Evans v. Linden Research, Inc., No. C 11–01078 DMR, 2012 WL 5877579 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 20, 2012).

On November 20, 2012, the Northern District of California granted certification to one sub-class in a class action lawsuit against defendant Linden Research, Inc. (“Linden”). The lawsuit focuses on the definition of virtual land “ownership” in Second Life, Linden’s popular online role-playing world. In the game, users buy and sell virtual items and land created by Linden within Second Life. Breaking from industry standard, Linden had originally marketed the Second Life world as being “owned by its residents.” Whereas Linden maintains that this “ownership” was limited to intellectual property rights, the user plaintiffs argue that Linden’s earlier marketing efforts represented that it was also conveying real and personal property ownership rights.

The plaintiffs claim that Linden lured users in with false promises of user ownership rights, which it then broke by unilaterally closing their accounts without compensating them for the value of their virtual land, items, and currency. Analogizing to the ownership of domain names, plaintiffs argue that Linden conveyed actual property ownership rights to them in their virtual items and land. Linden’s counsel, however, responded, “You have to remember this stuff isn’t real. It’s a game on a computer.” He further explained, “It is not real property. It’s not personal property; it is an intellectual property.” Linden noted that by suspending users’ accounts, it did not confiscate the users’ copyrights in the works they created within Second Life.

The court granted class certification for a sub-class of users whose Second Life accounts were suspended or closed by Linden and whose assets, including virtual items and land, were thus allegedly converted deliberately and intentionally.