There has been a lot of activity on the virtual worlds and law front. So in lieu of several posts, here are some bullet points:
- First, if you don't know that Bragg v. Linden is over, you're probably not reading a sufficient number of game blogs. Here's the scoop from Linden Lab, Game Politics, Lum, Nic Suzor, Reuters, Raph, Ben Duranske... okay, I'll stop there.
While those of us who like reading court opinions on virtual property are disappointed somewhat by the settlement, I've got to say that these really were the droids we were looking for. We now have on record the reported decision of Bragg v. Linden Research, Inc., 487 F. Supp. 2d 593 (E.D. Pa. 2007), which starts with the arresting paragraph:
This case is about virtual property maintained on a virtual world on the Internet. Plaintiff, March Bragg, Esq., claims an ownership interest in such virtual property. Bragg contends that Defendants, the operators of the virtual world, unlawfully confiscated his virtual property and denied him access to their virtual world. Ultimately at issue in this case are the novel questions of what rights and obligations grow out of the relationship between the owner and creator of a virtual world and its resident-customers. While the property and the world where it is found are "virtual," the dispute is real.
Some criticized the opinion a bit here, but I found the reasoning innovative and fairly compelling. Those opening lines are enough to make it memorable. Before long, I'd expect this case to be part of law school courses (if it is not already).
- At the same time Dan Hunter reported the opinion in Bragg, he mentioned the Complaint in a class action suit against IGE, Hernandez v. Internet Gaming Entertainment, Ltd., No. 07-21403-Civ-COHN/SNOW (M.D. Fla. 2007). The firm for the plaintiff now has a website where documents and updates on the case are being posted, and Blizzard has made a statement supporting the lawsuit. I should note that I am consulting on this case.
- Blizzard is still pursuing its own lawsuits in its efforts to curb RMT. It has the MDY case in Arizona (covered here by the very able Dale Dietrich) and the suit against Peons 4 Hire in Florida. I haven't heard much about either suit recently.
- On the legal scholarship front, we're getting new articles and essays on virtual worlds every month. A noteworthy addition to the literature is by Bettina Chin, the current Editor-in-Chief of the Brooklyn Law Review. She has published a student Note on defamation in virtual worlds. Here's the abstract:
Although the issue of virtual harm has never been raised in real-world courts, virtual worlds like Second Life have become increasingly significant in terms of both time and money for their users. As such, it is important to develop theories of how the law may apply to and resolve disputes that originate in these worlds.
This Note will therefore argue that because users have imported real-world concepts, specifically currency and economy, into the metaverse, it would behoove brick and mortar societies to provide for redress if a user suffers pecuniary loss in these worlds. This Note will also explore certain ambiguities inherent and unique to the virtual environment when traditional elements of defamation law are applied to it. Moreover, this Note will argue that real-world courts should be the proper forum in which to litigate defamation actions, where victims suffer pecuniary loss due to the fall of their reputations.
- Probably the Second Life lawsuit du jour is actually one that does not involve Linden Labs as a party. It was filed by Eros LLC and is one of the first virtual world player v. player lawsuits that we've seen in the United States. It alleges copyright and trademark infringement based on the misappropriation of a virtual bed design. More details here. Bill Patry thinks it is a run of the mill copyright case, but I actually think he's missing some of the potential IP complexity here. However, according to Mr. Duranske's report from a recent conference, it looks like the case might settle without an opinion if the plaintiff gets his wish. Which would really be a shame for spectators, because the Complaint is fascinating.
- While I'm on the topic of Mr. Duranske, I should say he's doing an excellent job at Virtually Blind of staying on top of the recent filings in Second Life cases. He often offers nitty-gritty coverage of current suits, filing by filing. The ability to bypass PACER is much appreciated.
- Finally, I'm going to AoIR 8 tomorrow (Mia Consalvo of TN is the program chair) to attend a panel with Eric Goldman, Tyler Ochoa, and James Grimmelmann on -- what else -- virtual worlds and law. From the conference program, it looks like there will be plenty of other presentations touching on virtual worlds.
My presentation, which I'll be reprising for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Daegu, South Korea next week, is going to focus on the way rules of law differ from rules of play. My current draft of the essay can be found here. If you're at all interested, it's only 16 pages or so and there is hardly any legalese. Constructive feedback, by email or here in the comments, is most welcome.