Virtual World in a Real Federal Court


     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Virtual animals in a virtual world have led to a real headache. A company whose virtual horses eat virtual grass claims a company that make virtual bunnies has asserted false copyright claims, threatening to drive it from the virtual world known as Second Life just as the "busy holiday shopping season" arrives.
     Amaretto Ranch Breedables, of Moreno Valley, accuses Ozimals, of Alabama, of misuse of copyright, tortious interference, unfair competition and misrepresentation, in Federal Court.
     Both companies make virtual animals and virtual accessories they sell in a "virtual store in Second Life, a three-dimensional virtual world created and operated by Linden Research" of San Francisco, which is not a party to this complaint.
     Both companies use Linden Scripting Language to make their virtual animals, and once the critters come alive in the virtual world, "many users sell copies of these things to other users in virtual stories within Second Life, with many of these entrepreneurs making substantial profits," according to the complaint.
     Amaretto and Ozimals are competitors in the virtual and the real world.
     Amaretto claims Ozimals "improperly alleged in a cease-and-desist letter" to Amaretto "that Amaretto's virtual horse that eats virtual food to grow into an adult an actually survive within Second Life was the same as Ozimals' virtual bunny, and that Amaretto's products infringed Ozimals' alleged copyrighted product, although no copyright registration nor any patent was claimed or produced by Ozimals to Amaretto."
     In response to Ozimals' Nov. 2 cease-and-desist letter, Amaretto responded, on Nov. 22, "that Ozimals' claimed copyrights to the functional elements or traits of its product are not protectable under United States copyright law. Moreover, the idea of a virtual animal that eats virtual food to survive and will 'die' without the food, is an idea, which can only [be] protected by United States patent law - copyright and patent concepts Ozimals' attorney knew or should have known."
     Nonetheless, Amaretto says, Ozimals notified Linden Research on Dec. 1 that Amaretto was violating Ozimals' copyright, "therefore requiring Second Life, pursuant to its terms of service and 17 U.S.C. §512, in order to preserve its Safe Harbor status, to take down Amaretto's products during the present busy holiday shopping season."
     Amaretto responded in a letter to Linden on Dec. 9, contesting Ozimals' claims. But Amaretto says it fears that Linden "will take down Amaretto's product line at any moment, during the height of the holiday shopping season, thereby causing irreparable harm and damage to Amaretto."
     Amaretto seeks a restraining order and injunction, costs, lost profits, statutory damages and punitive damages. It is represented by Kenneth Keller with Krieg, Keller, Sloan, Reilley & Roman.