Linden Lab Reforms Intellectual Property Protection Standards

Dmca As the heat from Eros LLC's lawsuit against Linden Lab ratchets up, the Lindens may be laying the groundwork for a possible negotiated settlement by giving Eros one of its main asks.

Will Linden Lab's tougher stand on intellectual property protections and speedier IP infringement reporting solve its legal woes?

Pixels and Policy takes a look at what recent announcements by Linden Lab mean for the future of content creation in Second Life, and why residents will learn to live with slightly restricted creation regulations.

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As Virtual Worlds Grow in Commerical Importance, Do They Need a Police Force?

 Virtual worlds are changing how we do business, but they're not without pitfalls. As one Chinese government official found out, doing business in virtual worlds still involves a fair amount of risk.

The official is urging other law enforcement agencies to take virtual world offenses seriously. But why?

Pixels and Policy takes a look at why one of the world's most virtually-involved nations is awash in virtual criminal activity, and why police officers are struggling to adapt old law to virtual situations.

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Linden Lab Heads to Court as Copyright Case Heats Up

Justice_av 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.

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Virtual Worlds Prove Fertile Ground for Cybercriminals

CybercrimeAfter looking at the necessity of proper policing in virtual worlds yesterday, let's take a look at just how prevalent cybercrime really is.

As the Hindu Business Line reports, cybercrime –
both small-scale phishing and large-scale acts like cyberterrorism and mass
account information theft – is on the rise.

Continue reading Virtual Worlds Prove Fertile Ground for Cybercriminals

Virtual World Lawsuits Get Their Day in Court

20071209-court Stroker Serpentine's copyright infringement case against Linden Lab may be the most high-profile virtual worlds lawsuit to date, but Eros LLC isn't the only group feeling especially litigious lately.

The New Scientist just published a thought-provoking article on what it means to see the virtual world in real-life courtrooms. This raises an interesting question: Does bringing the entirety of U.S. law into the virtual world dampen the fantasy experience?

Pixels and Policy did some research on whether your party's Healer might need malpractice insurance.

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Second Life Designers Sue Linden Lab Over Digital Fashion Counterfeiting

You may recall we reported yesterday that popular browser world Evony is suing long-time blogger and gaming industry veteran Bruce Everiss over what Evony claims are fraudulent statements concerning alleged links to Chinese companies.

Now veteran Second Life journalist Hamlet Au reports that Linden Lab is the target of litigation as some of Second Life's most prominent virtual designers join forces in a class action lawsuit against Philip Rosedale's virtual world.

From the article:

Munchflower Zaius and Stroker Serpentine filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Linden Lab, for allegedly allowing and enabling content theft of their material by other Residents.

Linden Lab, unlike games like World of Warcraft, provides the user with rights to all content they create in the virtual world. This makes the situation hairy. If copying a music track from a CD and selling the bits and bytes constitutes copyright infringement under current case law – and it does – it seems plain that bits and bytes representing a digital coat are subject to the same protection.

Hamlet asks a question that I feel is the real consideration in this case: will a decision in favor of the plaintiffs promote or limit content creation? Au has a point that lawsuits hurt small businesses. Just ask Edwin Howard Armstrong, the RCA employee who in the 1930s improved on AM Radio by producing FM frequency. RCA litigated him into submission and, unable to compete, blocked superior FM technology for years.

Virtual worlds will impact the legal world in a profound and negative way if Second Life is forced to limit its liability by extending greater protections over virtual products. Small content producers will simply not have the ability to compete with a company that, as Au notes, sold over $1 million last year.

The Alphaville Herald has a great report on the newly-launched case complete with a link to the class-action lawsuit. What's telling is that both plaintiffs acknowledge they don't seek monetary damages from the lawsuit. Their goal is more restrictive regulations on who can create what, and ultimately tighter control over the virtual market for those already in a commanding position.

A telling line from the lawsuit:

Linden Lab directly and secondarily infringes the trademark of Plaintiff Eros by using Eros’s mark to sell infringing virtual goods within Second Life and by providing the tools to other infringing Second Life users.

This is chilling not because it holds Second Life accountable for the independent actions of its users, but because it argues that providing content creation tools in the first place constitutes enabling intellectual property theft. No doubt it would be effective from a business standpoint to sharply limit content creation now that the plaintiff companies have strong market positions.

The virtual economic boom in Second Life is a product of free creation and healthy competition. Restricting competition and encouraging the concentration of products in a few large fashion houses has more in common with the real world that Second Life's libertarian principles sought to upend. Not only does this lawsuit open up small creators to punishment for innovation, it stymies their incentive to create at all.

Breaking: Evony Sues Blogger Bruce Everiss for Defamation

We just received a shocking message from a friend at Evony, formerly Civony, the online browser world apparently plagued by player criticism and now a major lawsuit. Evony has launched legal proceedings against veteran blogger Bruce Everiss of Bruce on Games after what they claim were failed attempts to get Everiss to remove his criticisms of the game.

From Evony's pending press release:

The developer for the popular online video game Evony has filed suit against blogger Bruce Everiss for posting defamatory and false statements online about the company and the game. The lawsuit follows multiple rebuffed attempts to reconcile the matter out of court.

Evony’s Australia based legal counsel has proceeded on multiple fronts internationally against the libelous assaults that Bruce Everiss has leveled against Evony, LLC (http://www.evony.net), its game “Evony: Age I”, and its corporate leadership on his weblog and in publications worldwide in recent weeks.

Everiss caught the ire of Evony's higher-ups after several allegations against the game, the most striking of which accuses Evony of violating the U.S. law against internet gambling. Everiss claims that, since "Evony Cents" can be purchased with U.S. Dollars and then used on an "Amulet Wheel" to gain items, this constitutes a violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

Among other claims made by Everiss against Evony: That its graphics, previous name (Civony), and game title font were blatant copies of Sid Meier's Civilization series. Evony also challenges Everiss's claim that it is a Chinese-based company by stating that it is registered as a United States corporation.

This accusation lacks substance, as much as it may appear sensible on the surface. The items won on Evony's "Amulet Wheel" are non-transferrable to other characters, meaning the items themselves have no cash value. This parallels the rise of Z Dollars designed to circumvent Second Life's much more realistic gambling capabilities.

Nevertheless, this is a bold move by Evony, and Everiss shows no signs of backing down. The press release is featured on his blog, and Everiss has struck a defiant tone in days past as the lawsuit became more and more of a certainty. 

More on this story as it develops.

“Youniverse World” Dogged by Content Ownership Problems

Chalk this one up as a new virtual world that gives me the heeby-jeebies. Youniverse World is the newest virtual world to hit the market in beta, and boy, does it raise questions. The fact that it's based in Europe and hawked by an internet army of Eastern Europeans with "trust me" schticks only makes it more disconcerting.

The concept is simple: Youniverse World expands on the successes of Second Life as a commercial world by developing an entire virtual community geared towards providing real world goods and services through an entirely virtual interface. Need a pair of Nikes? Go to Bob's Virtual Nike Store and see if you can catch a deal.

It's a virtual world with entrepreneurs – both small and large – as a primary target. I'll break it down:

Once you're signed up for Youniverse World, which is being billed as a persistent virtual world interpretation of places like MySpace and Facebook, you can become a "tutor." This is basically the same as a Referral I.D., and new users can enter your name in upon joining to be pulled into your community. There is a benefit to this: Youniverse World offers to kick 10% of everything your referrals spend in-world back to you.

According to a poorly-scripted Powerpoint presentation, membership in YW allows for virtual travel worldwide, digital conferencing via avatars, opportunities for "new profit streams" and "multi-level marketing," and a "3D social business network." This is sounding less like Facebook and more like LinkedIn:  the Game.

As mentioned, the game is based in the United Kingdom, with all currency using the Euro. Viral marketing has been taken over by a handful of forum-spamming power-users from Latvia and Russia. If you find a "tutor," their profile is likely going to be cyrillic.

And don't be expecting Second Life's society of ownership. Per the Terms of Use:

4.1 – Member acknowledges that all intellectual
property rights comprised in the Products and Services (including
without limitation, any patent, registered design, copyright, design
right, trade mark, business name, application to register any of the
aforementioned rights…) (“Intellectual
Property Rights”) are…the
property of YOUNIVERSE WORLD

Now, according to a later portion of the Terms of Use, the user can buy and resell items for his or her own profit, so long as they understand that Youniverse World has ultimate ownership over all items. This is especially worrisome given the fact that users are buying and selling real-world, tangible items in an internet storefront.

Will commercial culture blossom in Youniverse World when the potential exists for game developers to close down the virtual representation of a brick-and-mortar shop? Would the shop owner have a legal claim for damage to reputation if Youniverse World mistakenly bans them?

Without addressing these problems, it's going to be an awfully small Youniverse.