The title of this post means something, hopefully, to most people who’ll read this. Unfortunately, I’m continuously surprised at the number of people who really don’t seem to understand the finer points of what we call “full perm” items.
Before I go further I need to get the usual disclaimers out of the way. This is a legal issue, and I am not a lawyer, and have never played a lawyer on TV. A legal professional was not contacted to correct any dunderheaded assumptions I might have. All I can say is that I’ve been interested in copyright and intellectual property issues for many, many years, stretching back to my BBS days back in the 90’s. As a creator of items in virtual worlds, it remains of special importance that I do my best to keep abreast of that sort of thing, and I try to work within the system so that people wearing very expensive suits carrying very expensive suitcases don’t pull up in their very expensive car and come knocking on my rather inexpensive front door.
So what does Full Perm mean then?
A lot of people I run into seem to think that full perm is the same as public domain. And no… it isn’t. It really isn’t. Yes, I understand you might think that this isn’t right, or that you have rights too, and that you may have spent money on it or, well, you just want it. Still… it’s not. It might not makes sense to you. It doesn’t have to make sense, or at least proscribe to common sense. But there is a sort of logic to copyright.
You see, when someone creates something on a virtual world, they retain all copyrights over their creations. Most grids are rather enlightened about this in their terms of service. They basically say that you own what you make, as long as you grant the grid the right to store and transmit your creations to other users as a normal port of the grids operation. The key thing to remember is that the creator has not given up *any* rights over their work.
In OpenSim and Linden Lab® based grids, certain permissions are available to creators, these being the ability to copy an object, modify it, or transfer an item to another user. When all of these permissions have been granted on an object, we colloquially refer to this as “full perm”.
The problem most people have here is that “full” in this case does not mean anything goes. You’ve been granted all the permissions that the grid makes available to you. And that’s all you’ve been given. All of a creator’s other rights are still reserved unless otherwise explicitly stated. That means, for example, the right for a person’s creations to stay on one, and only one grid. You can’t assume otherwise. You can’t say, “Well, surely this person wouldn’t mind,” because most of the time you just don’t know.
Sometimes we can know. If you created the object, then you can obviously export it all over FSM‘s Creation. An object inworld might contain a notecard with a license that further defines the conditions under which you may make use of the object. But creators that do this are often an exception, rather than the rule. You can, of course, always ask the creator for permission to export their objects too. But you have to assume that the permission to do so was only granted to you. If you want to export it and give it away, you really ought to ask them to create a notecard you can include with the object.
What about the Export Permission?
The Export Permission has been an idea that’s been knocking around the OpenSim community for quite some time now. It’s been viewed as a way to allow creators to explicitly allow for their stuff to be exported from one grid to many grids. And recently, thanks to the efforts of Siana Gearz of The Singularity Viewer and Melanie Thielker of Avination, support for an export permission is finally very close to being a reality.
This is pretty awesome! So long as any object you create is set to full perm, you can also set the export permission. This alleviates a lot of the legal worries many people have had about using objects found on a grid on another grid or standalone for their own projects.
The big issue here is that you can’t export permissions. Just objects. You can’t, for example, apply copy and export permissions, but not modify or not transfer permissions, because the very act of export strips an object of all permissions. You also can’t reliably export data like the creator’s name, the date it was created, who the last owner was, etc. This places a rather significant limitation on the export permission; in order to have all your legal ducks in a row, you have to essentially be willing to mark an object as being in the public domain. You have to give up all rights you had over it, and gift it to the universe.
This is why I also say that the Export Permission is misnamed. What it really is is a Public Domain flag. Which is still a very useful thing to have available. But we still lack a solid export method that does things like tranfers permissions, metadata, or licenses. Until we do, a real method of export that preserves a creator’s copyrights is still off in the future.