On the Inworldz forums someone mentioned the application of trademark and copyright in a VR environment. The question was basically, "What if someone duplicates my business name in Inworldz?" The answer provided was basically, "Copyrights don't protect names. You would need a Trademark."
Realizing how costly Trademarks are and the difficulty and expense in prosecuting such in real life, it brought to my mind something I have felt has been long lacking in virtual worlds: common- sense policy. I don't say that as an insult to Inworldz... but to bring attention to the fact that private companies are not restricted to the observance of real-life laws within the confines of their structure, so long as they don't contradict or break those laws.
Following was my reply on that forum, reproduced here for Elf Clan comments and archives:
THE NEED FOR VIRTUAL LAW
This is a really good subject, one I'd like to approach from a merchant's standpoint.
A fact for consideration: Real Life laws are not essentially the entire scope and process of private company policies.
Trademarks are a good example. Yes we know how trademarks work in real life. We also know they are time consuming and expensive to obtain... well beyond the means of most merchants in virtual worlds. We also know Copyrighting doesn't protect names.
However, none of that prevents a grid company from establishing their own internal policy. That policy would be very easy to create. Simply presented, a TOS addition would be made:
* No merchant is allowed to bear the same business name or a name significantly identical to the business name of an existing merchant.
* No merchant may use the existing name of an established merchant from another grid.
These two simple policy additions likely would effectively prevent the problem of "name sniping" (whether accidental or griefing). It would put the obligation on the new merchant to make some effort to check for a name before using it as a business. No, it's not identical to real life laws; it doesn't have to be. It simply makes sense for virtual life.
Bam, done deal. It now becomes an official rule of the grid and anyone breaking that rule can be AR'd... and the grid functionaries direct the second merchant to change his business name. If he fails to do so, then he is removed from the grid just like anyone who repeatedly intentionally breaches TOS.
As this stands now, stated prior, someone could come in and duplicate an existing merchant's business name (either accidentally or by malice) and not a thing could be done about it. That doesn't strike me as a good, beneficial solution. Solutions should be beneficial... not passing the buck to RL laws that ill-serve the special needs of virtual environments.
So bottom line, real life laws do not limit what a grid can do to protect their clients. That was one of the really major flaws of Linden Lab and Second Life: they created a virtual society without sensible, essential virtual law.
There are all kinds of concepts needed for a virtual world that is not covered in RL law. Because people who use VR come from all over the world... logistics, expense and anonymity all greatly limit what can be done via conventional means (ie, court, arbitration or police). This fact insists that VR companies handle these matters in a more expedient common sense manner that is to the benefit and protection of their customers.
Hosting a virtual grid creates a society. All societies must have a form of government and an enforcement agency... or anarchy and chaos rules. To prevent that, simple policies can be enacted with consequences for breach... at minimal expense or man-power to the company. Sometimes, all that is required is a simple post in the TOS so that one user can go to another and say, "Scuse me, sorry but I've already been using that name for months and it appears in grid Classifieds and forums. Please see this TOS reference..." If both are honorable people, problem solved.
In truth, in many such instances all that has to happen is for the Founders (or their deputies) to step in and say, "We're sorry, but this is not allowable on this grid". In RL corporations this is called the "buck stops here policy"... and can cover a very wide variety of situations fairly, equitably, and with benefit to all.