Virtual Greats creates Web celebs

Presley, Hilton lend likenesses to online worlds

Imitation may be a form of flattery, but it can also become a revenue stream for celebs and copyright holders.

At least that’s what the founders of Virtual Greats hope will happen.

The Los Angeles-based company has inked deals with Justin Timberlake, Elvis Presley Enterprises, Snoop Dogg, Paris Hilton, Raven Symone, Tila Tequila and Marvel’s Incredible Hulk to turn their likenesses into virtual goods for members of online communities like Gaia, Second Life and Habbo.

Members would pay a fee to make the avatars they use to roam around the virtual worlds look like their favorite celebrities or characters. Or they could purchase a certain hair style, catchphrase, dance move, clothing line or other bit associated with the celebs or entertainment properties.

Prices vary depending on the community or demand of certain items.

Virtual Greats was launched by San Francisco agency Millions of Us to take advantage of the growing sales of virtual goods in online communities — everything from clothes to cars to furniture — as a way for members to personalize their digital existences in the worlds.

But few if any digital deals were being struck directly with Hollywood and its celebrities; digital copyrights just didn’t exist for online communities, meaning potential revenue was being lost.

“The inspiration for Virtual Greats came when I realized that this was a $1.5 billion market without any high-value copyrighted material,” said Reuben Steiger, CEO of Millions of Us and a former Second Life executive,

Steiger and Virtual Greats CEO Dan Jansen paired up with entertainment attorney Skip Brittenham to broker the initial talent deals, with Gary Stiffelman leading the deal for the firm.

Jansen is a former head of the Boston Consulting Group’s media and entertainment practice, as well as a new media investor and entrepreneur.

“This is a way for talent to control who they are while also making money,” Jansen said.

But it could also eventually become a way for Hollywood to promote upcoming projects.

The deal with Marvel will help push “The Incredible Hulk” as the green superhero stomps into theaters June 13.

“Someone like Justin Timberlake could also use it to promote his next album or movie,” Jansen said.

Virtual Greats said it eventually plans to offer its digital goods across 60 virtual worlds and social media platforms, with the company handling the financial and technical elements of each sale. Revenue is split between Virtual Greats, the copyright holder and the distribution partner.

Company has initially brokered a deal with virtual world Gaia Online, which has more than 5 million members made up of mostly teens that visit the site per month.

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