What’s mine is mine… or yours?

The one thing I’ve always admired about the SL system is the fact that they’ve been devoted to the users. They want to make their cut of a profit somewhere, but at least they try to hook up the users with some benefits as well.

However, one thing still confuses me: The idea of intellectual property rights in SL. A quote from the reading, “Your Second Life?”:

…players of the game would be granted intellectual property rights in their creations both within the game space and in ‘real life’. This was a radical departure for the online gaming industry, where nearly all End User License Agreements (EULA) and Terms of Service (TOS) require Players to sign over their intellectual property rights in order to enter into the virtual space of the game.

Now, I understand completely about why there should be intellectual property rights given for something created in real life (that’s how our world works). So, someone in SL also has the ability to own their work that they create there. That’s fine, but wouldn’t that leave things open for a lawsuit to Linden Labs? The way I see it, SL exists because of the content that the users create, and the users own intellectual property rights on what they make. Hypothetically, if Linden Labs were to start publicly showing off their world in screenshots, and someone’s really awesome object or design for area is shown, and then copied in something real-world (like if another online program other than SL were to create the same thing), who can that user blame? Their intellectual property is only protected within SL, making sure that no one steals anyone else’s ideas in game.

The obvious solution to this problem would be to get the work set with a copyright ahead of time, protecting it against being copied out of SL. It doesn’t even have to be the SL object that’s protected, but the idea and blueprints (for the 3D model) for the object or whatnot protected. In the situation above, Linden Labs does not control the government, and therefore cannot protect everyone from everything. Even Linden Labs can’t protect themselves from everything! If they shut down someone’s account, and that user decides to sue, what’s going to stop them? If it was Linden Labs’ fault that a particular “intellectual property” gets copied, are they to blame? How is that idea protected then?

Maybe I’m just missing something, but there has got to be more to it than just, “We can protect you from other users stealing your stuff.” Even then, what protections are there? “We’ll delete the offending user’s account and hope we don’t get brought into court over it,” is the solution? I think they need to just take the easy route and say, “You make it, we own it.” Of course, Linden Labs will do anything they can to keep the content flowing. After all, if they didn’t have users creating the content, they’d have to do it all.

Like we need another “World of Warcraft meets Second Life” clone…


Herman, Coombe, & Kaye. Your Second Life? Goodwill and the performativity of intellectual property in online digital gaming. Cultural Studies , Volume 20, Numbers 2-3, -3/March/May 2006.


~ by Cliff Huizenga on November 14, 2007.

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