Taking (Second) Lives

"Break my virtual heart, and I'll boil your virtual rabbit."

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Alleged crimes committed in online worlds are getting real people in real trouble:

But our digital selves got along so well.

Kimberly Jernigan, 33, of Durham, NC, was arrested last August for attempted kidnapping. Her avatar had been dating another in Second Life - the 3-D community with more than 15 million users - but when the two players met in the flesh, the guy felt no sparks. Jernigan was picked up after fleeing the man's home, leaving behind a Taser, a BB gun, handcuffs, and duct tape.

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Hell hath no fury like an avatar scorned.

Last fall, a 43-year-old Japanese piano teacher who played that country's wildly popular online role-playing game Maple Story, was "married" to another player. But when he abruptly divorced her without explanation, she hacked into his game account and killed his avatar. The actual woman could face actual jail time for illegal access and manipulating data.

Are there virtual patent lawyers?

In the first of what could be many Avatar v. Avatar lawsuits, 46-year-old Kevin Alderman of Tampa, FL, sued the Second Life avatar of 19-year-old Texan Robert Leatherwood last spring for making unauthorized copies of a virtual sex toy (yes, they have those in Second Life) that Alderman had designed to sell in his virtual erotic shop. Leatherwood got a slap on the wrist, but because "products" like Alderman's can be bought via PayPal, virtual crimes can lead to the real-world loss of cold, hard cash.

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