The Second Life Herald has been doing some great work analyzing the legal arguments of Linden Lab and Eros LLC ahead of the confidential discovery portion of Stroker Serpentine's intellectual property suit against the livid Lindens.
Linden Lab recently hit back at Serpentine's case in a strongly-worded filing that claimed the Lindens in no way infringed on Serpentine's intellectual property rights, and that the Lab isn't responsible for individual instances of design copying.
How strong is Linden Lab's case, and what could this suit mean for the future of content creation in the virtual world? Pixels and Policy investigates.
The Plaintiff: Stroker Serpentine and Eros LLC
The heart of Stroker's legal argument is deceptively simple: Linden Lab provides ownership to content created by individuals. It also provides the tools for others to copy the protected creations of a company like Eros LLC.
By knowingly allowing others to infringe on the copyrights of Eros LLC, Linden Lab is breaking its own regulations and allowing intellectual property theft that results in Serpentine losing measurable revenue. This is how Eros LLC comes to the conclusion that Second Life – not the individuals directly responsible for the intellectual property theft – bears the burden of making good with creators.
The specific thorn in Stroker's side is CopyBot, a device that allows users to circumvent protections against direct copying of other users' items. Mass copying of Stroker's sex toys – upon which he's built a multi-million dollar empire – effectively killed his potential to make money.
Stroker holds that, since Linden Lab allowed the creation of such a device, the Lindens are the at-fault party.
The Defendant: Linden Research
For its part, Linden Research came out of the gate categorically denying any fault for the prevalence of copyright infringement in Second Life.
The official statement by Linden Research both acknowledges that CopyBot was created using Linden Lab's creation tools and defends the content creation system by noting that CopyBot was explicitly in violation of the Second Life Terms of Service.
The Lindens also argue that, since Eros LLC provided their product designs to secondary parties for production, they've effectively lost the standing to press a trademark infringement suit.
This is an interesting application of existing trademark law to virtual products, and if successful could be a major shift in how virtual trademarks are viewed. Though it seems like a weak legal limb – Second Life both allows ownership of content but only at the top-level? – the full argument has yet to be heard.
Changing the Legal View of Virtual Worlds
This is by far the largest case related to virtual worlds to actually see a day in court. As the discovery process moves forward, both Stroker Serpentine and Linden Lab have the capacity to shape future precedent on online copyright and trademark issues.
Serpentine's case asks for stronger protection on content and a sharply restricted level of customization in user-created content, resulting in a stronger copyright for producers. On the other side, Linden Lab's argument could make for more liberated content creation while restricting commercial viability due to the ease of reproduction.
At issue are two competing views of how the Metaverse's content creation systems should function. Are they first and foremost a means to produce saleable product, as Serpentine argues, or are they simply a means to self-expression and creativity, as Linden Lab argues?
Though both agree that created items can be sold, the disagreement comes on the level of protection a creator's item should enjoy.
Finding that balance could shape how future worlds go about building content creation systems. The fear of future litigation could stifle creation, but unbridled freedom to create direct copies of quality content might drive away designers hoping to make a living creating engaging content.
What are your thoughts?