Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR/Virtual Worlds: A Follow-Up Editorial

Apparently, Ghoster (whom I interviewed previously) is quite peeved at me for, and I quote, “bashing [his] server and VRChat”.

I didn’t even realize he was upset with me until I started chatting with him today on his new Discord server, Hi-Fi Traders, which is set up much the same as his previous server, VRChat Traders: a forum where people seeking a custom avatar can connect with avatar designers, creators, and riggers. The services are quite popular, and some people likely make a good side or full-time income from custom avatar creation for paying customers.

Ghoster probably has a right to be angry with me, after what I wrote about intellectual property and copyright issues in virtual worlds. He might feel, and not without some reason, that it was a personal attack. (It certainly wasn’t, but I can understand where he’s coming from.)

And it would appear that I have now been banned from Hi-Fi Traders, and probably VRChat Traders, too. I was still on the Hi-Fi Traders Discord channel when I found myself suddenly kicked out.

Before I was unceremoniously booted off his server, I told Ghoster (twice) that I would gladly give him a guest blogger spot to post a detailed rebuttal of my original blogpost, but it would seem that throwing me out was the preferred approach. I still stand by my original blogpost, and the argument I am making today. Also, I am not singling out VRChat, either; I have also blogged about IP infringement on OpenSim-based virtual worlds, and what I have to say here applies to all metaverse platforms, not just VRChat.

All I have done is point out that people charging money for the creation of custom avatars, where they do not own the intellectual property, are operating on sketchy legal grounds. Ghoster told me today that the high number of concurrent users on VRChat makes it difficult to police this sort of thing. That’s true. But frankly, that’s not an excuse for clear-cut cases of copyright infringement.

Custom avatar creation is a sort of cottage industry, much like those peasants who did piecework on their weaving looms before the Industrial Revolution came along. That’s fine, and I fully and completely support that work. (Many people still make a living creating and selling content on Second Life after 15 years of operation, for example.)

And creating a custom avatar inspired by someone else’s intellectual property is okay. For example, Roger Rabbit in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit is based on a mash-up of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Goofy:

Roger is a slender, white rabbit with large blue eyes, pink nose, a tuft of red hair who wears red overalls, yellow gloves, and a blue yellow polka dot bow tie. He is an amalgamation of various classic cartoon characters; taking Bugs Bunny’s cartoon rabbit form, Mickey’s gloves, and Goofy’s baggy pants. Animator Richard Williams described the process of creating him like an “American flag” with the red overalls, white fur and blue bow tie and American audiences would enjoy him subliminally.

But, if you make an exact copy of Mickey Mouse as a custom avatar for somebody and charge them money for it, don’t be surprised to find the Disney lawyers breathing down your neck (or, more likely, going after VRChat, High Fidelity, or whatever virtual world is hosting that avatar). Even worse, if you create a Mickey Mouse avatar modified in some X-rated way, you’re really skating on thin ice if someone reports you to Disney Inc. They don’t look kindly on that sort of thing.

And I do know that Linden Lab (for example) is monitoring items placed in the Sansar Store, to ensure that no copyright-infringing items are placed up for sale. (They do have Star Trek items up, but it is with the explicit permission of the Roddenberry estate.) In fact, very recently, a lovingly-detailed, fan-made recreation of the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation was pulled offline following a cease and desist from CBS.

As far as I am aware, VRChat is still not doing that sort of checking. (And giving it away for free isn’t an excuse.) They are opening themselves up to a possible lawsuit. So is any other social VR platform or virtual world that is allowing people to recklessly copy somebody else’s intellectual property without permission. And if the company owning the IP comes after a virtual world platform, they have no choice but to comply.

And kicking me off your Discord server, because you don’t want to hear that, isn’t going to change that reality one bit.

DisneyCopyright
You might not agree with it, you can protest it, but it’s the law.

Sorry, Ghoster. I hope you can forgive me over time. But it doesn’t change the facts. Your beef isn’t with me; it’s with the system. If you disagree, then put your efforts into copyright reform, not into a personal feud with me. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Advertisements
Liked it? Take a second to support Ryan Schultz on Patreon!

3 thoughts on “Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR/Virtual Worlds: A Follow-Up Editorial”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.