Universal Studios has filed infringement notices to Linden Lab, over user-generated content relating to its Battlestar Galactica properties – one of several very successful role-playing themes in Second Life.
You may recall when the Frank Herbert estate did much the same with the roleplayers of Dune, a little over a year ago.
All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.
Some argue that fan-based use of media themes and properties like this is good advertising, a homage, and increases interest and sales in books, DVDs and other media-related properties. They’re right, too.
Others argue that it constitutes unlawful infringement of the copyright- and trademark-holder’s rights. They’re also right.
Somewhere in between the two, there’s probably a gray area of some fair-use middle ground too.
The rights for online gaming for the Battlestar Galactica property have been assigned to german game-maker Bigpoint, and the announcement of the upcoming MMOG based on this theme was announced earlier this year, so this isn’t an astonishing move. Fan-created roleplay environments constitute direct competition for some quite expensive gaming properties.
Right now, online virtual environments feature strong cadres of roleplayers gaming in the Firefly universe, Star Wars, Gor, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Stargate, the Lord of the Rings, the very popular World of Darkness setting (also with an upcoming MMOG), and many more – and that’s just in Second Life, let alone the hundreds of other fan-created online environments hosting gamers.
Whether it can be argued that it is or isn’t in the rights-holders’ best interests to take action of this sort, this isn’t the last time we’ll see this sort of thing happen. All we can do is wonder which group is going to be next.