Does Copyright Law Apply to Videogames and Virtual Worlds?

Concern should arise for real-world companies that their products or marks are being counterfeited in videogames and virtual worlds.  Trademark law requires that companies holding trademarks actively enforce those trademarks in the event of infringement.  Failure to actively enforce trademarks can ultimately result in loss of registration for the marks. Moreover, the more dilution of distinctive, famous trademarks are tolerated by a company, the harder it is to later argue that any particular infringer should be enjoined.  In virtual worlds that allow unfettered scripting and building, particularly when a major brand has not chosen to enter the space, unauthorized use of real-world trademarks has proven too tempting for many designers to resist.  Some worlds, such as, have teams of employees that monitor all texture uploads, partly to prevent real-world trademark and copyright infringement.  Others, such as Second Life, take a relatively hands-off approach, only removing content which is alleged to violated trademarks when it is brought to their attention.

Some in-world brands are developing significant reputations in their own right, and a few are starting to register their trademarks.  In late 2007, Alyssa LaRoche became the first person to file for a trademark on an avatar.  Her avatar, known as “Aimee Weber,” is a well-respected Second Life designer.  “Aimee Weber” is also part of the name of LaRoche’s design studio.  From the description of the mark:

Description of Mark: The color blue appears in the wings and the hair accessories. The color green appears in the shirt and skirt. The color black appears in the hair, eyes, eyebrows, lips, glasses, necklace, bra, waistband, in the striped pattern on the arms and stockings, as well as the toe and calf areas of the boots. All the elements of the drawing are also outlined in black. The color white appears in the eyes, the striped pattern on the arms and legs, as highlights on the black toes of the boots, on the front of the boots, and in the laces. The color peach appears in the skin.