I've been struggling lately to understand how to properly protect the intellectual property I create within Second Life. Here are some of my thoughts and questions. I would love to hear about your experiences and opinions.
1. If someone owns a sim and you rent from them, who owns what you create?
I think this is a no-brainer. As a renter in SL like in the real world, everything you bring to the land is yours. Everything that was there when you got there belongs to the owner of the sim - unless there is a contract you have signed that states otherwise.
Technically, can a landowner take possession of, move or destroy the belongings you place on their land? I'm not totally sure but I believe the only things they can do is return all items to your inventory. Is this correct?
2. If someone manages a sim for a larger entity, who owns what you create on the sim as a renter?
Again, I think this is also a no-brainer. The parent company only has ownership over their land and assets and as a renter, you retain ownership of yours assets - unless there is a contract in place that you've both signed that states otherwise.
3. If you work part-time in SL for the manager or owner of a sim, who owns what you create?
Now this sounds like a tricky one, but it should be straightforward. Without an actual contract designating what work is considered "work-for-hire," the assumption would be that what you create as a direct part of your job responsibilities is property of the employer.
What you create separately (for another job or business) is not the property of that employer. Perhaps if you create it while on the employer's land and during the time you are supposed to be working for them, then it could be perceived that what you create is theirs.
But if you create something not connected to the sim or during your part time hours and then bring it to the sim, it should be your asset. But how do you protect your asset? What if your employer claims it is their's by default?
4. How do you protect intellectual capital and intellectual properties versus SL objects that you bring to someone else's land?
Now this is a doozy. In intellectual property law, it is clear that you cannot protect "an idea." But when does an idea move from the ethereal and unprotected to the concrete and protected?
a. If you come up with a trade name that can be trademarked (but no formal efforts have been made to trademark it) and used in business, is that name protected so that you can retain possession if you were to move on to a new job or business? Who owns that name and who has the right to use it?
b. If you design or pay for the design of a logo and bring it to a sim owned by someone else for use on the island, who owns that design and who has the right to use it?
c. If you conceptualize, organize and market an event and bring it to a sim owned by someone else to act as the host venue, who owns that event and the assets and intellectual property that goes with it?
Without a written contract to the contrary, I think the owner remains the creator of the intellectual property unless money was clearly exchanged for the ownership or rights to the intellectual properties. But if you do not own the sim, how do you get your intellectual property back, especially if the land owner will not return it?
I think the overall answer to all of my questions is: Whatever you do in Second Life, put it into writing and have it signed by the people behind the avatars who are doing business. That includes an employment contract, a rental agreement, a business partnership - anything where money might exchange hands and assets - including objects and intellectual property - are part of the relationship.
I'm not even going to delve into whether or not Linden Lab can lay claim to what we create. I just want to explore the microcosm of the land owner/manager and the resident employee or renter.
NOTE: I'm starting a series of events for entrepreneurs after the holidays and am hoping to bring Alan Behr of Alston & Bird LLP who heads up the firm's Electronic Entertainment Group to discuss intellectual property in Second Life. Join the SL group Second Life Entrepreneurs Club or IM Cybergrrl Oh if you'd like to be notified of the event.