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Second Life Sex Toys Spat Spurs Real-Life Lawsuit

Second Life Sex Toys Spat Spurs Real-Life Lawsuit

Six vendors operating in the online virtual world Second Life have filed a real-life lawsuit against users they claim stole their intellectual property. The suit dealing with acts in Second Life is the first of its kind. "Punching through the veil of the computer to go after avatars is the brave new world of cyberlaw," said technology attorney Raymond Van Dyke.

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
10/29/07 2:54 PM PT

Second Life may be a virtual world, but six entrepreneurs operating there have filed a real-life lawsuit against Second Life users who allegedly copied their products.

The suit was filed last week in Brooklyn federal court against New York resident Thomas Simon, who reportedly goes by the name "Rase Kenzo" in Second Life, as well as 10 other as-yet-unnamed defendants.

The plaintiffs in the case are Eros, an adult products business run by Kevin Alderman, who is known as "Stroker Serpentine" on the site; Second Life clothes designer Shannon Grei, known as "Munchflower Zaius," and her business Nomine; and fellow entrepreneurs Linda Baca, Teasa Copprue, Kasi Lewis and Michael Hester, proprietors of Second Life businesses RH Designs, Le Cadre, Pixel Dolls and DE Designs.

Alderman's company makes a variety of furniture and toy items that include computer code to facilitate sex between avatars. "A multitude of products" were copied, Alderman says, including his best-selling SexGen bed.

Also included were virtual clothes, boots and other items by the six plaintiff vendors, representing attorney Francis X.Taney Jr. told LinuxInsider.

Eros, which operates Strokerz Toyz in Second Life, already has a suit underway in Florida Middle District Court against Robert Leatherwood and 10 additional unnamed defendants, also for intellectual property infringement on Second Life.

Second Life creator Linden Lab declined to comment on the case since it is not directly involved.

Rudimentary Exploit

Second Life is a virtual, online world with its own economy. Millions of registered users create their own "avatars" and lead virtual lives on the site, including buying and selling products. Second Life also has its own currency, known as Linden dollars, that can be exchanged for real U.S. currency.

Simon "cherry-picked the most profitable and successful designers on Second Life and used a rudimentary exploit" during peak load times to copy the products in question, Alderman told LinuxInsider.

"Most of us are aware of the exploit," he added. "It's not something you can fix, but we would like to see better features and tools on Second Life to help us identify" cases of infringement, he said. "As we've proven with our case, we're willing to put forth the effort to incriminate these people -- we need at least to have substantial features to help us identify them."

Thieves Among Us

Simon was relatively easy to identify because he was "sloppy," Alderman said, and conducted business overtly in public. "But when someone's transferring objects from account to account without a storefront, it's virtually undetectable."

In a world as large as Second Life has become, crime is to be expected, technology attorney Raymond Van Dyke told LinuxInsider.

"Second Life is a true alternate universe to millions; is it at all surprising that amidst the monsters there may be some thieves?" Van Dyke said. "[Author] William Gibson's surreality is becoming our reality, as people in their avatars commit crimes, including intellectual property theft."

Explicit Rights

Part of the premise of Second Life is that content creators get rights to their creations, added Sean Kane, an attorney with Drakeford & Kane, so the plaintiffs' claim may be a legitimate one.

"Regardless of whether Second Life is a game or not, there is arguably a copyright infringement suit here," Kane told LinuxInsider. "Second Life specifically allows creators to have copyright interests in what they've created."

One open question, however, is whether the case will qualify to be heard in a federal court, Kane noted. Copyright is a federal question, but to be heard in a federal court, the plaintiffs must have registered their intellectual property with the U.S. copyright office, he explained.

The plaintiffs in this case may have done that, but if they haven't, it could be an issue that means the case has to be moved to a state court, he said.

Legitimate Claim

The heart of the claim, however, would remain unchanged.

"It's a legitimate claim," Kane said. "The fact remains that in these games with provisions for monetization, such as Second Life, developer have rights in their creations." It would be a different situation in a game like World of Warcraft, for example, because there creators don't own rights in what they create, he added.

In this case, however, the rights are real, and real-world punishments could be a consequence of infringement.

Real-World Consequences

"People seem to think that if something is on a computer, it's not really real, and there aren't real rights to worry about," Kane explained. "It's the same thing with peer-to-peer downloads. But there could be real penalties, both criminally and civilly, for engaging in an activity that infringes on someone's rights."

Indeed, the fact that companies like IBM, Cisco and Dell are "pouring millions of dollars of capital into Second Life is proof that it is a platform, not a game," Alderman added. "The people want to call it a game are the ones who think that justifies their pursuit of finding crack codes and hacks and other ways to manipulate the platform to fatten their wallets."

Copyright and trademark laws need to be resolved on Second Life, Van Dyke concluded: "Punching through the veil of the computer to go after avatars is the brave new world of cyberlaw."


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