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Virtually Blind periodically runs “quicklinks” — items that are not long enough for a full story, but are worth a click. Here’s the current batch.

Have to start here, since about fifty readers have emailed this to me: the Associated Press wins the cringe-inducing-virtual-law-headline-of-the-month award for “Woman Jailed after ‘Killing’ Virtual Husband” instead of the more accurate (but way less fun) “Woman Jailed after Deleting Online Friend’s MapleStory Character.”

IBM’s Steve Mortinger has written a great article entitled “An Avatar’s Bill of Rights.”  It’s less comprehensive but more specific than Raph Koster’s widely-referenced “A Declaration of the Rights of Avatars” and they sort of go hand in hand.  One of Mortinger’s Principles: “Platform providers will either: 1) enable each users’ ability to move items and avatars between virtual worlds (i.e., platform portability), especially for IP rights retained by users per the ToS; or 2) upon request offer to allow users to copy or to provide users with a copy of their avatar and created content in an industry-standard format.” Interesting stuff.

Along those lines, The Escapist recently ran an article entitled “We the Gamers” that argues, among other things, that virtual world and game developers would be better off embracing the fact that there’s value in virtual stuff instead of fighting it.  [Thanks to reader Brandon Brown for the heads-up.]

The lawyer magazine “ABA Journal” ran an article on virtual law.  The article features my book, Virtual Law, which is pretty cool (and have I mentioned that there are only 62 shopping days to Christmas?)  I’m seeing more and more coverage of virtual worlds where the author doesn’t find it necessary to kick off with a description of detachable genitals.  That’s kind of nice.

Law360 also ran an article on virtual world intellectual property issues (free trial subscription required) in which I’m quoted regarding trademark misuse.

VERN (the Virtual Economy Research Network) has its new blog up and running.  It will mix original content with reposts from other blogs, including Virtually Blind, Terra Nova, and others.

PopMatters has a good article on the future of video game litigation.  It’s one of those “I’m not a lawyer…” articles, but it’s surprisingly nuanced on the legal points, and as an added bonus, it’s very readable.

Not directly related to virtual law, but litigators will instantly see obvious justification for seeking documents from virtual world providers in all sorts of cases based on this interesting use of XBox Live logs: “Occasionally, there might be a case where somebody claims they did not commit a crime because they were playing Halo, in which case the subpoena might take the stance of, were they playing Halo at the time? It’s that type of stuff, but it’s pretty rare. [...] I can’t go into the details that we provide to satisfy the subpoenas but in general we can provide law enforcement with the information they need.”

A site called the “LawMarketing Portal” has an article called “Raising your Profile on Second Life.”  The article doesn’t break any new ground, but it is worth noting that virtual worlds are now being directly pitched to mainstream lawyers as marketing tools.

Finally, a bit off-topic, but Alltop’s virtual world news amalgamator just keeps getting better.  This is a great resource for people like me, who avoid RSS because we like to see things in their original formatting.

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As Second Life’s ‘Juris Amat,’ attorney Tamiko Franklin founded the non-profit Virtual Intellectual Property Organization, ran for and won a seat on the SL Bar Association’s 2008-2009 Executive Board, and regularly gives presentations in-world on legal issues, but at the moment, she is best known as the lawyer helping Richard Minsky navigate the nuances of trademark law as Minsky’s suit over use of his registered trademark “SLART” in Second Life works its way through the courts.

Ms. Franklin represents Minsky in the now-suspended action Linden Lab brought at the USPTO to try to cancel the registration for SLART and she also informally advises Minsky in his federal lawsuit against Linden Lab, avatar ‘Victor Vezina,’ and current and former Second Life board chairs Philip Rosedale and Mitch Kapor.

VB caught up with Ms. Franklin for an interview last week.  We talked about her ongoing projects, her involvement in Minsky’s lawsuit, and more.

Virtually Blind: Before we get to the SLART matter, would you briefly remind Virtually Blind’s readers what you’re doing with the Virtual Intellectual Property Organization?

Tamiko Franklin: VIPO is a not for profit with the purpose of providing access to information, representation, as well as advisory and legal services support relating to intellectual property registration, enforcement and dispute resolution for virtual world residents and digital entrepreneurs.

VB: Is VIPO just you, or do you have a staff now?

TF: I have one legal beagle intern and she is absolutely fabulous. Her name is Shiva Fatoorechi and she’s a law student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. VIPO is now ready to grow and evolve to include additional volunteer attorneys and law students.

VB: I understand that you, via VIPO, represent Richard Minsky in the  proceeding before the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board where Linden Lab has moved to cancel the registration of “SLART.” Is that right, and can you tell me a little bit about the relationship?

TF: That’s right. When I took Richard as a client, VIPO was only a group in the Second Life virtual world, but now it’s an incorporated entity in Massachusetts and can provide the service of handling trademark and copyright matters, including applications before the appropriate Offices, and the [Trademark Trial and Appeal Board].

VB: When did you get involved in the SLART matter?

TF: Shortly after our first interview Ben, Richard read the VB article, contacted me and asked for my assistance in trademark enforcement matters.  [Editor's note: VB interviewed Ms. Franklin about the formation of VIPO in January, 2008.]

VB: Why did you get involved?

TF: I agreed to take Richard as my client because I was impressed by what he was able to accomplish on his own and I saw that I was in a unique position to assist him. The only reason why I joined the Second Life virtual world was to provide access to intellectual property related legal assistance to residents. I welcomed the opportunity.

VB: You do not formally represent Mr. Minsky in the separate proceeding in federal court in New York where he is suing Linden Lab, an avatar known as ‘Victor Vezina,’ Philip Rosedale, and Mitch Kapor, right?

TF: I have an attorney-client relationship with Richard that was established when I began acting on his behalf regarding trademark matters in the Second Life virtual world, and a Power of Attorney that covers enforcement matters for the SLART trademark. As you know, the attorney client relationship is riddled with duties and obligations.

It is my opinion that duty included, when the time came, informing him of the importance of his trademark’s presumption of validity in related civil matters, what that meant in terms of Lindens refusal to acknowledge his federally registered trademark, and the actionable nature of that refusal, especially considering their threats to initiate the cancellation of his mark.

At that time, I informed him of the various causes of action that I believed were met by the facts of his case. He chose from that list and drafted a complaint that was amended later to include causes of action he independently researched but were ok’d by me.

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Our friends at MindBlizzard report that a Netherlands court has found criminal liability for the real-world theft of virtual goods from the hybrid free/paid MMO roleplaying game Runescape.

From the post at MindBlizzard:

[T]he court has reached a verdict and has sentenced two boys to conditional detention and civil services because of the virtual theft from the game Runescape. [T]he boys from Leeuwarden, at the time both 14 years old, forced a thirteen-year-old victim to hand over virtual goods, a mask and an amulet, and to transfer the items to their account. The thirteen year old had collected a large amount of credits with which artifacts could be purchased. The boys forced him to a house and there he was kicked and threatened with a knife, until he transferred the goods and credits.

One aspect of the case is particularly intriguing — according to MindBlizzard, “the lawyers argued during the meeting that virtual goods do not really exist, and transferring [them] does not conflict with the rules of the game, but the court thought otherwise.”  The Associated Press reports that the court confirmed this analysis in a summary of its ruling: “These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft.” That’s interesting, and for better or worse, one small step toward more widespread recognition of virtual goods as something more than just mere ones and zeros owned by the company hosting them.  The court could have ducked this aspect of the case and simply sentenced the kids for assault, but apparently the question of the nature of virtual personal property actually came up, and the court had no issue with the concept.

The original source for this is an article in Webwereld (and the translation by Google), but nobody seems to have the any documents from the court.  I’m not sure if courts in the Netherlands put documents online (probably unlikely in juvenile matters) but if anyone manages to track down anything official, send me a copy and I’ll host it here.

[Updated 10/22: A VB reader found the original court opinion and put a link to a Google translation in the comments.  Thanks!]

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Linden Lab has filed an Answer and Counterclaims (.zip, with exhibits) responding to SLART trademark-registrant Richard Minsky’s Complaint.

For the full background of this case, see VB’s ongoing coverage of the SLART trademark lawsuit.  In brief, Minsky is suing Linden Lab, Second Life user ‘Victor Vezina,’ and past and present Chairmen of Linden Lab’s Board of Directors Mitch Kapor and Philip Rosedale over use of Minsky’s registered trademark “SLART” in Second Life.  Minsky is representing himself.

The paragraphs of Linden Lab’s Answer responding to Minsky’s claims, as with all formal Answers in U.S. legal proceedings, merely respond with admissions or denials of each assertion in Minsky’s Complaint.  Linden Lab’s Counterclaims, however, shed some light on its strategy in this case.

Interestingly, Linden Lab is actually seeking, as part of its relief, a declaration from the Court that Linden Lab would be within its rights to terminate Minsky’s account.  According to the Terms of Service, of course, “Linden Lab has the right at any time for any reason or no reason to suspend or terminate [a user's] Account,” but it appears that Linden Lab is playing it safe here, both from a legal and a customer-relations standpoint.

Excerpts from the Counterclaims follow.

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