When Second Life's makers, Linden Lab, made the decision to allow users to retain all intellectual property rights for virtual items that they created, it was always likely that the virtual world would someday be dragged into court. And that's exactly what's set to happen.
As Reuters reports:
Second Life entrepreneur Kevin Alderman filed a copyright infringement lawsuit on Tuesday against Second Life resident Volkov Catteneo, and Alderman’s lawyer said he plans to subpoena Linden Lab to force it to disclose Catteneo’s real-world identity.
Catteneo's operator is accused of selling copies of a virtual sex bed, without the permission of the copyright holder, Alderman. However, the first thing Alderman's legal team have to achieve is persuading the court to force Linden Lab and PayPal to hand over records revealing the real-life identity of avatar, Catteneo.
Some other interesting tidbits from the Reuters article.
- It's not clear how Catteneo replicated the virtual object in question (if indeed he did), as the item was set to 'no copy', an in-world option that is supposed to technically prohibit coping. Could this be evidence of a new Second Life exploit?
- When the abuse was reported to Linden Lab, citing a DMCA violation, the company was reluctant to get involved. Instead, Alderman was told to file an in-world abuse report, suggesting that Linden wanted to avoid being dragged into legal proceedings.
- Alderman is the same Second Life entrepreneur who earlier this year sold the virtual replica of Amsterdam for $50,000.
Will this create a precedent for how IP issues are dealt with in virtual worlds such as Second Life? Unlike other potential issues related to emerging virtual worlds, such a defamation or harassment/abuse, I'm not sure IP rights are any more complicated compared to other areas of online life. Creative works are protected, in the digital domain or otherwise, whether they are deemed 'virtual' or not.
The real interest here, therefore, is not IP, but data protection. In terms of the rights of the individual to keep separate their virtual and real life identities.
Catteneo, who declined to provide his real name, said he doesn’t fear the subpoena. "I'm not some kind of noob," Catteneo said. "My name isn’t on [Linden Lab’s] file. I don’t even have a permanent address [in real life] either."