Last weekend I attended a machinima conference at Stanford Law's Center for Internet and Society, and as is often the case in venues like that, Second Life came up numerous times. One point raised then by Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Fred von Lohmann bears repeating here: Regarding copyright infringement potential, Von Lohmann noted, "Second Life in some ways is worse than real life." That's because users retain the underlying intellectual property rights to their SL creations. And after all, as Fred pointed out, you can walk down the street in real life without worrying that the textures in the sidewalk are copyrighted. "In Second Life these are gray interesting mysteries" around the law, he added. Something worth considering for people who publish screenshots or machinima extracted from SL. It's been argued that if you run a photo of a Second Life street, you don't really need to get the permission from the creator of every single item in the frame, just as you don't need to do so when you take a photo of a New York City street. However, that assumption has not yet been tested in court.
As Von Lohmann added, most of the Second Life community is unlikely to be aggressively litigious. But if Second Life continues growing, I believe that sense of good faith won't always hold. In fact, Fred Von Lohmann said he knows of someone who plans to create and sell a "takedown notice rifle" for Second Life -- presumably so content creators can fly through SL, automatically shooting DMCA notices at suspected infringers. Image credit: Eff.org.