I saw my product given away in a freebie store on an OpenSim grid. What do I do?

First, double-check that it is in fact your product, not a good imitation. As everywhere in business, successful product lines immediately breed cheap knock-offs. Unless the imitation uses your brand or includes copyrighted text or artwork, it’s legal.

Second, if it is in fact your product, talk to the store owner. They are probably not aware that the product is stolen and will immediately take it down. There are hackers out there who think they are doing the world a service by stealing copyrighted content, stripping it of protections, and then distributing it to innocent people. A store owner will not knowingly do this since it exposes them to legal liability.

Offer the store owner a legal version of the product as well, or a lower-priced out-of-season product, or a promotional freebie that they can distribute that advertises your store. Feel free to use their guilt to promote your own work — they should have taken a closer look at the provenance of their products.  You should also get the name of the person who distributed the content. They may also be an innocent victim, thinking that they were passing along content that was freely donated to the community. There might even be several people in the chain that leads back to the original infringer and you might not be able to follow it all the way back.

If the store owner turns out to be the one who hacked your content, then your gloves should come off. Immediately notify the grid operators of the infringement, and offer documentation that the content was originally yours, and that the store owner knew of the infringement and continued to distribute the content. It helps here if the infringing content bears your logo, a copyright notice inside a notecard file or script, or other identifying information.

Finally, ask the grid owners to remove all copies of infringing content from the asset database. If they’re nice, they might allow you to send notes to everyone who had your products in their inventory inviting them to buy legitimate copies, or offering them free promotional versions of a similar product.

If the grid managers admit that the content was stolen but refuse to do anything about it, there are other options. The first step is to publicize the incident. When faced with public pressure, most copyright violators will quickly back down. If they refuse, the public attention will help you find other content producers who were victims of theft. By joining forces, you can send a stronger notice to the grid’s hosting company or Internet Service Provider — or hire a lawyer and pursue legal action.

You can also notify the other grids that link to the infringing grid that they should consider taking down their hypergates, notify the hypergate operators to take the infringing grid off the list, and notify the main hypergrid directories. You can email us, at editor@hypergridbusiness.com. The first complaint might not do the trick, but if enough people complain about illegal content, then the pirate grid may find itself isolated from the rest of the community. The downside of this tactic is that the Streisand Effect might kick in, making the pirate grid even more popular than before.

If you are not the content owner, and see content that you think is infringing, notify the original creator. The content creator may have donated out-of-date products to the community, or may be allowing the distribution of freebie objects as a way to market their own business and brand identity. Finally, the infringing content may turn out to be a legal imitation rather than an illegal copy — the same way that supermarkets can sell generic soda that tastes identical to the brand-name stuff (really, who can tell the difference?) at a significantly lower price.