping off someone who is themselves a crook might protect you a little bit.
They’re less likely to go to the cops to complain about you. If you’re going to break the law anyway, if your victims are non-violent criminals then you’re better off than if you targeted law-abiding citizens — or folks who settle disputes by fitting you for concrete shoes.
So there’s a grain of logic there. Evil logic, but logic, sure.
7. The content was originally free, so I have the right to give it away, too.
No, you don’t.
You do not have the right to distribute someone else’s content, even if it’s free content, without their express permission.
Take news sites. Those stories are free for everyone to read. That doesn’t mean that you can just come and take them and post them on your own site without payment or permission.
Now I’m not talking about personal use here. Of course you can print out an article or email it to a friend. But if you set up a competing site using that content, you’re in violation of copyright law.
If another grid is offering legitimate free content in their freebie stores, they’ve paid for that content, or created that content themselves, so that they could use the content to promote their grid. They will not want you to come and take it and use it to promote your own, competing grid.
8. Maybe the creator won’t notice.
Sure, the original creator may have better things to do than chase down infringing freebie stores. You might never get caught.
That doesn’t make what you do legal, and it doesn’t make it right.
And the more you do it — and the more you advertise it — the higher the odds that it will catch up to you.
9. The stuff is overpriced, anyway. It deserves to be ripped off.
Really? This is virtual content. None of it is overpriced.
And if you still think it costs too much — don’t buy it. It’s not like you’re stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving children.
10. Why are you picking on me and not the other guy? You’re biased!
We’re picking on you because you sent us a press release bragging about how you’ve collected content around OpenSim and are now giving it away for free.
If you’re going to be a successful criminal, you’ve got to learn to stop bragging about your crimes.
Bottom line: If you set up a shop, make sure that everything you’re offering in it is legally licensed. If you’re not sure about something, take it down.