Virtual Intellectual Property Rights?

Every once and while a story comes along that seems to capture an essential quality of the times. This is one of those stories: In December, CNET interviewed Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung, the virtual identity of real-life entrepreneur Aillin Graef.

Anshe ChungThe interview took place in CNET’s virtual Second Life studio in front of dozens of virtual audience members. Video taken during the interview was sabotaged by digital hecklers who harrassed both Anshe Chung and her real-life owner, Ailin Graef. Afterward (like any other video taken in the real world), a video of the harrassment was posted on YouTube.  Real-life company Anshe Chung Studios filed a complaint against YouTube, claiming that real-life Graef’s copyright in the virtual character Anshe Chung had been infringed because the images had been used in the video without her permission. YouTube removed the offending video. (Link to story)

A news report in the (real-life) Syndey Morning Herald was also the subject of a complaint by Graef, since the news story reproduced a screen shot of the offending video image. However, in the real world, fair-use or fair-dealing exceptions allow reproduction of copyright-protected content for the purpose of news reporting.

It seems that the more distortion we see in layers of reality (the digital alter-ego of a real person is digitally harrassed in a digital world and a digital video of the harassment is digitally posted in the real world, prompting the real person to complain to the real-life company that hosts the digital video), the more fascinating the intellectual property issues become. At its most basic level, the (virtual) Anshe Chung character is merely a string of code protected by (real-world) copyright.  In the Second Life, however, was it copyright that was infringed, or were the personality rights of Anshe Chung infringed? If Ms. Chung can’t bring an action for defamation of character in the virtual world, I’m sure those days aren’t far in the future.

Calgary – 09:13 MST



2 Comments so far

  1. Richard Stobbe January 16th, 2007 11:07 pm

    The DMCA / copyright infringement claim against YouTube has now apparently been dropped according to (January 16, 2007).

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