Archive for the ‘Law’ Tag

Trademarkgate© — Latest Newslink

Check this week’s issue of the Metaverse Messenger for a Perspective piece — essentially an editorial or op-ed — by Phoenix Psaltery on the trademark and branding situation; or what, for short, I believe I shall begin referring to as “Trademarkgate©.” [1] Two key paragraphs:

You know, I totally understand LL’s desire to protect their branding. I know it’s important for a company to protect its trademarks, its logos, and its intellectual property, but for Linden Lab to have permitted residents to use domain names such as SLExchange, SLProfiles, SLTrivia, and SLBoutique (now OnRez.com) for the last four years, and then to suddenly try to say that they’ll all have to change their established business names is cutting the throats of the very people that helped to popularize Second Life as a platform, a game, a social networking site — however you look at it.

What’s worse is how it affects residents who have worked long and hard to establish their businesses and were very careful to follow Linden Lab’s previous branding guidelines to the letter, only to now be told that they aren’t in compliance with the new regulations because their URL has “SL” in it. Talk about changing horses in midstream!

Please read in full; the article starts on page 5, and jumps to page 19.

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Additionally, Hamlet Au has completed the survey he was running at New World Notes, and he publishes the results, along with a distillation of 10 questions concerned Residents are wanting answered by Linden Lab.

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[1] “Trademarkgate” is a copyrighted term of the avatar known as Harper Ganesvoort, and all rights are reserved in perpetuity, unless you are a fellow Second Life blogger. Linden Lab will have to pay royalty through the nose for the right to use this term (grin).

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Gwyn Sets Up a Petition to Linden Lab

A quick note before I head off to bed, as I’m finally feeling tired. Gwyneth Llewelyn has written another detailed article on the trademark rumble. While I’m not sure I agree with all of her conclusions in law, I definitely support her requests for redress as a need for Linden Lab to meet on behalf of we SLoggers.

Gwyn’s Home » Petition to Linden Lab on the Policy of Trademark Enforcement

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Linden Lab Releases Trademark Statement

Revised and updated April 2, 8:11 a.m. local:

Catherine Linden has published a fresh article on the official Linden blog concerning the trademark policy changes. Comments have closed on the article, but reading them will show you the predominant reaction to this “explanation.” I quote from it here:

1. Can I use the Second Life Eye-in-Hand logo in a press story?
Yes! If the story is about the Second Life world, you can use the logo in the body of the story. You can’t, however, use the logo to identify your blog — why? Because it looks like you’re a Second Life or Linden Lab vetted project. You can read more about this here.

2. Can I discuss the Second Life world on my website?
Of course! You can — and should — call our products and services by their names. For instance, it’s ok to say you’re “running a business in the Second Life world” or that you bought “Linden dollars through the LindeX exchange.” You can read more about that here.

3. Can I use SL with my product, domain or organization name?
Yes, under our special license to use “SL.” You can use “SL” with your own trademark. So, if you own the “Dell” trademark, you could call your presence in the Second Life world “Dell SL.”Or, you can use two common nouns with “SL.” For instance, SL Ballet is not ok (only one common noun) but SL Ballet Troup works. And SL China Portal is not ok (”China” is a proper noun), but SL Chinese Residents Association works. You need at least two common nouns so others don’t think you’re an “official” Second Life organization or website. Read more about this license.

4. What if I have a domain name that uses “SL” with only one common noun?
We’ve given you 90 days to transition to a new domain name that works with our special license. If you need additional time, please write us at tm-licensing@lindenlab.com and we’ll consider giving you permission to extend the 90 days or to forward the old domain name to your new one. For more on submitting a licensing request check out the FAQ.

5. I’ve got more questions, who can I ask?
We’ll be glad to help you. You can email us at tm-questions@lindenlab.com with specific questions. Keep in mind there are MANY of you and only a few of us, so please be patient.

(More after the break.)

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If you think your chain’s being yanked….

…so does Hamlet Au; or at least I’m suspecting he does. The title of his latest article on New World Notes is, “Trademark Update: The Waiting Game Sucks, Let’s Play Hungry Hungry Hippos ™.” You see, Linden Lab promised to give a statement to their former house blogger concerning the fun new trademark rules they have devised — and set many an SL house into a tizzy with — and that they would release it no later than Monday (yesterday). It is now nearly closing time on the West Coast Tuesday, and nothing has been given him yet. They are now saying (through their PR flack):

Due to a high volume of inquiries on the topic, Linden Lab plans to address these questions in another blog post which should be up soon…

I’m getting the feeling that “soon” means the ever-legendary Real Soon Now.

I’m normally the tolerant sort when it comes to the peccadillos of Linden Lab, but that comes with coping with the problems of a very young technology. But your word is supposed to be your bond, and LL’s bond is now shaky at best. I still wish peace to them — but I, along with others, am also getting impatient.

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Congressional Testimony Goes Off Smoothly — Updated

April 1, 2008; 8:09 a.m. SLT

The Internet Subcommittee just finished their hearing, as reported yesterday in New World Notes and this blog. Testimony was pretty much peaceful and with little or no confrontation; the main concerns have been in-world fraud, the terrorism question, and if teens can be kept in teen-oriented areas and adults in adult areas. For those worried about tax legislation, almost no mention was made of the money exchanged in Second Life; some note was made of revenues, but not a word about taxes was said.

Philip Rosedale was the lead witness, and he impressed me — at least in his opening statement — as very much the starry-eyed visionary many have portrayed him as. As the questions got a little tougher, he acquitted himself well generally — when he was given a chance to state a full answer. The rapid fire of begin to talk and follow-up question can make anyone look somewhat bad, and Rosedale was not the only one out of the group to suffer from this syndrome. Possibly the tensest part was, as I worried, when they got to the separation of teens from the main Grid and adults from the teen Grid. Rosedale did his best to work around the question, but he had to admit that there was no real way to exclude one group from the wrong simulators with present technology and legal limitations.

Watch the Subcommittee site for an archive of the hearing in Windows Media.

UPDATE, 9:47 p.m.:

Reuters carries a full summary of the hearing.

UPDATE, April 2, 7:32 a.m.:

Ben Duranske does a very good analysis of the hearing, more factual than my quick off-the-cuff take above.

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Philip Rosedale To Testify Before Congress On Virtual Worlds

The time was bound to come eventually, I suppose. With the growth and acceptance of virtual worlds, and the many predictions that some kind of virtual reality like Second Life will be Net 3.0, Congress was bound to take an interest in it. Reported in New World Notes:

Mr. Linden Goes To Washington: Philip Rosedale To Appear At First US Congress Hearing On Virtual Worlds

What I am curious about is what kind of questions they will ask Philip, and what will result from this hearing. While I see the need for some kind of legal standard in world, the very international — or even trans-national — nature of a globally accessible virtual world, along with the peculiar way that things work in world, makes writing good laws a delicate, tricky operation. While it’s all too easy to write law, good law is another creature altogether.

(I’m not sure if I can express this in a way that is clear and unambiguous; so I’ll just plow ahead, and hope that I can clarify in comments as necessary.)

I fear any plan to actually enact a binding tax on SL income — one thing that is likely to come whether we will or no, Neal Stephenson’s dreams of the First Distributed Republic notwithstanding. But what I fear most is an attempt to restrict the in-world environment and culture to some narrow, politically driven standard of morality. Mistake me not; I wouldn’t mind seeing what porn palaces and dangling dildos exist in world to make a noise like a hoop and roll away, to borrow from Dorothy L. Sayers. At the same time, in the privacy of one’s virtual home, between adults, what goes on is their business.

If any kind of community standard is to be set, it is best to restrict it to no more than the set of internationally agreed-upon standards of social behavior with the broadest amount of personal latitude. When lawmakers get hold of something like this, though, it becomes a political football; witness the ongoing battles in America over polarizing concepts of “morality” in RL, such as abortion or the ever-popular “family values.” And any laws made in America concerning an internationally accessible virtual world will have some sort of international effect as well, the example being our restrictions on Net gambling that resulted in the Grid gambling ban. At the risk of invoking a much abused argument, I would contend that much of the law already in existence is sufficient to the cause as it is, and does not need to be amplified except to adapt it to the peculiar situation of in world.

I don’t say that we need to be paranoid and start worrying about what will come from these hearings. What I do say is that we need to pay attention, as any good citizen should, to the legislative process, and make our voices heard should the need arise.

Rosedale’s testimony will be streamed, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time (6:30 SLT). Open the stream from the Committee’s schedule page. (Windows Media required; an archive will be posted of the hearing as well.)

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Linden Lab Promises a Reply on Trademark Issue to Blogger — Updated

New World Notes‘ Wagner James (Hamlet) Au reports that a press representative for Linden Lab has told him that the Lab will issue a statement on the Second Life branding issue concerning many of SL’s bloggers sometime Friday or Monday.

In his article, Wagner states that he received an E-mail from Peter Gray of Lewis PR, the public relations firm working for Linden Lab, promising the statement. No specific time was announced for its release, nor was any information disclosed on what the statement would contain. Wagner is a former in-house blogger for Linden Lab. The statement may be in response to the call for clarification issued by Gwyneth Llewelyn on her blog, which has been reprinted in the same article by Wagner along with the note from Peter Gray. Gwyneth is calling for a 3-day strike of SL bloggers, beginning April 15, if no satisfactory response is made to her request; this call is meeting with support from some bloggers, based on reading of the ongoing discussion at the SL Bloggers group on Ning.

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An interesting hat — copyrighted, of course

It’s uncertain at this point just how much notice the larger community of Residents is giving to the trademark flap. In a thoroughly unscientific examination, I wore Kit Meredith’s attachment (pictured above) yesterday to the daily Morning Coffee at the Blarney Stone in Dublin. Nobody asked me to explain it, and I was there for two hours. I presume they all thought I was wearing a Funny Hat, and left it at that. I intend to repeat the experiment today for a span of time, and see if the results are better.

The more libertarian bloggers worry that another freedom is being cut out from under the community without its noticing, citing such examples as the gambling and banking ban. I myself, though, don’t see this turning into another Tea Crate Rebellion at any time in the near future. It all depends on how much the SL public perceives this as affecting them. It could affect them by putting a chill on discussion and reportage; if bloggers don’t know what the exact requirements are for them, or can’t meet those requirements easily, then they’ll likely stop writing. This is already threatened, at least in part, by the strike action planned by Gwyn. If the bloggers shut down, then Linden Lab will be losing tons of free publicity that their previous easy trademark policy fostered — the publicity that drove knowledge of the Second Life brand to over 10,000,000 people who have signed up.

Linden Lab does have the right to defend their brands; there is no question there. But, since they have created the community that has, in return, helped drive subscribers to their service, it is incumbent on LL to clarify the situation at the very least. It would also be a simple courtesy as well.

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UPDATE, March 29:

Ham hasn’t published any statement on NWN from Linden Lab, so we appear to need to wait for a word from them until sometime Monday. If it appears before 12:00 p.m. SLT, I’ll work to get at least a link to the comment in a new article.

In the meantime, check out the following for fresh discussions from important bloggers in this controversy:

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SL Brand Center — Followup

An interesting hat — copyrighted, of course

As I was getting ready to write this, I punched up Reuters’ Second Life site to see what the latest was from the professionals, if anything. Only I was greeted with — silence. At the best, secondlife.reuters.com is churning without loading a page, or Firefox told me that the domain was “taking too long to respond.” We can interpret this in four ways:

  1. secondlife.reuters.com is overloaded right now.
  2. It’s Maintenance Time. (Hopefully not PM — as in “provocative maintenance,” which creates more problems than it solves [grin].)
  3. Reuters is taking the subdomain down (“by order” of their lawyers) to set up a new domain name, and it hasn’t propagated through the DNS yet. (Though a redirect could be quickly set up as well….)
  4. The one consistently publishing source of professional news in Second Life is pulling the plug, so as to take no chances with the new branding policy.

Only time will tell which one. I’ve been trying to connect since 7:00 a.m. RL, and nothing yet. (It’s currently 9:30.)

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In the time since Linden Lab’s announcement of the new SL branding policy, reaction in the out-world from Residents has been loud and thick. Here’s a list of the blogs and news reports I’ve found so far (after the break):

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Spooks on the Grid

I’m catching up on the news while in the middle of yet another move — my third in four months, but more on that another time. For now, the focus is on how the Real World keeps pokin’ into Second Life in less than savory ways.

The Washington Post (signup may be required) reported on February 6 on how intelligence analysts are beginning to worry about the chance of virtual worlds such as SL being used by criminals and terrorists as meeting sites, laundromats for money, and training and recruiting grounds. The story tells how the CIA counters the threat by purchasing a few private simulations as training and “unclassified meeting” locations. (The article is unclear on the subject, but uses the term “islands,” which suggests that these enclaves are on our Grid.)

Wagner James Au cites the Post story in his New World Notes piece, following which he checked the blog of our beloved Flying Spaghetti Monster, Cory Ondrejka, the former CTO of Linden Lab. Cory insists that Second Life counters extremism by providing a place for multiple viewpoints to be shared. Wagner wonders about this if someone is “already predisposed toward Islamist extremism.” Wagner also questions Cory’s contention that money funneled through SL and the Lindex could be traced once it hits a Real World bank, noting that numerous small transactions can probably slip under the radar.

Though I don’t really see how you could train a terrorist cell in SL to blow up a tank with an IED, I wouldn’t much discount either side’s arguments. Yes, it would be very difficult to smuggle large amounts of money through the Grid banking and exchange systems. However, the salami method of slicing a large sum up into many smaller sums is well known — I give away no secrets here — and could be used. It would take numerous people (or using bots, as Wagner suggests) and a lot of determination; but determination is a hallmark of an extremist mindset. The one thing that occurs to me is that even a large amount of small traffic going to a single person, or a set of persons, could raise a spike on a statistical examination of traffic, but this can be overcome by sending to multiple individuals, or an organizational account.

The “meeting place” scenario is much more viable. Picture this: your cell buys an estate island, well isolated if possible from encroachment by other estates being built. (There is lots of open sea, if you check your Map at max out zoom.) You declare the whole island private by using available lockdown measures, or buying a security package to boot someone home in 5-10 seconds after approach. Build your “conference center” at least 25 meters in from the edges, just to make sure you’re not “overheard.” Set up however you want, from quick-and-dirty cubes to sit on — a virtual-physical symbol of the oppression you are under — to whatever level of comfort you desire, and issue invitations to those you wish to attend. You will still face normal Grid problems like rolling restarts and outages, but you’re set to roll beyond that.

Unless someone knows that you’re operating in this place, and knows who you are, there is not a high probability of your being overseen. Nobody can approach your island without ramming into the infamous red “No Entry” lines, or your security package will give them the boot before they get more than a few sentences of whatever your group is saying. Their only hope would be to (hopefully!) get a court order — again, if they know or suspect strongly who you are — and have Linden Lab tap your datastream to capture what you send and receive. Even then, unless I misunderstand the technology, the “conversation” may be a trifle one-sided, and important information may be lost.

I don’t say that this is something to leap at in panic. But this is something to consider carefully, and take appropriate, advised action on. “Advised” because it is far too easy to abuse whatever authority you have or are given in your zeal. But we need to keep this in mind.

SUPPLEMENTAL, 1:24 p.m. local:

…[T]he Post article raises some intriguing, though perhaps overblown, claims about the ease to which anonymity can be abused. For example, records are not kept of communication between avatars, which could lead to suspicious activities between nefarious individuals. These types of situations have the government nervous, and interested in gaining access to the servers of 3-D and role-playing games.

These issues are not unique to 3D worlds. They’re not even unique to the Internet. A lot of these espionage/criminal claims are a lot like the early warning bells about the Internet, and probably at one point in time about telephones. Basically, it’s government saying “these new technologies scare us, stuff that scares us is bad, and so being scared we have a right to monitor servers and private conversations between individuals so we feel, well, less scared.”

UPDATE, Feb. 15, 7:15 a.m.:

  • I just discovered Gwyneth Llewelyn’s take on the matter. She decries the Post article as alarmist:

Also, this is “old news” and vastly discussed in previous years. It’s incredible how some journalists, in their eagerness to condemn virtual worlds and ruin the virtual economy and virtual societies, recycle “bad news” from the past, change the order of the paragraphs, add a few more quotes (often cited out of context), and republish exactly the same article that was written 10 or 20 years ago.

In my next incarnation, I wish I were reborn as a Luddite journalist. One could make a career out of it, just writing one single article for my whole life, and doing a search & replace on a few words every time a new paradigm-shifting technology is released…

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Virtual or Real, the Law is the Law

Doing my usual tag-surfing routine, I was pointed to this article by Ben Duranske, who is the most published person on virtual-law questions out there — at least that I know of.  He’s definitely the most high-profile in the SLogosphere.  Any road, take a look at these five items, and tell me that the Metaverse isn’t coming into line with the mundane legal world.

(Thanks to Ari Blackthorne.)

Posted January 15, 2008 by Harper Ganesvoort in Issues and Trends, Law

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