Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Virtual lawsuits

Internet news websites have been commenting on a copyright infringement case involving sex toys in Second Life. With spectacular titles like "Sex Toy IP Scandal Rocks Second Life", one would imagine thousands of depressed avatars shocked by the news of a lawsuit involving sex toys. The lawsuit involves something called the "Eros SexGen Platinum Base Unit", a sex toy that only works in Second Life (at this point my imagination decides to take a coffee break). Kevin Alderman, inventor and CEO of the company "making" such devices, has filed a copyright infringement suit in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, against a virtual persona called "Volkov Catteneo", who is apparently selling similar devices.

I will resist the temptation to hypothesise about the type of people who: a) would invent sex toys for exclusive use in a virtual world; b) sell them; c) buy them; d) care enough about the fate of their sex toy to sue someone else for alleged infringement of said device.

Despite the mirth-inducing elements of the suit (and let's face it, this story has "comedy value" written all over it), there could be some interesting legal elements to this. Firstly, there is the copyright claim itself, as I do not envy the judge who will have to decide on the originality of virtual sex devices; perhaps there are not many ways in which one can invent a pixelated toy, I guess that it would depend on the function (there goes my imagination again!) Secondly, what are the implications of suing an avatar? I'm aware that the avatar is just a way to represent a person who will be identified at a later date, but I still find it interesting that the Second Life nickname is the one present on the legal documents.

Alt Text has some great commentary about potential future lawsuits. My favourite is:

"Douglas Anders of Bellefontaine, Ohio, files suit against Thanatog, a warlock from Goldshire, Elwynn Forest, Azeroth, Bloodhoof Server. The suit alleges that "the defendant did knowingly and willfully, without lawful authority, aggro about 30 goblins in the Deadmines, preventing plaintiff from finishing the instance and retrieving the Cape of the Brotherhood, causing mental anguish and loss of wages..."
Given some recent developments, that is not so far-fetched after all...

Update: Ray Corrigan pointed out that I had a Freudian slip, calling it "Second Lice"... nice catch, I think that I may keep calling it that :)


E-legal Lawyer said...

I find it very difficult to imagine the legal procedural elements would be allowed by the judge. I would imagine, that without either a natural person or business name, as a named party, personal juristiction is going to be a very sticky point. Moreover, I would suggest that the elements of a copyright may be very difficult to make in this matter, where the tangible medium may be hard to define.

Andres Guadamuz said...

Hi, very good points!

While I'm unfamiliar with American civil procedure, I believe that it is possible to allow a transitory "John Doe" filing while the actual subject is identified. However, is an avatar an equivalent?

You also make an interesting point about the copyright aspects, but I think that is less problematic, as we are increasingly dealing with in-game works. I'm pretty sure that the intangible element is not a problem in UK copyright law.

Anonymous said...

I like play online game, I also buy FFXI Gil and FFXI Gil, the FFXI gold is very cheap, and use the Final Fantasy XI gold can buy many things, I like cheap Final Fantasy XI Gold, thanks, it is very good.

I like play online game, I also buy flyff penya and flyff penya, the flyff money is very cheap, and use the flyff gold can buy many things, I like cheap penya, thanks, it is very good.