Often, people tend to doubt that there's real money at stake selling virtual goods. Despite estimates that virtual goods will become a $10 billion industry this year, it often seems fantastic that people are willing to spend real money on products that don't exist in the physical world.
But they do. Just like in any other business involving real money, there are real lawsuits involved.
In this case, we have something that sounds almost ludicrous: the Bunny People (a.k.a. Ozimals) vs. the Horse People (a.k.a. Amaretto). To date, the battle still rages on.
But as silly as this might sound it's really only about what any other civil lawsuit is about: money. Very real money.
To put it simply, Ozimals made "breedable virtual bunnies." They had traits that might (or might not) be passed on, with varying levels of rarity and perceived value.
By all accounts, they are super cute. Linden Lab even made an advertising push for them several months ago in their newsletter.
But like any other collectable item (virtual and physical), it's the secondary market where people trade, sell, and auction these virtual pets that money really changes hands fast and furiously. While the original creators make money from these breedable virtual creatures, so to do the breeders themselves, as they resell them at auction.
But not everyone wants to be a bunny farmer. Other kinds of animals have come on the scene with limited success. But it wasn't until Amaretto entered the breedables market with horses that the situation exploded.
The horses, much like the bunnies, became enormously popular. So much so that the amount of money that even breeder/resellers were making was many times enough to replace a decent full time RL job (I know more than one person who did it.) The original creators at the top of the pyramid are making even more.
But the Amaretto breedable system has similarities to that used by Ozimals. Considering how much money is changing hands, it was similar enough so that the Ozimals folks sued Amaretto for violating their IP rights.
In the midst of all of this, Linden Lab got caught in the middle between the warring factions as DMCA takedown notices and counterfilings flew overhead. In the end, the status quo of both the horses and bunnies continuing to be sold as they were previously is still being maintained until there's more legal action without the Lab having to do anything at all.
However, make no mistake -- a tremendous amount of money is at stake here. Breedable animals are immensely popular and can, under the right circumstances, make people more money than you'd ever expect such a thing to produce.
For the people who create these little virtual pets in the first place, the stakes are even higher. This case will decide to what extent previously existing breedable companies can claim that new ones are horning in on their action and IP.
In the end, though, it's really just about the money. It's no surprise to anyone involved deeply in virtual worlds and goods that there truly is enough money at stake to go through with expensive legal remedies.
(Thanks to Eden Malik of Silver Screen Pets for the photos accompanying this article.)