Second Life third-party viewer policies get an update but still fail to do the job

Last week, the promised update of Linden Lab'sThird-Party Viewer (TPV) policies crept out onto the Second Life Web-site with little fanfare. After the fuss caused by the tangle of legal incompatibilities, muddled terminology and ambiguous phrasing in the first version, the Lab said it would go back and address the problems, and get the policy document fixed.

So, you'd think they'd have gotten it right this time around, right? We certainly did. We were wrong.

A spokesperson for the Lab told us last time that, "I know that the member of the legal team who owns the policy doc is still working over the final version. Linden Lab has approached outside legal experts with your feedback, and one of these experts is a lawyer who specializes in open source license compliance issues. Based on these experts' feedback and further internal review, our legal department will incorporate any required changes."

Apparently that was an overoptimistic view.

First up, let us say that the new version is actually a major improvement over the first go-around. That said, it still falls short of actually passing a simple, reasonable reading. Some believe that this edition of the TPV policy (much like the previous version) cannot be complied with without violating the licenses under which viewer source-code is distributed and developed.

If you want to communicate "Don't pee in the pool" you shouldn't tell people "Keep off the grass." While we have a general sort of idea as to what the Lab wants to accomplish with the policy, it never actually comes out and actually says that stuff, clearly, unambiguously and in a way that can be complied with.

Perhaps the two biggest (but far from the only) problems with the document as it stands are obscurity and contagious liability.

Firstly, the TPV policy is a connection policy and applies primarily to software that is being used by users to connect to the Second Life grid. It's users who do that connecting, however, and few – if any – would actually be aware that policies exist, since none of this is a part of the Second Life terms of service. Nevertheless, they're required to comply with a document that they have little way of knowing even exists, and are never asked if they agree to; they're simply assumed to be in agreement.

Based on the actions of those users, developers of software that uses the same protocol (whether it is intended for use on the Second Life grid or not) become liable through the actions of third parties, and are required to accept personal liability for modifications, defects, faults or misuse in violation of the source-license, including those of Linden Lab, who specifically disclaim liability.

At a stroke, Linden Lab makes third-party developers potentially liable for first-party bugs, while at the same time requiring TPV developers to replicate any defects Linden Lab may have in its own protocol implementation.

It's probably quite unintentional, but – if so – the magnitude of the error is really quite breathtaking. Remember, this is the second go around after consultation with "outside legal experts." We're frankly at a loss to explain how it could have wound up such a mess on the second go-around.

We contacted Linden Lab, but Lab spokespersons were unavailable for comment by the publication deadline.

UPDATE: Linden Lab has let us know that it plans no further updates to the TPV policy agreement.

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