Thursday, July 26, 2007

Some IP questions on Second Life

These days I’ve been far from this blog because I’ve devoted most of my time to finding a new house, moving and writing some papers about Second Life. While I still quite not understand why some people would spend a lot of time and money in the “in-world”, unless you are using it to carry out a business or some sort of research, I assume that it is because I still have not managed the basics of it. Until now I simple don’t understand when the guides, books and inhabitants of Second Life say that there you can be “whoever and whatever you want to be” because I am who I want to be and I really enjoy doing what I do…but again, it should be me who doesn’t get it. However, virtual realities in general and Second Life in particular raise a very wide array of legal questions, many of which people thought they would never be answered because they wouldn’t make it to court. Well, some of them will be answered (they are been answered) because they are in court.
There are some issues regarding trademark infringement within the realm of the in-world, but regarding intellectual property rights over what is created inside Second Life, many, if not most, people are happy by knowing that

“Linden Lab's Terms of Service agreement recognizes Residents' right to retain full intellectual property protection for the digital content they create in Second Life, including avatar characters, clothing, scripts, textures, objects and designs. This right is enforceable and applicable both in-world and offline, both for non-profit and commercial ventures. You create it, you own it – and it's yours to do with as you please”
without paying attention to the fact that “to do with as you please” contradicts section 3.2 of the Terms of Service where you grant a license to the owner of the platform to do many things with your creation and also contradicts section 3.3 that reads “Linden Lab retains ownership of the account and related data”, which means your creation. The validity of those terms will depend of different jurisdictions’ treatment of standard clauses, but a judge in Pennsylvania, in the very recent case Bragg v Linden Research, understood that, at least one part of the terms of service was not enforceable.
Other very important issue regarding IP rights is whether the rights created virtually within Second Life can be protected in the real world in a real court, and in case of finding infringement who would be liable, the infringing avatar? We may soon know the answer because a dispute about copying a sex-toy created within Second Life made all the way to a real court where a real company, Eros, is suing an avatar, Volkov Catteneo, in Eros LLC vs. John Doe a/k/a Volkov Catteneo at the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida.
I am writing few papers (yes, all at the same time) about some of the issues, but a whole book can be written about them, with the problem that it would be a book of questions with few answers, and I just wonder whether all those companies, governments and organizations that are getting space in Second Life have the answers or they like playing roulette?

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