Don’t Tase Me In Second Life, Bro

21 04 2009

Virtual World News: Taser Sues Linden:

Taser International has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Linden Lab, reports Bloomberg, claiming the publisher is illegitimately selling virtual goods based on the Taser stun guns. the Second Life online virtual world creator over claims it sells unauthorized virtual versions of its stun guns.

Trademark Blog Virtual World archives here.

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Late News: Herbert Estate Comes Down on Dune SL RP Sim

17 04 2009

In the several pieces of news to come down the Grid since my computer went into the shop, the most interesting — not the most important, probably, but the most interesting to me — is Hamlet Au’s report on how worries of a major player in intellectual property has stepped in with objections.  Trident Media Group, the agents of the estate of Dune’s Frank Herbert, have sent a cease-and-desist order to Linden Lab, which passed it on to the Dune role-playing group.  They have complied with the order by removing as many references to the Dune franchise as they can find within their power.  However, they plan to continue the game as a more generic environment.  (See Ham’s article for the details.)

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Judge’s ruling that WoW bot violates DMCA is troubling

30 01 2009

Blizzard notched another victory in its legal campaign against World of Warcraft bots when a judge on Wednesday ruled that a leading bot violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. MDY Industries LLC, the firm that develops and sells the Glider bot, already suffered a major setback last summer when the judge granted Blizzard summary judgment on several key issues. This week’s decision deals with the issues the judge believed could not be decided until the conclusion of this month’s trial. The judge ruled that Glider violated the DMCA’s ban on “circumvention devices,” and he also found that MDY’s founder, Michael Donnelly, was personally liable for the actions of his firm.

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Technology and Regulation

24 01 2009

When I was doing my law degree I unfortunately chose not to do the course on Law & Technology (it had too much internal assessment required and a lot of it had to be done online – I didn’t have regular Internet access so that was a no-goer). I did however inevitably get exposed to bits and pieces of the theory behind it through my other courses – like Evidence and Intellectual Property. One of the technology-and-law related things that I got shown intrigued me and stuck with me, and I think it’s incredibly relevant to Second Life. And I’m going to share it with you, you lucky wee things.

When new technology emerges it is essentially unregulated. Some law will exist that can be stretched or interpreted to cover it – such as trying to apply classic copyright law to digital images. This is often awkward though, and applied in an inconsistent way. A body of law will slowly build up through the court system and there will come a point when the government steps in to regulate “properly” – through new express statutes that either clarify how current law applies to the new technology or (and more likely) creates entirely new law to cover it. The government usually steps in under pressure from lobby groups, and they sometimes even listen to the legal fraternity (shock horror).

The pressure groups should be familiar to you, they say things like “but think of the children!” and “zomg, no, people have freedom!”. And don’t lose sight of the effect of regulation that is of most interest to the government: tax revenue *nahm nahm nahm*.

Now that I’ve told you the theory (and it does seem to hold true in my observations), I’m going to tell you what I think of it and where I think things go wrong in the regulation.

Law should be based on core unchanging principles that can be applied to any new situation. Figuring out how it applies can take a while, but it does not require entire new swags of law to deal with it: Law that comes out of the nothingness like that often ends up contradicting other areas of the law and being counter-intuitive. You often get a flood of new law coming out to fix the new technology, and it tends to whittle down to something more sensible and concise over time, but you still seem to end up with a bunch of silly over-complicated laws trying to cover discrete situations instead of being based on the application of core principles. Intellectual law in the virtual environment seems to be going through this process right now.

You’ll always get a bunch of anarchists saying “leave my new technology alone, man, this is the way of the future, we don’t need no laws” (throw in a few extra “dudes” too). I sympathise with this to a point: I agree that freedom is awesome and society is way over regulated, but there is good law and bad law – don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. For a while this view is very popular, and it was true of the Internet too. It was quite popular for people to state that the Internet was the great unregulated world of the future and that law should never touch it. It was quite popular. These days people who hold that opinion are slowly but surely becoming the minority and people are becoming more aware of the trend I’ve told you about: That with new technology will eventually come regulation and law – it appears to be an inevitable process of progress.

Each side ends up accusing the other side of being stuck in the past: The anarchists think the law-lovers are not realising the “true nature of the Internet”, while the other side think the anarchists need to realise that law doesn’t magically stop existing just because some new technology was discovered – that it is rather the anarchists who are stuck in the past in thinking the and not realising that the Internet (for instance)  is part of the world and people’s real lives too. Both sides thinking they see the “true nature of the Internet” and trying to convince the other of who’s right.

Don’t forget too that new technology will evolve to be able to control the new technology that was at issue. Let me make that clearer: The Internet supposedly gave people anonymity and the ability to get away with all sorts of things that would have been illegal in the real world. But the ability to trace people and their behaviour, to lock down their identities and thereby hold them accountable, has similarly evolved. Does anyone still think they are completely anonymous just because they’re behind a computer screen? It definitely used to be the popular opinion. In turn governments find ways and permissions to trace your money as it moves around the Internet so they can tax you “properly”.

All of this applies directly to Second Life of course. I’ve already mentioned here the issues of intellectual property and tax, but don’t forget what happened to gambling there too. And I have no doubt you can think of more Second Life specific examples. The application of intellectual property to Second Life needs a heck of a lot of work – there is a lot of clarification and cleaning up required here, in fact I believe it is the unpleasant and confusing mix of over-regulated and under-enforced. Gambling should have never gone from Second Life, the plonkers – it was fun and I miss it. Remember how everyone was saying Second Life would die when gambling went..? I’d love to see what actually happened to their user numbers and profit when it went.Gambling is of course tied up with taxes *shudders*and morality. Taxes and morality are huge discussion areas that require whole blogs to themselves, I’ll tackle those separately some other time.

I’ve followed this pattern of behaviour for new technology and the internet at a local level too – particularly in regards to a New Zealand website called www.trademe.co.nz, it’s essentially our version of E-Bay. It is apparently the most used New Zealand site. It started off a free haven with very few restrictions but the restricted and immoral items (porn and alchohol for instance) got cracked down on, and soon enough the government started rubbing its hands together with it realised how many household wives were making money off selling their old books and children toys to other household wives *shock horror*. There are lots of people making real money off it too of course but lots of small timers were suddenly having to calculate their earnings and decide if they were selling for profit etc as the tax collectors made their rumblings and settled in for evermore. I’m sure you have some local examples and experiences too, feel free to share them.

So where does that put us now? The great thing is we have the chance to effect and direct this process since it’s ongoing. The regulation and application of law will happen, let’s accept that right now. Instead focus on what we want it to look like; there is good law and there is bad law, the trick is trying to make it the good kind.



Someone invented virtual worlds and has the patent to prove it!

14 12 2008

As Terra Nova previously reported: Worlds.com has filed United States Patent: 6219045 claiming that it invented virtual worlds.

Unfortunately for them they invented virtual worlds some time around 1996. I personally invented virtual worlds some time around 1992, and have the documents to prove it. Many of my friends also invented virtual worlds. In fact if we organized a meet-up of all the people I know who invented virtual worlds we’d need to hire a second bus to drive us to the venue.

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Online divorcee jailed after killing virtual hubby

24 10 2008

TOKYO – A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband’s digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday.

The woman, who is jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game “Maple Story” to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

“I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry,” the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.

The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.

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Dutch court imposes real-world punishment for virtual theft

23 10 2008

A case in the Netherlands sets an interesting precedent: real-world assault leads to theft of items in the online game Runescape. A hefty sentence of community service sends the message: taking virtual items by force is theft.

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Minsky vs Linden Lab: Linden Lab responds, asks court to okay banning

21 10 2008

Massively, daily news about MMOs

by Tateru Nino Oct 20th 2008 at 5:00PM

Linden Lab is asking for the court to approve its termination of Minsky’s account as a part of a general package of relief.

As you may recall, Linden Lab and Minsky have been duking it out over trademarks: Minsky with his registered SLART trademark, and Linden Lab with its unregistered SL trademark. Now, Linden Lab doesn’t normally bother with getting court-approval for terminating an account, yet they have asked for it in this instance.

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