UPDATE, 7/4: Agenda just made some clarifying comments here which you should also read, and I've corrected inaccuracies in my post title/text to reflect them.
A real life lawyer who lectures and practices in Second Life as Agenda Faromet (and sometimes posts in comments here as "Vaki") made a really good point in NWN comments last week (also summarizing this blog post she wrote): Mesh avatars wireframes and mesh body parts developed for Second Life avatars can probably not be copyrighted. This has, as she notes, "implications for those [SL] creators who are investing significant time and money into making mesh body parts, and hoping to be able to protect them." However, she argues, they probably can't. Here's why:
"Short version: the one good case we have on copyright in wireframes found that the specific ones in question weren't copyrightable, because all they did was reproduce, in wireframe, something that already existed.
"Mesh bodies are reproducing something that already exists: the SL avatar mesh. Even if they aren't actually using the avatar mesh itself as a guideline, or looking at the actual SL avatar mesh, they're derivatives of the avatar mesh. With a derivative work, a creator can only have a copyright in his or her own independent creation, so -— assuming Linden Lab is permitting all uses of its avatar mesh —- a body creator could not get a copyright in the entire body, but only in the things that are different from the avatar mesh.
"To clarify," she goes on:
"Let's say I go to the museum with my sketchpad and colored pencils, and I sit down and sketch The Birth of Venus. I do a beautiful job, I get it exactly right, and it's a glorious picture. That sketch is entirely my work. I did it myself. But I can't get a copyright on it, because it's a derivative of another work. If I've added something to it -— maybe I've made Venus look like a Swimsuit Illustrated model —- I could claim the things I've changed. But I can't claim the things that are derivative. (Of course, this is just under US law. Other countries have different legal analyses.)
"This question -— what is and isn't derivative -— is an awfully difficult one to settle out, and would only really be sorted out in court. So right now it's all hypothetical, and just sort of entertaining to toss around. But it does have implications for those creators who are investing significant time and money into making mesh body parts, and hoping to be able to protect them.
"...[B]elieve me, I'm a big believer in copyright minimalism, so I'd love for people to be able to create more derivative works far more easily. Unfortunately, that's not how the case law on derivative works goes."
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Image from Vaki's Flickr stream.