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Second Life gets its first copyright law suit

Sex bed tussle leads to court

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A dispute over a sex bed has become the first copyright law suit within online alternative reality game Second Life. The lawyer behind the suit told weekly podcast OUT-LAW Radio that the nature of the game should not change the issues at stake.

Eros is a company founded by ex-plumber Kevin Alderman to make and sell digital goods in Second Life. One of the products was a SexGen bed, a software application that allows two characters to have sex in the game.

Alderman became aware of similar beds being sold by someone else for less than the $46 cost of his software. He has now lodged a copyright and trade mark infringement law suit against that individual, so far identified only by his Second Life name, Volkov Catteneo.

Francis Taney of Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney in the US is acting on Alderman's behalf. "He discovered that someone had found some kind of technical exploit that enabled this person to make copies of Kevin's objects," Taney told OUT-LAW Radio. "This person was making the copies and passing them off as copies made by Kevin's company using Kevin's mark, the SexGen mark, and was selling them at a bargain basement price, undercutting Kevin and taking his sales. As you might imagine this could be a real threat to his sales and his business so that is why we brought we suit."

Second Life is an online universe which reached mainstream popularity earlier this year. Blue chip companies opened offices within the game and Reuters news agency even appointed a Second Life correspondent to trawl for stories within the game.

The game now has some real life intellectual property problems, with the two sides headed for court over the virtual tussle.

Taney has filed a suit alleging copyright and trade mark infringement, but before he can go any further he must find out who Catteneo is. He has sent subpoenas to Linden Labs, the company behind Second Life, and to payments firm PayPal in an attempt to divine Catteneo's true identity.

"We have served subpoenas on Linden Research Incorporated in San Francisco and Paypal Incorporated in San Jose," said Taney. "We have asked them all the personal identifying information that they have with respect to this person and in Linden's case also the complete records of his online activity because that will get right to the heart of what was done here.

Linden Labs said that it was looking into the case, but would not say whether or not it would hand over identifying information. "We support the rights of copyright holders to protect their copyrighted works in Second Life," said a statement from the company. "We have received the subpoena for information relevant to the case and are reviewing it."

Though the case is unique, Taney believes that the principles of protection of someone's work underlie the whole affair. He says that the case's unusual origins should not obscure the fundamental issues involved.

"It is a little bit more exotic [than other cases]," he said. "At the bottom of it, [Second Life] is an internet hosted computer simulation so I don't see it as a monumental stretch or much of a stretch at all.

"This guy, he was a plumbing contractor and he gave up that business because he was excited about this thing. He has some ability in this area. He's making his living doing it and it's just not right," said Taney.

Second Life's terms of use make clear that players "retain copyright and other intellectual property rights with respect to Content [they] create in Second Life".

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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