Second Life Lawsuit Over Copied Goods Settled

from the just-like-that dept

Just after we discussed yet another bad situation involving bringing real world laws into virtual worlds involving World of Warcraft, it looks like there's an update on another such case we discussed last year. In this case, it was a dispute between two members of Second Life, one of whom had "copied" items made by another and started selling them. This seemed perfectly ridiculous, since being a virtual world where there is no scarcity, nothing was being stolen. Indeed, it looks like the participants in the lawsuit more or less came to the same conclusion. They've "settled" the case, but by settling, it sounds like they really meant giving up the case. No money is exchanging hands and no one is admitting to any guilt. That sounds a lot more like they're just dropping the case.

Filed Under: copyright, lawsuits, second life, virtual worlds

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2008 @ 7:50am

    "Perfectly Ridiculous?"

    A virtual world operator is not required to create an environment governed by copyright law. They can simply declare they own everything and require users to consent to that arrangement via the EULA. Many virtual worlds do exactly that.

    Second Life, however, chose a different ruleset, under which people have IP rights in what they create. SL and its users opted into the copyright system. Call it an experiment, whatever - that's the market at work. You don't like the ruleset, you can go somewhere else. It isn't clear why that's ridiculous.

    Yes, there's no scarcity in a virtual world. But there's no inherent scarcity over copyrighted works in the real world, either. It is copyright that manufactures scarcity so creators can get paid. If one has a problem with manufactured scarcity, that concern takes issue not merely with Second Life; it takes issue with the entire concept of intellectual property rights. Frankly, that's a lot to bite off over nothing more than a virtual sex bed, but, hey, whatever floats your boat.

    The reason the parties settled is that the damages were probably less than the cost of the lawyers, not because they "came to their senses" and decided copyright was ridiculous. That doesn't mean the legal philosophy of using copyright in a virtual world is wrong. It just means that our current legal structure isn't optimized for small claims disputes. Instead, it's optimized for giant trade associations to shake down students.

    In fact, what is ridiculous is that this appears to have been a fairly straight-forward case of copyright infringement by someone who knowingly opted into the copyright ruleset and violated the rules, but because the system lacks any kind of "small-claims" structure, the plaintiff couldn't recover.

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