Last month I noted the virtual animal copyright dispute between Second Life content creators Amaretto Breedables (which makes pretty SL horses) and Ozimals (which makes adorable SL bunnies), and days before Christmas, the story got more interesting. On December 21, Judge Charles R. Breyer issued a temporary restraining order against Linden Lab and "all persons in active concert or participation with Linden Research" from filing DMCA notices against Amaretto or otherwise removing its content from Second Life. Read the order here. Notably, law professor and legal blogger Eric Goldman writes in a lengthy analysis,
... is that the court's temporary restraining order applies to Second Life (Linden Research), not Ozimals... it seems like the court's TRO may be improperly trying to bind a non-party. At minimum, the court should have explained why it was discussing a TRO against Second Life.
I'm not a lawyer, but perhaps the judge is doing this because Linden Lab is the one who carries out any DMCA takedown notice filed against one SL user on another. In any case, Goldman believes this restraining order raises First Amendment issues:
Passage from the restraining order
Second Life has the First Amendment rights to decide what to publish and what not to publish. If Second Life decides, for whatever reason, that it wishes to kibosh Amaretto's content, it seems improper for a court to force it to do otherwise.
That's a very interesting point. What if this copyright dispute did not involve cute-as-a-button Second Life animals, but hateful-as-stomach-bile racist paraphernalia? In that situation, Linden Lab would want to remove the content for violating its Community Standards against hate speech, but the court would stay the company's hand. Anyway, read more from the expert here.
The restraining order lasts until January 11, when the judge will rule on Amaretto's request for an injunction. Stay tuned, this could get a lot bigger than just a case between virtual pets. Curious sidenote: Judge Breyer, a Clinton appointee who is a brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, pressing charges against crimes that caused a Constitutional crisis. Wonder how he feels in the twilight of his legal career adjudicating a dispute between virtual bunnies and horsies.
Image via SL News Extra, which has an interesting post on Amaretto Horses. (LOLHorse text by Hamlet.) Hat tip: Ms. Ziki Questi.