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SECOND THOUGHTS on Limited Editions in SL
by ArtWorld Market
Managing Editor

March 11, 2007

A lot of discussion and some changes in procedure have occurred in the sale of SL Limited Edition artworks since my January 1 editorial. You can read the feedback that we posted, and this led to a discussion at a meeting of the Art Gallery Owners Group. After more thought, I've come to the conclusion that there is no point to having a limited edition in Second Life. Limited editions developed in terrestrial life because plates deteriorated, finances are an issue, and artists can only devote a certain amount of time to a project before moving on to something new.  

But in the virtual world, replication of digital artworks, particularly the single-prim with a pasted on image, is effortless.  Once created, the artist can leave it and it will reproduce itself at the click of a buyer.  To inflate the market price of a work through artificial scarcity seems to me a pointless and anti-aesthetic act. That doesn't mean that the price of a work has to be so low it's not worth the artist's time to make it. To the contrary, artists should charge appropriate prices, whatever that means--and I'd like to hear from you about that.

There are artworks that can't be replicated, such as site-specific sculpture that is assembled in place and has meaning that is situation specific, or is assembled from unlinked prims that preclude an intact move or copy. 

Then there is the question of whether to make the work copy, no transfer, or transfer, no copy. Some artists feel that scripted works need to be copy, no transfer, so the buyer can make backup copies, to prevent loss of the work in the event of a sim crash. That eliminates the market of many collectors who one day intend to transfer their collection through gift or sale. They don't see how they can do that.  If the work can be assigned to a group, the owner should be able transfer it to the group, and then transfer the group ownership.  I will be trying this out and will report back to you.  If that works, it will solve this problem for many creators of scripted works.

And yes, the picture of me at the top of this column is an actual in-world self-portrait, as was the one on the January 1 editorial. Gender and race are flexible in Second Life!

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CAVEAT EMPTOR in the Limited Edition Art Market
by ArtWorld Market
Managing Editor

January 1, 2007

Be careful if you are paying a premium price for SL artworks marked "Limited Edition." They may not really be limited. How can you tell? Looking at a few galleries this morning in 3000 AD I saw works in a gallery with "limited edition (6 of 6)" in the description field. You might think that if you bought it you would be getting the last copy of an edition that then would be sold out. I bought one, and then another. I now own two copies number 6 of 6 of the same work, and whoever else bought from that artist has more copies numbered 6 of 6. The works were set to vend copies, not sell the originals. Several or many copies numbered 6 of 6 could be circulating.

Across the street I saw works marked "Limited Edition" in the Description field and set to sell the original. But there was no indication of how many are in the edition, or which copy number this particular one is--is it one of 10,000 copies? Is it limited to how many people will buy it? That phrase by itself has no meaning.

The problem is not limited to 3000 AD--It's everywhere in Second Life. For the most part it is not malicious, but comes from artists who simply have never done this before and don't know the proper procedures.

There are criminal statutes protecting consumers from art fraud, and the limitation of editions is strictly controlled in many jurisdictions. In some countries transactions in online games have been ruled to be within the jurisdiction of the court system.

In Second Life it is easy to replicate copies. If buyers (dealers, collectors, art investors, end users) are to believe that an edition is really limited, it must meet certain criteria.

1. The total number of copies made must be stated.
2. The Copy Number of this particular copy must be stated.
3. The work must be sold as an "original" in the edit menu, not a "copy."
4. It must be sold with the next owner not being able to make a copy.
5. The next owner should be able to give/sell this copy.
6. The artist must decide whether it can be modified by the next owner.*
7. There must be a transfer of ownership record of this copy.

As of now, the only verifiable record is to put the edition size and limitation in the Name field of the object. That way both the buyer and seller have that information in the Second Life Transaction History. The Description field does not appear there.

Recently I purchased a limited edition work that was marked to sell the original and said "series of 6" after the title in the Name field, but not which copy number. It came with a certificate as an embedded notecard that identified this copy as Copy Number 1 of 6. It was a nice touch, but does not show up in the transaction history. It would be just as easy to have Copy No. 1 of 6 in the Name field.

And after all that, when you have the artwork and it's a properly numbered original, it is the integrity of the artist or producer that guarantees no more copies will be made.

* The Modify option is a tricky issue. The end user may well want to resize the object to fit their space, particularly if it's wall art. It may be harder to sell "no modify" works. But what if they stretch it out of shape and the artist doesn't approve of the change? It still has the artist's name in the Creator field. And if it has prims linked to it, such as a picture frame, or if it becomes part of a larger work, whose name appears as creator?

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©2009 Richard Minsky