Although the net worth of some Second Life citizens made headlines a few weeks ago, with one of them proclaiming a net worth of over $1M in virtual real estate, one thing that tends to escape the dialogue, is that in these virtual worlds, the world in its entirety is owned by a company.
Or is it?
These legal issues are being played out in American courts, as individual players are bringing suits against Linden Lab, contesting, amongst other things, that they own some aspect of their virtual property.Â Linden Lab’s own copy proclaims, for example “Become a part of history by purchasing land and developing your own piece of Second Life”.
In fact, Phil Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab has even gone on record stating that “the land itself and the space and everything is owned, controlled, and built by the people” of Second Life.
Examining the Terms of Service, however, reveals another story.
“Linden Lab retains ownership of the account and related data, regardless of intellectual property rights you may have in content you create or otherwise own.”
Whether its World of Warcraft, Meblo, or Second Life, one thing is for sure.Â As this particular segment of the online entertainment expands and matures, players who vest time, energy and cash in these worlds will want reassurances that there is some protection, and recognition of the time that is spent, and the goods (and property) they acquire.
Which makes it all the more interesting, because those thoughts are contrary to how many of these TOS’s are written.Â If some of these lawsuits bear out that ultimately there is no real ownership except by the Entertainment companies that create and maintain these virtual worlds, then one wonders if it will ever change the attitudes, and ultimately membership behind this phenomenon.
After all, there’s little sense in owning a piece of virtual land if it can be seized at any time since you don’t own it.
Now, whether or not any company is willing to relinquish any of that control is another issue, that, as in the case of Second Life, may only be found out through the courts.