Intellectual Property in a Virtual World

Demonstrate your understanding of the need and the means for protecting
Intellectual Property in a virtual world.

I thought it might be useful to first define what intellectual property actually is. According to the dictionary, it is “property that results from original creative thought, as patents, copyright material, and trademarks”. It is an” intangible asset, such as a copyright or patent”. In other words, when you create something, other people cannot just copy it without your permission, even when it is a ‘virtual’ creation.

Although this is an issue for all ‘virtual world’ sites, as Second Life is the largest and most well-known, I have based my answers on the information they provide. There are whole sections on the Second Life website to explain how your work is protected, but equally how the work of others is also protected, particularly trademarks and celebrity material. The site explains that as Second Life gets larger and more work is added, they are receiving more questions about intellectual property and Second Life. [source]

When it comes to the work of others, the following advice is given:

“Some create things that are inspired by real-world objects, like cars etc. When you do that, please make sure you’re not improperly using another’s intellectual property – for example, a trademarked logo or brand name, a distinctive product appearance (known as “trade dress”), characters or material from a movie, book, or other copyrighted work, or a celebrity image or name (protected as a “right of publicity”). You should not use copyrighted, trademarked, or celebrity material in Second Life, unless of course you are the intellectual property owner or have permission from the intellectual property owner.”

Linden Lab will investigate any complaints made to them in writing regarding any possible infringements, following the procedures described in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) regarding copyrighted materials. When a valid DMCA notification is received, the service provider responds under this process by taking down the offending content. Learn more about Linden Lab’s DMCA policy.

It can be difficult to know what exactly is trademarked as there are some grey areas, but blatant use of designer logos and brand names without permission are not allowed. Cheesily, in my opinion, some people have tried to get round this by misspelling a brand name, for example, “Njke” instead of “Nike” but Second Life advise against this practice and quite rightly tell people to “create your own original brand name that’s associated uniquely with you!”. When you do create your ‘brand’ etc, you are also then entitled to protection of your intellectual property.

This whole area is fraught with legal difficulties but Section 7’ CONTENT LICENSES AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS’ has all the information you need regarding protecting your content and respecting the rights of others. [source]

The main points are:

  1. You retain any and all Intellectual Property Rights in Content you submit to the Service.
  2. You grant certain Content licenses to Linden Lab by submitting your Content to the Service.
  3. You grant certain Content licenses to users of Second Life by submitting your Content to publicly accessible areas of the Service (this section has information about buying and selling using Linden dollars)
  4. You also grant Linden Lab and other users of Second Life a license to use in snapshots and machinima your Content that is displayed In-World in publicly accessible areas of the Service.
  5. You may delete copies of your Content from the Service, and the licenses you have granted for the deleted copies will terminate with certain limitations.
  6. Linden Lab owns Intellectual Property Rights in and to the Service, except all User Content, and in and to the Linden Marks.
  7. Linden Lab grants you certain licenses to access and use Second Life while you are in full compliance with the Terms of Service.
  8. You agree to respect the Intellectual Property Rights of other users, Linden Lab, and third parties.

The crux of the matter is this – even though Second Life is a virtual world, real-world laws apply to intellectual property infringement. The rightful owner of the intellectual property (yourself or others) can take direct legal action against others in real-world courts of law.

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