Court enjoins Second Life from taking action on DMCA Take Down Notices, even though Second Life not a party to the lawsuit.

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In Amaretto Ranch Breedables v. Ozimals, Inc., Case No. 10-05696, the Northern District of California granted a temporary restraining order enjoining Second Life from honoring Defendant’s take down notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). Defendant sells “ozimals” which are breadable “living” bunnies that users can purchase and take care of in the Second Life virtual world. Defendant sent Second Life a take down notice under Section 512(c)(3) of the DMCA, requesting that Second Life remove Plaintiff’s virtual horses based on the allegation that such horses infringed Defendant’s copyrights in its virtual bunnies. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that it did not violate Defendant’s copyrights. Plaintiff also filed a request for a temporary restraining order, seeking to enjoin Second Life from removing its virtual horses from the virtual world, rather than enjoining Defendant from sending allegedly improper DMCA take down notices.

The court granted Plaintiff’s request for an injunction under Section 512(f) of the DMCA, which permits an injunction against complying with a take down notice if a party knowingly misrepresents that the material is infringing. Defendant’s take down notice alleged that the act of having a “live” virtual animal that needed food to “live” was protected by its copyright and was thereby infringed by Plaintiff’s virtual horses which needed virtual food to live. The court reasoned that Defendant was likely trying to protect the functionality of the virtual animal via copyright. However, copyright does not protect functionality. Because Plaintiff submitted declarations supporting that it did not copy Defendant’s code, which would have been a valid copyright violation, the court held that Plaintiff had “raised serious questions” as to whether Defendant materially misrepresented the likelihood of an actual infringement in the take down notice sent to Second Life. Thus, the court held that Plaintiff would likely be irreparably harmed if Second Life did take down its virtual horses, as Plaintiff would lose customers and income.

What is interesting about this case is the fact that the court enjoined Second Life, who was not a party and did not have a chance to litigate on behalf of itself in the proceedings. Thus, Second Life is apparently subject to an order to which it did not have a chance to weigh in on. The preliminary injunction hearing, to decide whether to maintain the injunction, is set for January 11, 2011.

This case also highlights the need for companies to understand the limits of the DMCA. Making overreaching statements in a DMCA takedown notice can lead to the copyright owner being liable.