It’s horses versus bunnies in a virtual software dispute

“Second Life” is an alternative existence for Internet users. Like Facebook’s popular “FarmVille” game, “Second Life” offers users a virtual life fueled by imagination. Users create worlds that include pet ownership for a fee. However, it’s not all puppies and kittens in the virtual utopia. Two of the online pet shops have come back to reality over a lawsuit that alleges copyright infringement.

Virtual animal creator Ozimals Inc. claims that the software used to create its “Second Life” bunnies was ripped off by Amaretto Ranch Breedables LLC, a California-based company that breeds virtual horses and sells feed to “Second Life” users.

Ozimals filed an intellectual property lawsuit against Amaretto, claiming the virtual horse breeder copied its software to create horses for users. The company sent a letter to the virtual equine company as well as “Second Life” owner, Linden Research, Inc., demanding that the Amaretto online horse market be closed, a threat that has some virtual users worried because it could cause their animals to starve.

Amaretto countersued saying Ozimals was spreading unfounded rumors. The company’s cofounder maintains that he built the system completely from scratch. “Second Life” has refused to shutter the Amaretto horse store, and has taken no public stance on the companies’ dispute.

The Amaretto horses were uploaded last year, just months after Ozimals’ rabbits became available. Lawyers for Ozimals are ready to compromise with Amaretto, as long as the company only offers its horses and feed for free.

While the intellectual property battle continues, both companies have been given a judge’s permission to continue to operate profitable animal stores in “Second Life.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “You Can Lead a Virtual Horse to Water, But You Might Get Sued Along the Way,” Justin Sheck, July 30, 2011