Dune roleplayers in Second Life squelched by IP takedown notice

Paul Raven @ 09-04-2009

The big brands may have all but abandoned Second Life, but the still-growing (yet still somewhat troubled) metaverse platform remains a haven for niche-interest communities… like roleplayers re-enacting locations and events from intellectual properties such as films and novels, for example.

Second Life Dune simulation (with sandworm)

One such small community is based around Frank Herbert’s famous Dune series, acting out conflicts between the Fremen and House Harkonnen, riding sandworms and so forth. Or at least they were until very recently, when the estate of Frank Herbert issued a legal notice for the group to discontinue their reappropriation of controlled intellectual property. [image by Wagner James Au, borrowed from linked article]

In his write-up, Wagner James Au makes the point that there are other unofficial RPG sims in Second Life that make use of controlled IP (from franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, for example) but who have been allowed to continue by the legal types – whether that be because they consider it to be not worth the hassle to shut them down, or that they can see value in fans propagating their memes without being paid to do so, remains uncertain.

Au also claims the Dune take-down notice to be the first such official occurance in SL; I’m not so sure about that, as a friend of mine from The Wastelands claimed to have been stomped by Bethesda Software for selling Fallout-themed items from a shack to cover his land tier payments. It may have been an exaggeration, but his bitterness about it suggested otherwise.

But the question remains: how effective is this sort of take-down at preserving the image of a brand or property? Sure, you may prevent people from making a little pocket-money off the back of your copyrights, but the PR value of letting them be (or, heaven forfend, encouraging them) could be pretty significant… as could the inverse.

That Dune sim has been running for a good year and a half; I remember visiting it when it first opened. Now, if it’s taken Herbert’s estate that long to catch on to a genuinely tiny community of roleplayers, things are only going to get harder. After all, there’s only one Second Life at the moment, but in a decade or so there’ll be hundreds of them.

Will big brands hire researchers to trek through digital realities in search of reappropriated brands, characters and memes, like IP bountyhunters? Will kill-filed private sims harbour markets where you can buy cheap and unofficial avatars based on properties owned by Disney, Pixar and all the rest?

Who knows. One thing can said for certain, however: if the lawyers wanted to protect the sanctity of Dune as a much-loved brand, the first thing they should have done was kept Kevin J Anderson well away from it…

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6 Responses to “Dune roleplayers in Second Life squelched by IP takedown notice”

  1. Derek says:

    “if the lawyers wanted to protect the sanctity of Dune as a much-loved brand, the first thing they should have done was kept Kevin J Anderson well away from it…”

    Amen to that!
    and instead of taking it down maybe they should take this as a hint of people wanting a game involving the Dune universe? a well thought out one of course. which with the way the new novels were written probably wouldn’t happen.

  2. Odin Khriswill says:

    This is sad. Another example of a copyright holder exercising their power to negatively impact their own fans. I think it’s time to take that power away. Maybe they’re working on a game and are afraid of this being competition to it. I guess that would make their action a little more understandable, but still asinine.

  3. jon says:

    “if the lawyers wanted to protect the sanctity of Dune as a much-loved brand…”
    Lawyers don’t protect sanctity, they protect revenue sources. The same goes for famous authors’ “estates”.

  4. A. N. Onomous says:

    I love how you are trying to turn these people protecting there rights and property by law into the bad guys.

  5. Paul Raven says:

    I love how you’re so proud of your viewpoint you’re commenting anonymously. Does that make us even? 😉

  6. Matt says:

    Oh my god, I had this exact image of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson even before reading this. Earlier today, I found an old article talking about the awesome Dune RP on Second Life, so I downloaded SL and tried to teleport there. When I found out it didn’t exist, I searched Google and found this article.

    To “A.N. Onomous”: They’re not protecting their rights, they’re protecting their money and their franchise. They created a completely different Dune universe than the one that Frank Herbert originally made, and quite honestly, theirs sucks. And if they feel so insecure that they need to sue such a small community of roleplayers (between 50 and 75 at its peak, supposedly) to “Protect their rights” then they deserve whatever insults they get.