Mark Bragg File’s Virtual Property Complaint Against Linden Labs
Text of Bragg v. Linden Labs Complaint (Oct 4, 2006)[.zip format]
Jurisdiction and other Interim Court Filings
While I was converting this blog to WordPress over the last 8 weeks, Mark Bragg sent me his updated complaint against Linden Research Inc. ("Linden") that was filed on October 4 in the Chester County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas. Mr. Bragg is seeking a jury trial. On November 7, Linden petitioned the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to take jurisdiction of the case.
I'm just now getting the time to review the claim and post this blog entry about it.
The complaint contains a terrific history (frankly, the best I've read) of Linden, its MMORPG Second Life and describes how Linden differentiated Second Life from its competitors by granting "ownership rights" to in-game property (most MMORPG publishers claim/retain ownership in all related virtual property). It also contains a history/description of virtual property generally in the context of the growing MMORPG phenomena.
The 239 paragraph complaint alleges violation of Californian and Pennsylvanian unfair practices and consumer protection laws, fraud, violation of California's Civil Code concerning auctions, conversion (theft), interference with contractual relations, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and tortuous breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. He discounts many of the provisions of the Linden Labs Terms of Service ("TOS") as being unenforceable due to unconscionably. Suffice it to say, when this case is over, I suspect Linden will be updating its TOS!
This Law.com article provides a good summary of the facts. The complaint, itself, is worth reading if only for its best-in-class description of the MMORPG industry and related virtual property issues. Excellent job Mark!
Dale's Comment: Given that many courts in many countries have upheld the validity of extremely one-sided Internet-service click-wrap/shrink-wrap agreements, I think Mark will have a tough time overcoming the clear provisions contained in the TOS. But he makes many compelling arguments pertaining to the contradicting public statements of Linden representatives, rights in and to virtual property purchased from other Second Life users, and the right to recoup the real $U.S. dollars he paid into the Second Life economy and not returned when Linden booted him from the game.
Bragg is claiming ownership to his in-game property. I am quite sympathetic to his arguments and have advocated, here, for the the recognition, at law, of rights in and to virtual property. But, if analogies to real-world and intangible property are taken to their logical extreme, Second Life players could argue that Linden would never have the right to shutdown their MMORPG and deny virtual property owners of their "right" to access, use, sell and other wise deal with their virtual property when, as will inevitably be the case one day, Second Life ceases to be a profitable game for Linden.
This could be a very important, precedent setting case if it goes to trial. It could set the ground rules for the application of laws to virtual property going forward. Needless to say, I'll be following this one closely.
[Dec 13, 2006 Update: Mark has sent me this link where the most recent court filings in the case can be found. At the moment the parties are fighting over the most appropriate jurisdiction for further proceedings.]
- Mark Bragg File's Virtual Property Complaint Against Linden Labs (November 16, 2006)
- Linden Lab Sued for Alleged Breach of Virtual Land Contract (May 18, 2006)