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Second Life Lawsuit Charges New York Man With Virtual Theft

Is counterfeit a crime in an online world? It’s a question at the heart of a lawsuit against a New York man charged with selling ‘stolen’ products from other players’ e-shops in Second Life.

Digital Journal — Thomas Simon is a hated man. Not Simon the Queens, N.Y., resident but his virtual avatar in Second Life, Rase Kenzo. In this multiplayer online world, Simon has used Kenzo to copy products from Second Life shops and sell them for profit. Supposedly, Simon has lifted everything from sex toys to shoes to beds.

Simon is facing a lawsuit from six entrepreneurs who charge the man with copyright and trademark infringement. The cyber shop-owners believe their products were cloned through a technical glitch in the Second Life system.

According to the New York Post, the lawsuit doesn’t say how much money the group wants but seeks damages equal to three times the profits they claim they lost by Simon’s actions.

Simon denies any wrongdoing, telling the Post:They can say whatever they want to say. It’s a video game… I didn’t know you could sue anyone over it.Second Life’s real-life impact isn’t just fantasy. The money trading hands may be virtual, but it translates into a lucrative economy. The Washington Post explains:
In Second Life, more than nine million users spend many real hours and lots of very real money to clothe, feed and comfort their avatars. According to Linden Labs, proprietors of the virtual environment platform where all this craziness takes place, users cumulatively conduct transactions totaling more than $1 million each day. That’s real dollars — the kind you can use to clothe, feed and comfort yourself in the real world.With Second Life’s most recent lawsuit garnering headlines, the many avatars populating the online universe now face several obstacles: Can they get sued for sampling a musician’s song in their virtual road trips? Will sexual assault charges begin to pop up? Who is responsible for an avatar’s actions — the creator of Second Life or the human behind the keyboard?

When this lawsuit makes the rounds in court, expect the entire gaming world to be watching closely. Its outcome will have implications for any online world where the lines of reality are getting increasingly blurry each passing year.

*Updated October 31, 2007

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