guests at a lecture hosted by the Berkman Center at Harvard

Guests at a lecture hosted by the Berkman Center at Harvard

Managing Intellectual Property, a global magazine not just for lawyers but for large businesses and other intellectual property owners, recently released its annual list of the most influential people in the world of IP. The top ten include names like Francis Gurry, the deputy director of WIPO, and Chief Judge Paul Michael of the Federal Court of Appeals, known for his patent decisions.

The number one spot? “The avatar,” Second Life. This, of course, refers to the virtual representation of the user/player in the online virtual world Second Life. As noted by Managing Intellectual Property:

No conference on intellectual property today, it seems, is complete without a session on them; no textbook or learned article comes without a reference to their implications for IP rights owners. Wherever you look, people are talking about online worlds such as Second Life.

Interestingly enough, SL (launched in 2003) has been growing lately… while at the same time attracting fewer new users. The growth is economic, suggesting that the already-highly-engaged SL regulars are intensifying their interest in and use of the world, even if the appeal to new users is fading. But meanwhile, the legal interest in SL is also intensifying. With virtual worlds beginning to supplant the novelty value of the Internet in terms of cutting edge law, more and more legal scholars are considering issues of “virtual law,” particularly in regards to intellectual property.

Legal practitioners are carving out a niche in the world as well. The Second Life Bar Association even offers virtual CLEs and legal lecture series. Where else can you get continuing education credit while “sitting” between a giant rabbit and a lawyer in an impeccably tailored suit (who also happens to have alien-green skin)?

In any case, Managing Intellectual Property seems to be hitting the mark in terms of the Next Big Thing in IP… it may not be Second Life in particular, but with everyone from EA Games to Google working on their own virtual worlds, the legal issues aren’t going away anytime soon. The celebration of “the avatar” reminds me of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2006: “you.” Like Web 2.0 content creators and movers-and-shakers, you are the heart of virtual worlds, you and your avatar.

— Casey Fiesler

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