Legal Recourse?

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There has been a great deal of talk about the rights to intellectual property in SL over the years, as well as the question of where, if at all, does any sort of law come into play in SL. It seems that at least to a certain degree, we have an answer.

This is not a terribly complete or ironclad answer, no judge actually ruled and what few reports you will find about it mainly mock the entire concept…however, that a suit of infringement on virtual creations could be viewed as serious enough to be settled out of court is a sign that the law may be catching up with the metaverse.


Of course the part that amuses me most is that the defendant seems like the griefer posterchild. Nineteen years old, reached at his grandmother’s, was just selling a few fake Sexgen beds for some extra cash don’t have a cow and SL is so last year anyway. He seems clueless and sulky at the same time..sadly typical. Can lawsuits against non-thieving griefers be far behind? Do you agree with me that this is a watershed, or with young Master Leatherwood that the whole thing is “ridiculous”?

The following has been reposted from the AP.

Lawsuit Over Online Sex Toys Settled

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A dispute over sales of virtual sex toys has resulted in a real-life slap on the wrist for a Texas teenager.

Eros LLC, a Tampa Bay-area company that creates virtual sex scripts in the online world “Second Life,” sued Robert Leatherwood, 19, last year claiming he copied, displayed or distributed Eros products without permission.

Eros creations allow “Second Life” users to equip their online personas, or avatars, with realistic genitalia and engage the avatars in various sexual actions.

A federal judge accepted a settlement in the case last week that doesn’t involve money or an admission of wrongdoing from Leatherwood.

Reached at his grandmother’s home in North Richland Hills, Texas, he acknowledged he sold Eros products but said the whole case had been overblown.

“I did it in private,” he said. “I wasn’t out to do a huge market thing. I was doing it for a little bit of money.”

He said he stopped selling Eros products online a year ago and rarely uses “Second Life” anymore. He called the case “ridiculous.”

Francis Taney, a Pennsylvania attorney representing Eros, said owner Kevin Alderman, of Lutz, Fla., is “moving on.”

Taney said the case is one of two real-world legal fights he’s launched on Eros’ behalf involving activity inside “Second Life.” While settlements don’t create legal precedents, Taney said the case does seem to transfer some real-world principles to the online universe.

“This is a technology that has to be dealt with by lawyers, by business people, by regular citizens,” Taney said. “I think it fits quite nicely into existing concepts.”

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2 Comments

  1. Well, anyone following the train wreck this week has learned my opinion on the whole matter–as in-depth as I ever get on such things, I’ve gotten…but I tend towards agreeing: it’s not the conclusive setting of precedent I would have wanted, but on the other hand, this case and the Kenzo case have proved conclusively that virtual property *can* be protected, and that (at least *some*) judges will take such cases seriously.

    Will it matter in the long run? Maybe yes, maybe no, but at least it’s a start.

    The problem as I see it is essentially two-fold: first, that sense of net ‘entitlement’ (“it’s on the net, thus it’s free for use”); second, is the sense that it’s not “stealing” (for predominantly the same reason). And few of us are free of this–even me, I should tar with this brush. Though I’ve never *sold* anything that I’ve copied, I *have* made copies of items I’ve seen.

    Now, that *I* choose to do it with textures *I* find and upload on my own; using just in-world (or out-of-world) photographs; and creating with prims *I* create–makes it no less something I’ve specifically *copied*. That I do it to learn from, in order to be a better builder, I don’t necessarily think justifies it, though it may explain it.

    And I *have* gone forward, then, and sold items that I create with skills gained; but at that point, it’s my ideas I’m relying on, and I rise or fall on my own merit as a creator of content.

    Not everyone on the net has even *my* sense of ethics, though, and most of the more egregious violators of intellectual copyright sheerly *do not care*. Which is what it’s going to come down to, in the end–the difference between people who want to create original works, rather than copies of whatever everyone else does; and the people who see it as an easy way to make a few bucks, because ‘what does it matter anyway, it’s only a game’. Or ‘just the net’. Or ‘just a few [insert lifted item here]’.

    There’s our problem, on or off the net–how to make people who don’t care, care. I still have no answer for that one…

  2. this doesn’t really have to be so difficult. It’s just like that game called “real life”

    just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. In real life you can walk into someone’s house and steal their stuff without a lot of effort. About the same effort as it takes to steal virtual stuff, if you think about it.

    confusing the issue about copying and copyright isn’t really the issue here – the issue is “respect other people’s property and belongings”

    If you want to have your own property respected, you respect that of others, simple as that. It’s about a lack of respect for other people, bottom line. This kid has no respect for other people, its painfully obvious. He probably would steal in real life as well… likely the threat of being caught and having to go to jail or court was the only thing stopping him. So in SL … one can get the mistaken idea that you can just do anything, no consequences. And so we see exactly what people do when they have believe themselves untouchable.

    What this case proves is that no, you’re not anonymous and untouchable in Second Life – actions can have consequences. And if you break the law, accept the fact that you might suffer those consequences. Because your real identity isn’t very hard to find out through a court case. Linden Lab will turn over login records under a subpoena – from there ISPs can be subpoenaed for exact account information. Unless you’re sequestered in some rogue state – its likely you can and will be found out.

    as far as copyright is concerned – lots of myths there. Copying a design is poor taste maybe (sometimes not – there are only so many ways to make some things, just how it is) but that is not violation of copyright. Violation of copyright in this instance – is when you actually take someone else’s work, prim by prim, texture by texture, script by script, and turn around and resell their creation as your own. That is theft, no two ways around it.

    Copying an idea is not at all the same thing – ideas are not protected by copyright – only the tangible work is.


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