So you think policing your Museum intellectual property is challenging in the “real world”? Now Museums need to be concerned about policing the virtual worlds found on the web. Virtual worlds such as “Second Life” and “Active Worlds” provide simulated computer worlds where users interact with each other and their surroundings by the use of “avatars” (textual, graphic, auditory or sensory representations of a user). The virtual worlds have developed their own social structure and economic structure. The detail and complexity of each virtual society is rather astounding. And as with any successful and vibrant society, art and Museums take a prominent role.
The virtual worlds have spawned an e-commerce niche that is astounding. According to 2007 numbers posted on Techcrunch.com, it is estimated that 1.5 billion dollars are spent each year in this virtual worlds. Goods and services are sold by avatars, and have even crossed over into the “real world” and appeared on ebay. What does this mean for Museums? Well, do not be surprised to see a part of a Museum collection in a virtual world as a part of a virtual museum. Avatars may charge others for admission into the virtual museum, thus trading on the collections and property of the “real world” Museum. Additionally, you may find that posters and prints from the virtual museum may be sold for “real” money to virtual users. If Museum content, copyright and trademarks are being used in a virtual world for commercial gain, the “real world” Museum must enforce its legal rights against the infringer – virtual or real. If not policed, infringement on an unprecedented scale will continue to blossom and create real world nightmares for Museums.
If you are approached by someone who wishes to use Museum content in a virtual world, be vigilant in researching the virtual world. More importantly, any license agreement or any agreement concerning the use of the content of a Museum in a virtual world must be narrowly tailored and made with a real person, not an avatar. The last thing a Museum needs to fight is whether or not the contract or license was signed by a real or virtual person. Obtaining the consent of a real live person is hard enough…..