Virtually Blind periodically features “Three Things” — quick lists of places, people, or issues important to virtual law. Because there are so many first-time visitors to the site this weekend (VB was linked in Regina Lynn’s “Sex Drive” column on Wired yesterday) I want to provide a quick overview of virtual law for our new readers. So though it’s a bit of a retread for regulars, here’s an update on the three top legal issues facing virtual worlds.
Trademark Issues - VB covered this extensively yesterday (summary: there’s an awful lot of trademark infringement in Second Life). The post has accumulated some exceptionally well-reasoned comments from readers who come down on both sides of the issue. Some think it’s no big deal since most of the companies in question aren’t in the virtual world yet anyway, others agree with me that we’re close to a crisis point, and one (‘Lourdes’) makes the excellent point that companies who are looking into this should find a way to work with infringers rather than immediately releasing the hounds, er, lawyers.
Copyright Issues - Close on the heels of the trademark problem in the race to see which draws a lawsuit first is widespread copyright infringement in Second Life. Everything from unauthorized copies of sexually explicit scifi novels, to unlicensed streaming music, to a simulated Wizard’s Alley lifted straight from the Harry Potter books, to hit movie downloads (see image), is available in Second Life. In terms of sheer volume, copyright infringement likely outweighs trademark, but I suspect trademark issues will attract the interest of huge companies with lots of attorneys before Hollywood and the RIAA start paying attention to virtual worlds.
Gambling – Last month, it was widely reported that the FBI visited Second Life’s “simulated casinos.” (Just what, exactly, is “simulated” about playing blackjack for a currency that can be instantly redeemed for U.S. dollars, you may ask? Well, nothing, really, according to two law professors, though that’s still the subject of some debate.) The feebies were just visiting mind you — Linden Lab went to some effort to make it clear that in spite of reports to the contrary, they knew of “no law enforcement agency that has opened an investigation.” After the visit, however, Linden Lab changed its advertising policy, prohibiting ads “that appear to relate to simulated casino activity.” It took a while for the change to have any impact (VB reported finding hundreds of ads when searching for “Casino” two weeks after the change was announced). But now, if you search for the word “Casino” in-world, you find absolutely nothing. In an unrelated story, a new game called “Kasino” appears to be taking the grid by storm.
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