Monthly Archives: June 2007

Virtual versions of real buildings: Permission needed?

This is interesting:

LONDON (AP) – The Church of England accused Sony Corp. (SNE) on Saturday of using an English cathedral as the backdrop to a violent computer game and said it should be withdrawn from shop shelves.

The church said Sony did not ask for permission to use Manchester cathedral and demanded an apology.

The popular new PlayStation 3 game, “Resistance: Fall of Man,” shows a virtual shootout between rival gunmen with hundreds of people killed inside the cathedral. Church officials described Sony’s alleged use of the building as “sick” and sacrilegious.

This raises some interesting intellectual property issues. We certainly asked for (and got) permission to use the architectural plans for House of Sweden to build Second House of Sweden. We also got permission to build IKEA and TMF furniture, and we got permission to show the documents in Raoul Wallenberg’s office, the photos taken for the Sweden in 60 Images exhibit and the paintings from Nationalmuseum. In some cases, with the permission came help that made the job a lot easier, and opportunities for both sides to publicize the collaboration. But at the foundation, did we need to ask for this permission?

I tink the answer is “It depends”: If text or imagery is copyrighted, then it is clear that permission is needed. But does that requirement extend to buildings? None of the big players in real-world virtualization stakes — Google and Microsoft, notably — are asking for permission to recreate buildings from the real world in their virtual globes. Some of those buildings are already highly detailed, and will certainly become even more life-like. Crucially, both Google and Microsoft make money from their virtual globes and the buildings on them — just like Sony with the buildings in the virtual worlds of its first-person shooters.

When it comes to furniture, I think the issue is less clear. Would it be okay for Sony’s game to feature IKEA bookcases in the cathedral, especially if they are used in the game as objects to hide behind in a firefight? My hunch is yes — if you wanted to make a movie with IKEA furniture in it, all you’d have to do is buy it. You don’t first need permission to show it, no matter how much blood and gore gets spilled.

As for the Church of England’s cathedral and Sony, I think Sony is in the clear. If it is okay to virtualize signature buildings without the permission of the owners or designers, then it has to be okay in all cases — and not depend on whether you approve of the use to which the building is put.

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Showing off Second House of Sweden

OK, a bit late, but here are some screenshots from Second House of Sweden, as promised.

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One really cool feature is the Geoglobe, a virtual inverted globe onto which we’ve pinpointed the locations of every real-life Swedish Embassy, with direct links to each embassy’s web site. Here is a YouTube demo featuring Belmeloro DiPrima, my avatar:

Launched. What now?

In the interests of radical transparency… :-) :

I’m going to be on “vacation” June 4-22 — in fact the first week will involve working with International Polar Year at the International Society for Digital Earth annual conference in San Francisco. I will however be reachable via stefan.geens@gmail.com, which I check often. Karl Peterson will be taking over responsibility for Second House of Sweden in the meantime: karl.peterson@si.se.

I realize that that this is in fact a crucial moment in the launch of a sim and its long-term success — it is important that the initial momentum generated by the media attention be sustained through regular events on the sim. Exhibitions impress, but people do not tend to come back to them again and again. The Swedish Institute, in the end, is really a immersive platform for social events that involve Swedish themes, aimed above all at an international audience.

We’ve worked hard on getting the sim ready on time, but the one thing we have not had the time to focus on much is what kind of regular social interactions we can engineer. Regular office hours is a must, and in addition to the 5 hours per day that we can manage in-house, we are going to hire and train friends of Second House of Sweden to help out. But that’s an essential, default service.

In the next few weeks, the easiest thing for us to do will be to have film showings using the live streaming web account that we have with Qbrick, so that we can make the viewing experience social, with discussions about it afterwards.

I think the most obvious thing to do would be to invite the Open Society Archives in Budapest and the Jewish Museum in Stockholm to present the Wallenberg documentary that we have the rights to show. OSA is obviously already in Second Life, and the Jewish Museum could definitely be helped by us as they are nearby in Stockholm. This kind of event could generate some interesting commentary, as it is transcends technology — it is not about technology at all, and the technology is meant to become transparent here — so there is none of that self-referentiality that tends to characterize such in-world gatherings. This is how Second Life should/will be used in the future: for the enhanced social interactivity that it allows, completely oblivious to physical distances.

I hope that in the coming week we will also be able to announce a series of film showings of Swedish short films, and even long films. Here at the Swedish Institute we have the in-house contact network to set something like that up — and many young directors would love to get the exposure.

What we will need help with, however, is getting the word out. Alerting Swedes in Second Life is very easy: Both Second Sweden’s Johan Howard and Tina (Petgirl) Bergman have a very effective mailing list and/or blog. The group “Second House of Sweden” also reaches a good audience, but what we’re still lacking is a good contact network among Second Life blogs, where new event information gets mentioned. Does anyone have suggestions on who is best to contact with this kind of information? I think we should perhaps hire a SL media consultant for specifically this task, as it would take us a while to build up this knowledge, time which we don’t really have.

In addition, there has been one report of an avatar wearing a Nazi uniform showing up in Wallenberg’s office and behaving obnoxiously. The way you dress is very much a speech issue, and Nazi uniforms in this context are a form of hate speech. Such behaviour is very much like leaving a comment containing hate speech on a blog or article online — it should be taken down/banned as soon as it is noticed. Second Life poses an interesting twist on this: If there is a Nazi in Wallenberg’s office and there is nobody there to notice, does the Nazi really exist?:-) One thing is for sure: He does exist if somebody else is there to see him, and for such cases there should be a reporting mechanism which everybody else can use to alert us to such abuse.

I’ve created an gmail address for such alerts, soshos(&)gmail.com, which then forwards to all those who have the ability to ban people on the sim. Hopefully, at least one person will be online when the email gets sent, can log on, and then take action. We’d then also have to make signs letting people know they can help. Several Swedes — including Natalie Moody, Tina (Petgirl) Bergman and others from the Swedish Resource Center — have expressed a wish to help out with this; a kind of Swedish Community Watch. Giving everyone the gmail address should be the easiest way to do this, I think. We can set up rules that send sms messages and such. I do want to stress, however, that this is also very much a learning experience for us; there isn’t much prior experience out there on how to handle hate speech in virtual worlds.

On the opening day we also had some Danes protesting “the intrusion of reality into Second Life”. They stood outside the embassy with a big banner; a lively debate ensued among all present. This kind of protest is entirely welcome at Second House of Sweden, and not just because it gives us a chance to show that we believe in a broad freedom of speech in Sweden:-)