Recording video in SL – copyright issues

As I mentioned in part 1 of the recording video blog posts, I have only recently started recording in Second Life. It had never crossed my mind that I might need to worry about copyright when making recording in SL. I had simply not thought this might be something to have to consider. I was made aware of this when I came across a video tutorial about copyright by David Miller, who had left a comment on my part 1 recording post.

The question of permissions cropped up again after my kitchen fire simulation demo lesson when a TLVW participant asked the following question:

“When you plan a lesson in a site other than your own, do you have to ask the owner for permission? What is the best policy in this case?”

Marian Heddesheimer, who is experienced in making machinima in SL, gave the following advice:

“The permission questions is a good one. I made machinima in Second Life ( and I had the same problem.

For legal reasons, you usually have to ask creators of buildings, clothing or attachments if you may use it in the movie. I think for school it’s not as important as for the movie (since you don’t publish it worldwide). I personally would just ask the owner of the place. In most cases they will be delighted if you like their place for a class.

I would also check if a place will be used by other people on a regular schedule. For example, most SL schools are open for everybody to use their sandboxes and classrooms, as long as your class don’t clash with one of their scheduled classes.

From my experience, most of the owners of SL places like people to come and use it, because they will benefit from the traffic (it will increase their search rank in the SL search). And technically, you cannot break anything in SL accidentally and sandboxes have auto-return so that you won’t harm anybody if you forget to pick up some of your prims after class.”

Now, this answered some questions but also raised more for me. So, I asked Marian:

“I am a photographer in my first profession and I know a bit about copyright issues but was surprised to find that I would have to ask creators in SL when making recordings. I mean, in some cases, I would do it. If an object, house or island played a major role in my recording, I would certainly ask for permission. But the house may be full with objects (e.g. furniture, deco) from all kinds of creators. Would I have to go and ask all of them for permission? In RL, you wouldn’t need to, would you?”

Marian’s very informative reply:

“Yes Nergitz, that’s right. You won’t ask in real live if you have a desk, a chair or a suit in your picture or movie. But it’s different if you see the label “Armani” on the suit or if there is a bottle “Pepsi” somewhere in the picture. You definitely would better get permission to use these brands if you want to publish photos or videos showing these brands.

In SL, you usually don’t ask for every desk or chair, as long as it is nothing special. But if you do a scene in a fancy castle for example, and the creator of this castle will recognize it in your photo/video, they may be able to sue you because you used their creation to create a work on your own and you publish it. It’s even worse if there is a brand name on the object. For example if you buy Nike shoes in world, you cannot be sure the creator has Nike’s permission to sell their brand in SL. So if they will see your photo or video, they will first come after you because you used their brand in a photo/video without written permission.

For me as a director and producer, this was the hardest part in machinima to get all these permissions, because I needed to get them in writing. Technically, I should have sent out papers to sign, but I just used notecards and kept the returning notecards so that I had a proof that I’ve got permission. After the first movie, we decided to use only material that we created ourselves because it’s sometimes too difficult to contact the creators.

This usually is not so important if your photos/videos will be viewed in a small community like in your classroom. But if your video becomes famous on youTube for example, you can face the risk of a very expensive lawsuit if you overlook something.

In my movie “the future is hear” you see some Pepsi-Machines in the background that I have blurred out. The producer who took the job in the first place wanted to get permission from Pepsi (she claimed that she know some people there, but in the end we found out that these people did not exist), so after we could not get the written permission, I decided to remove all brand names form the movie. I think it took me one or two full days to accomplish that for the already finished cut 🙁

For school projects, it might be less difficult, because some countries have the concept of “fair use” which protects educators from being sued. In Germany we don’t have this, so we have to be extra careful :)”

This makes perfect sense and is not that different from RL then.
I can imagine how much work it must have been to find and get permissions from all the creators (or blur the brand names).

I’m not intending to make machinima myself (although there is such a project at the school I occasionally teach) but I have started making tutorials. So i’ll keep these things in mind.

Another related issue is asking for permission when recording students, trainees or anybody else who happens to be around when recording, like I did in the first recording here . Again, this is similar to real life and permission has to be asked before recording and especially before publishing them. I also try to remember to hide avatar names that normally show above each of them but it is still often possible to recognize who they are and it is safer to ask for permission.

This is what Graham Stanley has to say about recording students and getting their permission:

“When we filmed (and recorded) students during the AVALON Business English course, we asked for permission to do so and received it verbally. But we also asked all the students involved to sign permission forms too just in case. Even though the machinima is only intended for use with teachers in the Teacher Training course, it’s only ‘fair’ that you do what you can to get permission from those people involved”

3 thoughts on “Recording video in SL – copyright issues

  1. Nergiz, I have been acutely aware of copyright issues since my days as the Director of the Multimedia Language Centre at Thames Valley University in the early the 1990s. This was shortly after the 1988 copyright act came into force in the UK and I could see myself ending up in jail if I did not obey the law. As Director of the Multimedia Language Centre I would have had to carry the can if any of my staff had committed breaches of copyright. I therefore attended a number of informative courses and seminars on copyright at that time, and I now maintain the following Web page, General Guidelines on Copyright, at the ICT4LT site:

    Second Life has thrown up a range of new copyright and ethical issues. Randall Sadler gave a very informative presentation on ethical issues at EUROCALL 2008: “Ethical standards for research in virtual worlds: a call to virtual arms”. See Session A-0049 in the 2008 programme and his PP presentation:

    Essentially, you have to be very careful about presenting data that includes references to avatars in the same way as you have to be careful about presenting data that refers to real persons – i.e. because there is a real person behind every avatar.

    Randall has continued his work on these issues. Contact him for updates.


    • Graham,

      Thanks a lot for this additional valuable information. I really need to look more into copyright issues now that I use more diverse online material then I ever did before. Thanks also for the link to Randall’s work. This is very relevant to me and will become more so in the near future.

      One additional difficulty with copyright is that it differs from country to country. Most of what I know is how it is in Germany.

  2. This is a tough issue and I find it confusing at times. There are so many assumptions we all make in relation to copyright. In the video you mentioned, there is a default Linden Lab library chair for example. This was their stance a year ago about copyright:

    If your film is for commercial gain, you need to email Linden Lab Licensing
    They need to know:
    What your film’s about?
    Do you own rights to content featured in the film?
    If not, do you have permission from the creators?
    Link to your video so we can watch it?
    Your real-life contact info?

    Defining commercial gain and fair use are somewhat subjective. You could argue that it is for a school and thus has no application for commercial gain. But edublogs is sponsored by Illuminate, a commercial product. They place monetary value on the content in these blogs and thus contribute money and /or resources based on that perceived worth.

    Indeed, one’s own blog holds value as part of your portfolio and affects your earning potential. I am seemingly petty on this but do so because many people make huge erroneous assumptions. Years ago, I had a friend that wanted me to help him create a website where he would sell silk-screened shirts he was making as well as hard to find but brand-named shirts. He wanted logos of those companies to appear on his site. He and I go way back to doing our grad work together and teaching in the same high school, He was rather indignant when I asked if he had some formal agreement with these companies. His logic was that it helped them to have their logos on his site. He did not think of it as an endorsement of his efforts and that they may now want to be associated with his designs or message.

    For you reading this, you are probably aware of this because you see this more and more in television programming. I am a self-confessed Home & Garden Television addict and find it interesting to see how Canadian programmes tend to blur out wall art and American shows are just starting to. At first I thought this rather silly. But, if one TV show does better than the other, can we clearly rule out that the choice of wall art did not affect the perception, thus popularity, thus sponsorship value of that show?

    You probably know that the song Happy Birthday is owned and can not be sung in public without paying royalties (copyright tentatively expires in 2030). But did you know that the Empire State Building is also its own copyright? Photographs of it can not be used in text books unless it is licensed.

    Back to Second Life . . . as you may know, at the height of my Second Life usage, I had 19 sims. And I have had an estate for over two years now. But this is my last month.

    A small factor in this decision goes back to being solicited to author a college textbook on how I use Second Life for eLearning. Being conscious of copyright, I poised the question to Linden Lab on proper attribution. I was solicited at a conference I spoke at in San Jose that coincided with a scheduled meeting with Linden Lab business developers the next week. I asked them and they directed me to contact the licensing department. It took four months to get an answer!

    The final answer was that, even though I “owned” my sims and everything being filmed was made by me, I would still need to send them my images and context. I planned on about 100 screen shots that I would create as print ready art (300 dpi). If you have ever created screen shots for publication, you know how much work the are. With call outs and highlights on many of them, it would likely average 30 minutes per image. Plus they wanted to see it’s textual context! They would basically have the entire unpublished book and that did not sit well with me or the publisher.

    Four months for that answer? In a casual comment on an OpenSim developers blog I asked the same question. Within a few hours he had fully answered me. Anything I create in OpenSim would be my copyright and I could use the viewer as a Creative Content licensed application which meant no problem.

    While the Second Life estate is changing hands, I am still passionate (well once again passionate, I had stopped developing and lecturing for 8 months) and now have 16 sims in Reaction Grid, an OpenSim hosting company. I am building all my own props from chairs and desks to trees and buildings. But you don’t have to be as pedantic as I am. A simple click of any object in Second Life will reveal it’s creator.

    I have a simple video tutorial on that here: and I prefer to err on the side of inclusion (plus it’s just nice to acknowledge that you like someone’s efforts enough to include their product in your material).