Is OpenSim full of content thieves?

OpenSim is full of normal people.

Most of them will no more steal content than any other Internet or Second Life user. Okay, that’s not exactly heartening to hear!

But overall, OpenSim isn’t necessarily any more dangerous than anyplace else.

Does OpenSim technology allow content theft?

Yes, grid owners and region owners can grant themselves administrator privileges and change the ownership settings on the items on their land. They can also go into their asset databases and edit object properties, such as permissions or creator names.

But some hosting companies, including ReactionGrid, specifically restrict the use of admin privileges for this reason.

There are legitimate users for admin privileges, however. For example, if a company is building a behind-the-firewall installation with its employees, the company owns the rights to their creations — even after those employees change jobs, leave the company, or are otherwise unavailable. As a result, grid managers need to be able to access the company’s virtual assets regardless of the individual who created them. Eventually, we will probably see in-world reassignment of creator status, and possibly the ability to set the creator status to a corporate name.

The ability to edit entries in a database, however, is limited to the technically skilled part of the population. A year ago, that would have meant anyone running an OpenSim grid. Today, however, the number of hosting providers has exploded, as has the number of easy OpenSim installations, like the Diva Distro and the OSGrid Region Launcher, which require little technical skill on the part of users.

Finally, if someone has technical skills and is out to steal content, sitting around on a region like a spider waiting for someone to come by and drop an interesting item and pouncing on it is a slow, hit-or-miss kind of thing. Content thieves go to where the content is — on the most populated, content-rich worlds like Second Life — and use hackers’ tools to steal the content. Then those looking to make money off it sell it where the customers are — again, on the most populated grids, such as Second Life.

OpenSim is open source software. Does that mean that people using it don’t believe in paying for things?

In fact, many OpenSim users are corporations and educational institutions that are very careful about copyright issues and are willing to pay a significant premium for content in return for being able to get a site-wide license or full rights, and a guarantee that they won’t be facing a copyright infringement lawsuit down the line.

Meanwhile, the entire Internet runs on open source software. This Website, for example, is hosted on a server that runs the open source Apache server software, running on the open source Linux operating system. In fact, more than 75 percent of all Websites currently  run on open source software. Open source software is used in many other applications, as well. Even banks and brokerage firms run open source software.

Corporations happily use open source technology, not just to save money — though this is often a factor — but also for the bigger control it offers. Open source software can be opened up and modified to meet specific needs, whereas users of proprietary software have to wait for the software vendor to make the changes they want.

Many corporate and education users, for example, prefer OpenSim because it offers the ability to integrate with back-end employee and student directories and enterprise resource planning systems — even enterprise telephone networks. OpenSim also allows for easy backups and region archives.

For grid operators, OpenSim offers a way for them to offer land at a substantially lower cost than with other platforms. That means that the grids can be completely self-funded, and exist without large sums of investment capital. It also offers grid operators the ability to offer a wide range of self-service tools to their customers, such as the ability to save regions to their hard drives or upload new regions from their archives (say, to use a math classroom in the morning, and a history build for afternoon classes). Other tools that are possible include the ability to rotate regions or rearrange regions on a map, to save or upload just a part of a region, to duplicate a region, or to share an entire region with other people or institutions.

There are some people who use OpenSim who believe very strongly that all content should be free, and some of them can be quite vocal. These people can be found elsewhere as well, however, and in probably the same proportion.