Can a plumbing company CEO become a millionaire by selling sex toys in a virtual world? Yes, Kevin Alderman has and earlier this month his real world company Eros LLC, along with Shannon Grei, filed a class action lawsuit against Linden Lab, owner of Second Life.
Alderman, whose avatar name is Stroker Serpentine, sells sexual animations and related objects in Second Life under the trademarked brand name SexGen and are, he asserts, among the most popular in Second Life. Grei manufactures clothing in Second Life.
The lawsuit accuses Linden Lab not only of taking inadequate action against those who violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by copying and reselling merchandise created and sold by others, even when it’s been trademarked or copyrighted, but of actually profiting from the infringements. The complaint alleges that although "Linden Lab may ban a Resident who is observed using CopyBot,… it will not ban a user for simply uploading or even selling copied content. In this case, Linden Lab’s enforcement is limited to that required by the "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act", which requires filing a real-world lawsuit" and that few businesses in Second Life have the means to file such a lawsuit. The suit alleges that sometimes filing for DMCA protection within Second Life is actually counterproductive because the infringer will file a countersuit. Sometimes in fact, infringers will "threaten rights-holding merchants with the release of their protected assets for free if they file DMCA claims against their infringers."
Software such as CopyBot, BuilderBot, and CryoLife have been problems for merchants and artists in Second Life for some time. What are Linden Lab’s responsibilities, if any, in cracking down on them and protecting intellectual property rights of people who create merchandise and other objects in Second Life? The DMCA provides "safe harbor" status to service providers to protect them against the actions of their customers. Does "safe harbor" status apply to Linden Lab? And even if it does apply, is it adequate protection for those whose intellectual property rights have been infringed? The lawsuit complains that it is not sufficient, because it requires filing a real world lawsuit against the infringer.
Linden Lab has twenty days to respond. We can expect to know more in early October.
You can get more information about the lawsuit from The Alphaville Herald, Wired.com, and FindLaw.com. You can get information about a lawsuit that Kevin Alderman filed in 2007 against alleged infringers at Out-Law.com and you can read the full text of the current complaint against Linden Lab at The Alphaville Herald. As of this writing, Mr Alderman’s store in Second Life and his three websites are all offline, but his merchandise can found at kiosks in several locations in Second Life.