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Virtual people, virtual sex. But the lawsuit is real; Code to SexGen was Stolen

WWW- Kevin Alderman calls himself an erotic Gepetto, a digital Hugh Hefner and “a perv, for a lack of a better term.”

He’s known as “Stroker Serpentine” in the online virtual world Second Life and has amassed an adult animation entertainment empire there. More than 7 million users “live” in a world where they can walk, fly and drive, attend events, go to bars, clubs, engage in sexual activities and buy and sell virtual products and fake lands. Second Life even has its own currency and an exchange rate called the Lindex.

Stroker Serpentine has amassed a following of users interested in exploring the sexual side of the virtual life. He is the entrepreneurial and creative mind behind SexGen, a virtual animation program that allows the avatars, or digital characters, of two users to simulate engaging in different sexual positions and using sex toys on each other. The product includes 100 different sex acts, facial expressions and sounds.

Many users have tried to emulate his product, he says, but when he told them it was copyrighted and asked them to stop, they usually did.

Except “Volkov Catteneo.”

Alderman claims that user, who registered with Second Life using the name Aaron Long, stole the code to SexGen, made minor cosmetic changes and began to sell it at a discount. Last Tuesday, Alderman and his company Eros LLC filed suit in U.S. District Court in Tampa against Long, or whoever is behind the Catteneo avatar.

During an interview that took place inside Second Life, Catteneo told a reporter for Reuters that he had sold about 50 of the SexGen beds, but he was not worried about a subpoena or being caught.

“I am not some kind of ‘noob.’ My name is not on file. I do not even have a permanent address either,” he said, according to the Reuters article.

Friday, a federal judge ruled that Alderman may subpoena Linden Lab, which owns Second Life, and PayPal, which processes the payments, to find out Catteneo’s identity.

“We are going to show people that you can’t hide behind an avatar and break the law,” Alderman told CourtTVnews.com. Neither company returned calls for comment.

Alderman says he has sold between 1,000 and 2,000 SexGen Platinum Editions for $45 each. Catteneo is allegedly selling his altered copies for $15 each.

SexGen is only one of Alderman’s myriad virtual sex products. Users can buy add-ons, including backdrops (such as picnics), chaises and slave poles to create different environments for virtual sex.

“There is something magical about that connection that you make, even though it’s through a series of semiconductors and transistors,” Alderman said. “You are just a compilation of pixels, and there’s no need to impress someone. You don’t have to worry about whether you are overweight or someone finds you attractive.”

Alderman said he began creating his product line in Second Life after he had sold similar products through other 2D virtual platforms and online adult Web sites. He began by enhancing the avatars with genitalia. From there, he said, business began to explode. Users began to request add-ons, such as handcuffs, Kama Sutra positions and sexual fetish accessories.

“Because of the ability to connect with another human being through the Internet and knowing there is a live living breathing creature on the other end of that keyboard, we try and help create a sexual, sensual way to express ourselves,” he said.

Alderman and his business attracted more attention when he recently sold an X-rated Amsterdam island he created in Second Life on eBay to a real-world Dutch media firm for $50,000.

Several gaming bloggers have criticized SexGen for its explicit sexual nature and popularity on Second Life. Alderman’s lawyer, Frank Tanney, said he doesn’t believe the sexual nature of the product will affect the ability of the lawsuit to succeed. Tanney said while some people may want to judge Alderman based on the product, there are instances where the product is really helping people.

“There’s one person I know of who is quadriplegic, and they can have an online relationship with a real person and was able to get some fulfillment out of this product that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Tanney told CourtTVnews.com.

Besides the racy conduct, the case is attracting interest because it is the first in which one online persona is suing another for copyright issues for a product created within a virtual world, according to Mark McCreary, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property law with the law firm Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia.

“This is a straight-up copyright case,” McCreary said. “I think the only difference is the players. The attraction is that it’s an avatar from a virtual world suing another avatar and it’s going to be interesting to see who responds to subpoenas and how willing the companies are to protect the anonymity of these users.”

Alderman claims to have copyright and trademark protection for his products, and Second Life’s policy since 2003 has dictated that all users have the right to retain the rights to any object or program they create using the scripting tools Linden Lab provides.

McCreary said he could see no reason why Alderman’s creation would not be protected by copyright laws.

“Copyright infringement is just as much in effect in the virtual world as in the real world,” McCreary said. “As a user of Second Life, there has to be a new realization that whatever you can’t do in the real world, you can’t do in the virtual life, and that applies on all levels. To start stealing stuff and selling it as your own, that’s going to have real-world implications.”

Second Life has become a hot topic of interest among lawyers who are waiting to see what implications this virtual world will have on real-life law.

Brent Britton, a lawyer with the firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in Tampa and an expert on legal issues involving Second Life, said there is no real gap between products on the Internet, whether real or virtual, and products sold in a real market. The question becomes, he said, how judges will respond.

“A court will have to take the leap that even though this product never actually sees the real light of day, it still constitutes as commerce and people are still paying money,” Britton said. “The defendant in this case is allegedly taking money out of our hero’s pocket here. That’s the very essence of a civil harm regardless of where it takes place.”

The outcome of the suit, Britton said, will have far-reaching effects for every person and company associated with the Internet.

“If they say that trademark and copyright law don’t apply to virtual products, you are saying the entire digital world is being disenfranchised from the protection of intellectual property laws,” he said.

Tanney and his client hope that the man who is allegedly selling copies of Alderman’s product will be forced to stop. He also hopes that the type of product his client is selling won’t cloud the ability of the courts to protect Alderman.

Alderman and his lawyer are asking for triple Catteneo’s profits, which equals the price Alderman would sell his products for.

“I think the story isn’t virtual porn, but rather it’s about a content creator trying to protect his livelihood,” Tanney said. “[Alderman] is trying to make his living and is using his creative energy to come up with this stuff, and I believe he is entitled to reap the benefits of that.”

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