Software Developer Sues Avatar for Copyright Infringement

Software Developer Sues Avatar for Copyright Infringement
Joanne Cachapero
TAMPA, Fla. —Eros LLC founder/CEO and software developer Kevin Alderman has filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Fla., against the owner of a virtual reality Second Life avatar named “Volkov Catteneo.” Alderman has accused the “John Doe “ plantiff of selling unauthorized copies of Alderman’s company’s software called the SexGen Platinum Base Unit.

Using Second Life scripting language, SexGen Platinum puts code into objects in the digital world; frisky Second Lifers can then use the objects to access menus of various sexual positions and actions their avatars can perform. The software retails for $45.

Alderman, who allows the software to be transferred by users but not copied, alleges that Catteneo continues to replicate and sell the program, which Alderman’s lawyer Frank Taney describes as “the most popular adult-themed product in the Second Life World.”

According to an article on Yahoo News, Alderman filed suit on July 3 and also has tried to communicate with Catteneo.

“We confronted him about it and his basic response was, ‘What are you going to do? Sue me?’” Alderman said. “I guess the mentality is that because you're an avatar ... that you are untouchable. The purpose of this suit is not only to protect our income and our product, but also to show, yes, you can be prosecuted and brought to justice.”

However, the case will be one of the first Second Life disputes litigated in a real world court.

Second Life, created by San Francisco-based Linden Labs, is an online digital world where inhabitants are granted basic avatars as representations of themselves. Once “in-world,” residents can purchase upgrades to their avatars, property, merchandise and services using real money. Second Life dollars, called “Lindens,” equal 270 to $1 U.S. The Second Life site’s front page list a daily average of dollars spent, currently at $1.1 million.

Retailers like Alderman are able to generate actual revenue. In Eros’ in-world shop, there is a staff of avatars to provide customer service and users can try out software applications before purchase.

Despite the digital nature of the accused content pirate and the virtual environment where he is allegedly peddling his wares, Taney said that the lawsuit clearly has a basis in reality.

“It’s a piece of software and software is copyrightable,” Taney said. “It's also expressed in graphics, which also are copyrightable. There is some sizzle. People like to say it's really far out there, but at the end of the day I equate it to basic intellectual property principles.”

Taney also has said he believes that he knows the actual identity of Catteneo, and is compiling records from eBay Inc.’s PayPal payment service, chat logs and the avatar’s trade history in Second Life through subpoenas.

“There is a whole lot less anonymity on line than people think. There are over 20,000 people who have been sued for downloading music. They may have felt anonymous, but they weren’t,” senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Fred von Lohmann said.

“In a virtual world, you have the ability to gather evidence that you don’t have in the real world,” Lohmann said. “Everything that happens in Second Life is reflected on computer servers. Depending on how long they keep your records, you could actually replay the event as it happens.”