If you are an SL PHOTOGRAPHER & SL PHOTO ARTIST that does sell or plans to sell your photo-art creations.... you might want to read this blog as it will surely impact you.

I wanted to bring up an issue that myself and several fellow SL Photo Artists have noticed as a growing trend that will effect many of us SL Photo Artists.  As I am a budding SL Photo Artist that has actually transitioned my SL photo art hobby into a small but hopefully growing commercial activity, this issue is already and will sure increase as a growing issue for me.

The issue is that a growing list of SL's amazing Sim Builders & Owners of some of the most beautiful and photogenic sims are actively changing their sim / Parcel covenants to ban or heavily restrict SL photography.  Some of these sims that have recently taken on this photo restriction include some of the most beautiful an most commonly photographed sims in SL.  sims that many of us love to explore, take photos of and convert to the photo art we display in groups like the Deviant Art group that I run, Flickr, and in the countless in-world galleries.

Just to provide many of you a little background knowledge on photo rights in SL, the default Linden Lab TOS permissions allows the photography of any publicly accessible parcel of Land for what ever use the photographer sees fit AS LONG AS THE SIM OWNER DOES NOT OTHERWISE RESTRICT IT - AS STATED IN THE LAND'S COVENANT. Therefore, if you go to a beautiful public accessible Sim and see a beautiful scene and take photos of it, you can do whatever you want with the photos you take - including using the photo outside of SL for personal or commercial use.  

Following is Linden Lab's official policy on Snapshots and Machimina so you can read it verbatim.  Take particular note of section #1.

LINDEN LAB Official:  Snapshot and machimina policy

Sadly for SL Photo Artists there has been a growing trend recently among SIM Builders / Owners to restrict SL photography by placing explicit restrictions in their covenant of their Land.  Each is uniquely defined.

The level of restriction varies but often the restriction is to ban the use of any photography of the sim for commercial use.  In other words, photographers are allowed to take snaps of a sim and the builds upon it but only for personal use. For a lot of SL photographers this is not much of a restriction since they NEVER had any intension to convert the photos into gorgoues Photo Art that might be possibly sold.  But for many of us Photo Artists, we have intentions to possible sell the SL Photo Art we have created.  In fact, if you have an SL photo art here in Deviant Art and you press the "SELL THIS AS A PRINT" like I do on almost all my DA art then you are in violation of the sim Owners restriction if the art used a photo that was taken while there was a covenant restriction on it.

I give one of my artworks as an example of a very popular set of simes that most of us have been to and photographed and set up for sale - my MORNING MEADOW HUNT  at the gorgeous Gulf Of Lune.  This sim as well as other sims like Misty Mountains that are from the same group ownership ( Forest of Lothlorian ) recently added restrictions on photography.  Luckily for me, I took the photos before they changed their Covenant and recorded the text of the covenant and the date when I took my photos there. Since the sim owners cannot retroactively enforce a change in photography policies, my current photos are safe and can still be used commercially. BUT sadly this group of some of SL's most beautiful sims will no longer be on my list of sims to photograph and convert to PHOTO ART - thanks to the new photo restrictions the group has added to their sims.

Now, I want to make a clear statement right now that I do not hold any anger against the SIM Builders and Owners in SL if they wish to start placing photo restrictions on their lands since I do see their 3D building, texturing, and design/assembly as being a true work of art.  It is fully in their rights as allowed by LL TOS to specifically restrict photography however they wish.  In fact, I am a builder of scultpy landscaping terrains & water and many of my customers are some of these amazing sim builders that we all love to photo.  

Also, some of these sim owners are good friends of mine.  In fact, several months ago I approached one of my friends that has one of SL's most beautiful sims to inform him that even though I did not require asking permission to use my photos of his sim, did he have any issues. He was very surprised and not aware that by default LL's TOS policy allowed my rights to photo his sim and use it the way I want.  He allowed me and then changed his sim's photo restriction covenant.  This is the gorgeous "Looking Glass" sim.  Although I have been given permission to photo there for potential commercial use, I know of other photo artists that have already stated they would not spend time doing photo art at Looking Glass or other restricted sims and instead direct their efforts elsewhere in SL.  This is not a surprising response.

I want to also point out that for some of these sim builder / owners, the restriction is not absolute.  A commercial photo artist could approach the sim builder / owner and ask formal permission and clearance to take photography for commercial use.  Unfortunately, many of the sim owner's covenant details do not make this clear and as such many of my fellow photo artists will simply not bother with the hassle of locating the actual owner and going through all the formalities of getting formal written permission to get approval.  Path of least resistance, we will just take photos at sims with no restrictions.

But as an SL Photo Artist with commercial aspirations regarding what I create using SL photos, I find this growing trend to be sad and disappointing.  This growing trend will also will have a natural and growing reactionary response from SL Photo Artist community (not those that are just taking SL photos for personal use) of avoiding these restrictive sims as a source / subject for their photo art.  This in turn will mean that some of SL's most beautiful sims be avoided by some of SL's most amazing SL Photo Artists as a subject.  

Not only does this harm many of the SL SIM Builders who have intention of building a beautiful sim as a powerful marketing tool to attract traffic (often by us Photo Artists), but, it also harms Linden Lab and SL growth in general since one of SL's more powerful marketing tool to attract new residents is by non-SL residents admiring our art at sites like Flickr and Deviant Art and being intrigued enough to decide to become SL residents themselves.  And of course it hurts us SL Photo Artists that spend a lot of effort converting the raw SL photos we take in SL for the purpose of selling our art.

If you think this doesnt affect you as an SL Artist - remember that even if today you were to go to the GULF OF LUNE and take a photo of it and create a photo-art from it and then sell it inworld at your gallery in SL, you are violating the sim owner's covenent and LL TOS.  Selling inworld is a commercial activity.

Early in SL's history, LL created the amazing and popular ability for SL Residents to take photos of any public accessible sims and treat the licensing of these photos similar to a RL person going to a public place and taking photos. This action has created one of SL's busiest activities and industries.  There are literally 1000's of Art Galleries in SL.  There has countless SL residents that have risen to become popular SL Artists and even sell their amazing works in RL.  But with the growing trend of SL Sim Builders / Owners restriction photographer's rights, I fear this will be a move that will have long term negative impacts to many players involved in the issue - including the sim owners themselves.

There is no Right or Wrong on this issue and I see both sides, but I am personally sad to see this growing trend.

What are your thoughts?

Toysoldier Thor

So LL Residents and anyone else who would seem to care about the health of SecondLife's economy which also directly relates to the health and viability of Linden Lab as a company, here is my take on the latest Linden Lab Q2-2011 Economic Summary.

The reason I am posting my comments on this LL Economic report is not as much the dissappointing results reported, but moreso to expose both the fact that many of the reporting charts are trivial & missing some critical data elements and that the creative license that the LL author used to sugar coat the bad news or squeeze the most excitement out of the little good news was to the level of embarrassing.

Before I begin, here is the link to the Official LL Q2-11 Economic Summary , by clicking on it you will get a new window of the LL page.  Keep this window up as you read this blog so you can use it as a reference.  I will talk through the report's sections from top to bottom.  So let me go through a few of the latest Q2-11 charts and report summaries.

In the report's introduction, the stats in this section is used as an anchor highlight statistic to tell us that this something for all of us to get excited about.  And when you look at the chart without taking a critical look at what is being present, you would be inclined to agree with LL that this is a good sign.

But for any  LL / SL resident with any experience about the virtual world, you would quickly see that this stat by itself has little value to provide any true picture of what to get excited about.  This chart shows total completed daily registrations.  What LL is not reporting in this highly summarized chart are two critical breakdowns of this number which would escalate this chart from trivial to a very telling and valuable bit of information.

There should be two charts created in this section:

  1. A 3 element chart showing TOTAL & its NEW CUSTOMER vs ALT account creation ratio.  Without this breakdown, we all do not know if most of the new and growing completed registrations are just more ALTs for existing customers.  ALTs are not strong GROWTH accounts and does far less to generate new infusion of cash vs a NET NEW RL User would.
  2. The TOTAL & its PREMIUM vs FREE ACCOUNT accounts being registered.

So to Rodvik, if you want to provide a more clear view of SL's economic health, have your team enhance this section.  Until then, the LL Author of this report should not brag too much this section being a HIGHLIGHT growth indicator - its incomplete trivia.

So this is a section where the stat is valid (in fact I am happy that they are reporting an industry standard benchmark) but the LL Report Author took creative license on interpreting the results to make a bad picture look good.  

Notice how this Q's results are explained as being 2.8% better than last quarter.  

First of all, comparing this stat to last Q is not that important as what most analysts would be looking at is how this Q compares to the longer term history.  Since LL reports current Q to the past 5 Q's, I am looking at the bigger picture.  Yes its good news that SL saw a growth in unique logins, but its still in a recovery mode from a presented peak in Q1-2010 and still about 2.5% below this peak.

Second, as you read this report, notice how the Author decides when the current Q is compared to the previous Q vs comparing this Q to the longer term history of last year.  Let me help you out - when its bad news the Author compares to last Q only, but, when its good news the Author compares against the more important longer term history.  

This is the embarrassing part of the report.  Does the Author not think we are smart enough to look at the charts and see bad new for ourselves?  It just make the Author look like a Propaganda Flinger.

So this section shows the most clear factor of BAD NEWS for SL and yet the Author spins the results with a very brief "its not that bad now lets quickly move on" summary interpretation of the results.

This is one result that I am sure everyone noticed and what keep Rodvik awake at night as a CEO.  Why?  Well for many reasons:

  1. It shows that User Hours continues to slide this Q and has been throughout the past 6 reported Qs.  The trend is that total time spent in SL is constantly declining.  No signal that the trend is breaking or turning around - even with Rodvik at the helm.  
  2. Its down 11% from its peak in Q1-2010 which means that since Jan 2010, users are now spending 13 million hours less time in SL than now!  Even compared to last Q, SL has lost ~ 1 million hours of user activity.
  3. This stat also sheds clear light on the truth behind the first stat of completed daily registrations.  If daily registrations have significantly increased but user hours has declined, it tells me that most of the new registrations are ALTS since a single human SL User is often logged in with only one of his/her ALTs (the time logged in is shared among the ALTs he/she controls).
  4. This is also a potentially disturbing indication that maybe a lot of SL User Accounts are being abandoned since users have walked away from the game.  What chart I would love to see reported is a chart showing total registered accounts and what percent of the accounts have Last Logged In within the Last month, Quarter, Year.  This would clearly show the rate of account abandonment and turnover.

For all you SL Analysts / Observers, watch this number over the following Qs.  Rodvik needs to turn this one around and so far that is not happening.  Lower online activity directly relates to lower economic activities - including for the Merchant community trying to sell products.

I will honestly admit that I am still not sure what this stat is all about.  But I did decipher that the lower the number - the worse the situation.  As was pointed out above, take note - BAD NEW = Compare to last quarter only and quickly move the reader onto the next stat.

This reported stat is one LL could have pretty much saved virtual space on the report by not reporting to the community.  Since LL completely controls and manipulates the $L/US$ exchange value by the amount of its own selective participation in the Lindex, they can hold the Exchange rate at pretty much what ever value they want.  so unless the SL economy completely collapses, LL will always be able to make this value look steady and healthy.

What you will notice in this section is how the Author saw an opportunity to brag about how the results are better than LL's longer term history, especially for a stat that LL can fully manipulate.  The Propaganda Flinger in action.

move on to the next stat.....

This stat looks like exciting and positive but to me I do not see how the $L cash reserves held by customers is any indicator of strength or weakness.  Until it is understood why Customers are holding more Lindens vs cashing it out, the stat is just an interesting stat.  It could just as easily indicate that the economy is staling out as LL Customers are holding onto vs spending their L$.  For example, if someone buys from my store, that indicates economic activity but since I cash out my profits every week, you should see a drop in overall reserves.

Also, the Author reported that they have been changing the factors that goes into this report.  So, you dont even know if the increase or decrease is an apples-to-apples comparison.

Two things about this stat.

First, as per normal in this report, the Author sees an opportunity to compare this Q to a longer term history of Q2-2010 because it makes SL look more healthy.  

Second, this report is also missing a major breakdown of activity which would be a lot more telling and more valuable a figure.  LL should break this report into TOTAL VOLUME  and also the TOTAL LINDEN PURCHASES FROM US$ vs LINDEN CREDITS TO US$ (i.e. inflow vs outflow of Lindens to US$).

So this stat is one that again looks exciting but without a larger picture, this could actually be bad news.  It looks awesome that LL can show how Merchandise sales volumes on the Marketplace has increased by as much as 38% from last year  (PS - this fact is getting old but notice how the Author brags about the long term amazing growth).

But now as a Merchant who makes about 70% of my sales in the SLM marketplace and 30% from inworld sales, this stat does not and cannot show if the increase in merchandise sales volume is at the cost of lost inworld sales.  This is what so many Merchants have talked about for a long time.  Has SLM created a market environment that is forcing / encouraging SL Customers / Shoppers to leave the inworld community to shop on the web? If they do, what is the impact of inworld sales of merchandise - how big has the inworld drop in sales been?  And if shoppers are discouraged from exploring and browsing the inworld to shop - how many impromptu sales are being missed?  

Its already known that a lot of Merchants have been reducing the number of inworld store, and reducing the size of their stores (i.e. smaller parcels, abandoning shopping/mall sims, moving to renting at a mall, malls shutting down).  So LL might be excited that SLM sales have rocketed - but they do not show the full economic impact of how much LL has lost in reduced Tier revenue and reduced inworld sales.

This is not a stat for LL to brag about unless they show how it plays with the bigger picture.  All indications from all the Merchant discussion boards are that LL is gutting inworld Merchant activity and moving it to SLM.

Last stat provided in the report.  Well its like all the other stats that are bad news.  And, as I just explained in the last section, this stat shows evidence how LL could be forcing a reduction in inworld activity because of policies and activities like strongly promoting SLM and the encouraging SL Residents to spend more time on places like Facebook instead of promoting inworld activities.

So, as you can see, the LL Q2-2011 report is not great news at all.  It shows that even with Rodvik at the helm the SL Titanic has still not shown signs of turning away from the Iceberg ahead.  And it also shows that the LL Staff feel its better to try to sugar coat the clearly bad news than to just be objective and call a spade a spade.

So, what are all your thought on the Q2-2011 Economy Report as well as my analysis of the report.  throw your comments in here!  As this analysis blog post is posted during the annual RL SLCC ... someone there ask Rodvik these questions.

Toysoldier Thor