Learning to love DRM

$10LIt occurs to me that Linden Labs have done two very interesting and perhaps world-changing things with the SL infrastructure:

Making micropayments work: at the current exchange rates, one Linden Dollar is a bit less than 0.4 US cents (that’s four tenths of a cent, four one-thousandths of a dollar). And people are doing transactions of one or a small number of Lindens all the time, 24/7/52, for a huge variety of goods an’ services, and those Lindens are easily convertible into Real World currency. They’ve been able to do this, and succeed where for instance poor Bitpass failed, because they own the infrastructure on which it happens, and they control the systems that keep track of who has now many Lindens. Which limits the range of things that you can buy directly with Lindens, of course, but still within the (large) field where they work, this is micropayments in the yummiest sense. When I buy (or sell) a T-shirt for $10L, I’m spending all of US$0.04, and yet the amortized overhead of the system that I’m using to do it is so small that a non-zero amount of that actually gets to the creator of the shirt.

Bringing DRM to the people: Until SL, DRM, Digital Rights Management, was this annoying thing that kept certain CDs from playing in certain players, or kept you from playing a European DVD in an American player, or installed Sony Trojan Horses in your computer, or outlawed the general purpose computer, or allowed media companies to extract money from consumers by clinging to an outdated business model that should have withered away. Or it was something that you’d never heard of at all.

Now, though, DRM is what makes it possible for me to make a bit of tip-money by selling my “Light Sweet Crude” T-shirts in a little kiosk in an SL mall somewhere (if I wanted to), for other people to make lunch money by selling virtual paintings that they made by uploading nice images they found on the web and sticking them onto SL prims, for yet other people to make actually noticeable amounts of money by selling hair, or skins, or clothes, or lovely and amazing devices, or gorgeous original photography, or NPIRL artworks, in all of those thousands of stores lovely and ugly that pepper the landscape of SL.

So in addition to Sony, and to those RL artists and performers who got good enough contracts that they actually made some money from sales, there are now some hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, of people who make digital content, and who (thanks to the aforementioned micropayments) make some amount of money selling it. And who, typically, would not want every person who buys one to be able to make unlimited copies of it to give away, or sell to their friends, or drop onto SL from airplanes. And who, therefore, are (whether they know the term or not) are now fans of DRM, and to some extent invested in questions like how DRM gets enforced when residents start to be able to move off of the Second Life Grid to other grids, perhaps carrying objects with them (as is the subject of today’s Zero Linden office hours).

Pretty odd!

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