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Virtual Horse in Second Life, Real Lawsuit in Real Life

I learned three things about Second Life today. First is that apparently people still play it (is "play" the right word here, Second Lifers?). Second, you can breed virtual horse that you can ride. And third, you can get sued over virtual animals.

Justin Scheck of The A-Hed in Wall Street Journal has the story:

A palomino mare named Star grazes on Debbie DeLouise's clover meadow, hanging out at a salt lick there and frolicking with her foal Holly.

But a legal dispute may imperil their pastoral bliss: It threatens to close the only store where Ms. DeLouise can buy food for Star and Holly. Without their special diet, the horses would waste away and turn green.

"If there's no food, I'm not sure what will happen," says Ms. DeLouise, a Long Island, N.Y., librarian. "I certainly hope no one has to find out."

Star and Holly aren't real horses. They exist only within Linden Research Inc.'s "Second Life," an online virtual world where people can fashion a new existence. But while the buying, breeding and riding of horses happens in the virtual world, litigation over them happens in real-life federal court.

The case brushing up against the horses owned by Ms. DeLouise—whose "Second Life" avatar, or alter ego, is a younger, bigger-haired version of herself—began last fall.

Virtual rabbit maker Ozimals Inc., and Amaretto Ranch Breedables LLC, the creator of Ms. DeLouise's horses, share a similar business model. Each sells cheap virtual animals to participants of "Second Life." Both make the bulk of their money by selling the food these pets need. Demand for the chow is heightened by a secondary animal market, in which bunny and horse enthusiasts breed their virtual animals and sell the offspring—sometimes for hundreds of dollars in the case of beasts with rare colors.

Ozimals, based in Pelham, Ala., has alleged that Amaretto copied its software, using horses instead of rabbits.

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@Nick Would it help if it was Zynga versus Maxis over Farmville? Or the folks from Infinity Ward vs Activision?

It's a dust-up between two software developers who are in direct competition, both of whom could lose their whole business depending on the outcome of an intellectual property lawsuit.

What does it matter if they make AAA-blockbuster video-game hits, Barbie games, Pokemon, or breedable digital pets? Or do we only count intellectual property rights - and the lawful resolution of disputes - as important if they involve things and media that we 'approve' of?
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Life (real life that is) is too short to waste on this kind of...

...and I'm commenting on this story which is taking up a small part of my life isn't it? I'll stop now :)
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No, "play" is the wrong word. That would suggest that Second Life represents a game, which it is not. It is more of a collaborative content creation platform. "use" is closer to the mark.

The case is not a new one, and all comes down to whether one party is infringing the copyrights of the other in the development of its software product, if that puts it into perspective.

And yes, there's quite a bit of money involved.
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Not that there's anything wrong with lawyers. They are just the logical result of a competitive world. It's a jungle out there, it's just that our fights have moved to the courtroom.
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