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Branding and Counterfeiting in Virtual Worlds - Digital Data?

Second Life and its predecessors such as ActiveWorlds represent the best in web 2.0 - the ability to reconstruct any real world object in the virtual environment. With this however comes the murky waters of copyright of real world objects in a digital world where objects are viewed as simply data.

We started thinking about such issues when we noticed the Nike logo on our trainers which are part our persona in Second Life. The trainers were given to us by a fellow Second Life citizen without a thought to copyright or payment for the use of the design.

Yet in Virtual Worlds products do not have to be manufactured, they are simply made once and then copied as many times as needs be, often by users simply swapping goods between themselves.

Within Second Life there is a thriving economy and many real world brands do have a legitimate presence in the environment. The movie embedded below by Gary Hayes at provides an overview of brands in Second Life:

Law Firm Evensheds have issued a warning that legal action maybe around the corner for users selling fake goods in virtual worlds, the Retail Bulletin has a good article on this exploring the problems of legal actions on users that are in all essence virtual.

The same issues relate to data of the traditionally geographic kind, we have been able to import building outlines into Second Life but does this infringe copyright of the Ordnance Survey? Without doubt the answer is yes and in light of the current view of the Ordnance Survey on licensing, importing into Second Life is an issue that is not worth pursuing further (see Google and the Ordnance Survey: Disappointed).

Along similar lines does reconstructing the built environment in virtual worlds infringe copyright on use of branding with say importing a Woolworth's retail unit to communicate built form? Issues of copyright of geographic data are however perhaps minor in terms of the blatant cloning of real world goods such as trainers, cars and clothing in Second Life.

The looming threat of legal action is however worrying, if we can copy real world objects and use them virtually surely it is flattering to the company and not an issue of future court proceedings?

Then again....


  1. Anonymous8:22 PM

    Great post -- I'll run a link to this at some point this week. I agree that this has the potential to be a big problem for companies in a few years. I did an overview of trademark infringement in Second Life a few months ago that may be interesting to your readers.

  2. Anonymous12:53 PM

    If you do a search of the official Linden Lab forum for "trademark", you'll (hopefully) find that some of the issues you raise have been discussed. Same is true of my blog as I've reported on trademark issues within SL for some time (off and on). Some of what's said may be of interest.

    Also worth investigating how Linden Lab changed it's policy wrt Trademark, as it tied into some other things that led them down their current path.

    Lastly, the kinds of transreal data transfer you're describing are what prompted me to post a blog entry that might be of interest: . The topic wasn't really about grabbing 3D data and manufacturing a product from it, it was actually about the IP issues that capability raised.