Sunday, June 18, 2006

Trademark Issues in Second Life

A couple week's ago, Scoble came to the office and we were talking post-speech about some issues, the Bay Area and the fun of all that could be.

Yes, this was prior to the big Vloggercon news.

We also talked about Second Life (SL), and I brought up that I had just bought an Adidas shirt for my character. Yes, that's me as Ezekial Goodllife looking at an SUV, in my Adidas shirt.

What are the implications in a virtual world in regards to trademarks and copyrights? I bought this shirt in SL, but I really, really doubt that Adidas put it out, that Adidas is getting money for it, and that Adidas was contacted about the shirt.

We all see how YouTube has both handled and mishandled copyright rights, but how is it going to work in a virtual world, where people make clothes and other items to sell to others.

For example, that shirt only cost me $50 Linden Lab dollars.

Since I knew Linden Labs was going to be speaking at the next Third Thursday, I waited to blog about the trademark issue until I could speak with them. I know, I know - that's very anti-spirit of blogging, and the whole damn the torpedoes mentality that bloggers are supposed to have. Maybe it is the PR person in me that just refuses to go off half-cocked. Okay, joke there, but leaving it alone.

So, met the people from Linden Labs at Third Thursday - live the excitement from Mike Manuel's pix - and did get to ask them about trademarks, but did not have my little reporter handbook to write down the answer and was too tired to remember verbatim, so I emailed them on Friday.

While we were talking, though, we discussed different PR and marketing in Second Life, and she told me about American Apparel launching a store in Second Life. If only I was amoral, I coulda had a scoop!

The sad thing is I bet the virtual American Apparel employees will be better trained than the real-world ones. Talk about a store that lacks customer service ... ugh. But, why is it so important that I had to wait to write about SL trademarks and American Apparel? Because they all tie in together. If corporations are going to begin launching officially branded SL products in the game, if there are already trademark infringements, that is going to impede companies from going in to the SL universe.

The demographics for SL are quite interesting - the right age, the right breakdown of males/females, a good number of real-world transactions - that many companies are going to look at SL as a new place to market. If you are in SL, you see it is an adult-oriented community. While flying down the road, I can see motorcycles, cars, adult-oriented theaters (which cracks me up), and then you have such things as conference centers holding online events while the first world has the same event (one such example is Vloggercon streaming in Second Life).

So, I knew I needed Linden Lab's official stance on copyrights and trademarks, so I got this response:
Trademarks in-world are handled a bit differently than copyright, largely due to trademarks not falling under the provisions of the DMCA. In regards to copyright, Linden Lab follows a standard DMCA procedure by which we'll disable any content identified by the copyright holder or their agent as infringing. The Second Life Resident responsible for that content can file a counterclaim, but any final resolution is handled by the parties themselves, outside of Second Life.

Trademark is not included in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and thus we're obliged to removed unauthorized trademarks from Second Life whenever they are found. In practice, this is exactly what we do. However, as Second Life is a user-created and driven space, we approach this task from the same 'bottom-up' perspective that drives much of our in-world governance. The in-world Linden Lab are skilled facilitators and problem solvers; they aren't trademark experts. Indeed, given the global nature of Second Life, it's invertible that their ability to identify trademarks will be imperfect. While their work includes removing identified trademarks, they are not tasked with seeking out offending material and generally refrain from acting presumptively. Instead, we rely on the community itself, with its much broader knowledge and reach, to inform us of content that violates our policy.
It's a police state, police yourself end-run, which might ask a little bit too much from the users.

Is someone in SL going to complain that their Adidas shirt is less than stellar quality? Or, that their car does not run well? Well, no. But, I think that Linden is at least cognizant of the potential issue, and is looking to the community to help them help keep SL alive and well. I wonder if another brand was the first store in Second Life, if it would have been more inflammatory.

Imagine the world's first SL Starbucks. And, then have nightmares ....

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