The scope of virtual world developments and brand marketing on the Internet seems to be limitless, with Second Life as one of the most popular programs. However, paying virtual world participants (residents) have filed a class-action lawsuit against Second Life and its founder for altering its questionable and deceitful terms of virtual property ownership.
According to a www.news.cnet.com article, one suit claims that the company’s promise of virtual property ownership never existed to begin with. Others claim that Second Life terms of virtual property ownership were altered without their knowledge, making it so that they were obligated to agree to a new terms of service that deprived them of their ownership rights to virtual property and goods. The article mentions that a Second Life resident filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania in 2007 asking for his $8,000 investment in virtual goods and property to be returned after his account was made inactive. This case settled and the resident’s account was restored.
Based on Second Life terms of service, users are supposed to be able to possess copyrights for any content or materials that they create, and the server and client are expected to supply straightforward digital rights management task abilities. The terms of the current class-action lawsuit asserts that Linden Lab, Second Life’s parent company, intentionally drew in and encouraged consumers through marketing efforts throughout the U.S. to invest authentic money into the program. In doing this, consumers were promised that the virtual land and property that they bought, in addition to the material they came up with, would become theirs to own. And this apparently isn’t the first time that Second Life has been challenged. The report states that Second Life had to prohibit residents from establishing in-world financial institutions due to a sudden increase in banking scandals in 2008.
In announcing that the first quarter of this year brought them more than 500,000 users dynamically participating in the virtual market with about $160 million in user-to-use transactions, one can only imagine the range that these class-action lawsuits may be capable of reaching. The allegations against Second Life that it intentionally misled consumers and changed their terms of service agreement without appropriate warning to users raises several legal matters of concern in terms of intellectual property rights. These complex issues are further emphasized by the claim that Second Life may have denied users access to their property.