Of copyright and flying pink penises

One of the things I love about Second Life is that bizarre things can happen at almost any moment. During an interview with a journalist from CNet, for example, a flock of giant pink penises might fly by (known as a “grief” attack). But what makes it interesting — and potentially important — is that the person whose interview was interrupted in such a manner, Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung, has threatened to sue YouTube for hosting video of the event.

Ms. Chung, a Second Life land owner and developer whose real name is Ailin Graef, didn’t threaten to sue because she was embarrassed (although that was no doubt part of her motivation). As Steve O’Hear describes in his post at ZDNet, she sent a “notice and takedown” letter under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because the video showed copyrighted artwork — in other words, her SL virtual character or “avatar” — without her permission.

griefing.JPG

Unfortunately, YouTube decided to take the video down (although at last check it was still on Google Video). I wish they had decided to fight instead, since the claim Ms. Graef is making is ridiculous and would likely never hold up in court. For one thing, there is the principle of fair use under copyight law; for another, allowing Ms. Graef to ban video of her appearance would theoretically allow anyone to have video of themselves removed provided they were wearing a piece of homemade jewellery.

As game designer — and now Second Life correspondent for Reuters — Warren Ellis notes, using the DMCA in this case opens up “a large and nasty-looking can of worms.” For more, check out Slashdot, and for commentary from deep inside the world of Second Life, check out Prokofy Neva’s piece in Second Life Herald.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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