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10/28/2007
02:00 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Second Life Lawsuit Over Cybersex Toy Theft

You know it had to come to this eventually in the reality substitute called Second Life: Thieves are stealing virtual people's virtual crap, and reselling it to other avatars for real money. And when they're caught red-handed, they've got this great defense -- how can it be criminal, it's only a video game?

You know it had to come to this eventually in the reality substitute called Second Life: Thieves are stealing virtual people's virtual crap, and reselling it to other avatars for real money. And when they're caught red-handed, they've got this great defense -- how can it be criminal, it's only a video game?Adding to the surrealness of the whole episode, the newspaper that's got the authoritative source about this latest cyberspace theft racket is . . . The New York Post. Kathianne Boniello's article, Unreality Byte$ (the dollar sign is theirs, not mine), reports that six Second Lifers are suing 36-year-old Flushing, N.Y., resident Thomas Simon, who lurks in the virtual world via an avatar named Rase Kenzo. The suit "allege[s] that Simon lifted everything from shoes and clothes to beds from their Second Life shops."

Here's where the Post story gets good (or bad):

" 'It's stealing,' insisted Kevin Alderman, a Florida man whose Second Life alter ego is called Stroker Serpentine. [He's one of the plaintiffs.] He operates the Second Life sex store Strokerz Toyz, which sells beds, sofas, rugs, and toys embedded with computer code that facilitates sex between virtual characters."

Simon also is charged with ripping off single mom Shannon Grei, of Oregon, who, according to the story, supports her two kids selling skins (avatar clothing) on Second Life.

Since this is the most interesting lawsuit I've come across in at least three weeks -- since the Apple iBricking stuff -- I hunted up the court papers. It's a federal case, as they used to say, because the suit was filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.

When you look at the complaint itself, it's actually extremely interesting. Turns out the Post underplays the most notable aspect of the action, which I should have suspected, since this is Second Life we're talking about. Namely, that this suit is mostly about sex. (How's that for turnabout, the Post toning down the prurient part.)

The lead plaintiff is a company called Eros LLC, out of Lutz, Fla. The case is constituted as a copyright infringement, civil conspiracy, and counterfeiting suit against Simon and 10 unnamed John Does, who are being sued by Eros, Ms. Grei, and four other entities, for "making and selling numerous unauthorized copies of Plaintiffs' virtual products."

If I'm parsing this correctly, the suit is big potatoes because Eros is a major player in Second Life. As the complaint spells it out:

"Principally through the marketing efforts of Kevin Alderman, Eros's Chief Executive Office (known within Second Life as "Stoker Serpentine"), Eros's products have become widely known within Second Life, with Mr. Alderman, Eros, and Eros's products receiving substantial coverage from national and international technologically oriented media properties such as ABC Australia, Wired, eBay Magazine, InformationWeek, iVillage, and Huff Report."

The InformationWeek reference is of course a nod to the groundbreaking coverage of my colleague Mitch Wagner, who has consistently been ahead of the pack and also has ranged further and burrowed deeper into Second Life than any other tech reporter. (Mitch interviewed Alderman back in March, here, and described what the deal is with all this stuff in Sex In Second Life.)

Alderman is suing Simon for ripping off Eros's SexGen Platinum Base Unit v4.01 and SexGen Platinum+Diamond v5.01 products. Apparently, this isn't the first time Alderman has sued someone over this (there was a filing in July), which indicates that counterfeiting is as a big risk for successful Second Life businesses as it is for traditional software vendors such as Microsoft.

Clearly, Simon's defense -- "They can say whatever they want to say, it's a video game," he told the Post. "I didn't know you could sue anyone over it" -- doesn't wash if he indeed did duplicate this stuff.

Interestingly, when I went to Google to try to find out just exactly what SexGen Platinum is, the search engine wasn't terribly forthcoming. Most of the references identified it as a "sex toy," which left me as clueless as a nine-year-old trying to puzzle out the meaning of "intercourse." Further searching yields the info that it's apparently a tool for enabling two avatars to simulate sex.

OK, enough already, before this post turns into an excuse to overuse words one normally doesn't associated with a tech blog. However, I have just one question. No, it's not the definition of the activity that's clearly the elephant in the virtual room in Second Life. I'm pretty much guessing that that's just an Internet-age appellation for uncoupled self-satisfaction.

It's this: Is cybersex cheating?

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