A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC

I Need a Copyright License for My Personal Virtual Island?

Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.

Yes, if You Hired Someone to Design it for You.

Remember when Second Life was all the rage? I’ll admit that my memory is a little hazy, but I swear it was a huge deal a few years ago. Anyway, it’s still around, with a new slogan: YOUR IMAGINATION, YOUR WORLD.* If you’re not familiar, Second Life is an interactive virtual world that emphasizes the creation of virtual lands, complete with topography, buildings, etc. Subscribers operate avatars that may move through and interact with these worlds.

* Judging from this promotional video: ALSO BOOBS. Seriously.

Subscribers can also purchase virtual land and “terraform” it—i.e., give it mountains, forests, buildings, beaches, caves—to their liking. These lands can be private—i.e., cut off except for those specifically invited—in which case they’re called “islands.”

In this post, I’ll be discussing a recent decision in a lawsuit about whether terraformed virtual “islands” are copyrightable. More practically, the lawsuit is an object-lesson how badly things can go when copyright is involved in what appears to be “just a business transaction.”

Prelude to an Accidental Copyright Dispute

A teacher (we’ll call her the Teacher) working for a particular school district (we’ll call it the District) got the idea that these…

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