Trademark protection gone mad: Linden Lab takes aim at educators

sl-wikispacesI’ve had the pleasure of having a chat to Jokay Wollongong in RL on one occasion, and hope to again in the future. I was more than aware of her work in Second Life prior to that catch-up, but only then did I realise her passion for the work she does. Sure, it’s part of making a living but it’s also a lot more than that – she is fundamentally driven by seeing the outcomes virtual environments can provide in education. In that, she’s no different to hundreds of other educators in Second Life.

That’s primarily why I’m gobsmacked and somewhat angry at a move Linden Lab has made, as reported by Tateru Nino over at Massively. Essentially, Jokay’s use of the URL sleducation.wikispaces.com has come under attack by Linden Lab, who’ve asked Jokay to take it down because of the use of ‘sl’ in the URL. As Tateru Nino outlines:

Under the Lanham Act, which controls the registration, usage and control of trademarks in the United States of America, Wollongong’s usage appears to fall squarely under nominative fair use, and thus legally unable to be counted as dilution of Linden Lab’s trademark which finally saw registration on 22 September this year.

Aside from the questionable legalities, I just can’t get past the apparent futility of issuing a takedown notice for a wiki site devoted to showcasing some of Second Life’s main strengths.  Sure, I can understand protecting a trademark makes exceptions difficult, but this has the whiff of a scorched earth policy. To that end, I’ve contacted the ever-helpful Pete at Linden Lab to get his thoughts on four specific questions:

1. What was the impetus for Linden Lab tackling Jokay’s Wiki specifically?

2. Does Linden Lab see it’s in its interest to issue takedown notices to educators showcasing one of SL’s strengths (i.e. it’s power as en educational platform)?

3. How much confidence should educators have that further trademarks won’t be registered, leading to a further change of landscape that can’t be forseen?

4. How would Linden Lab respond to claims that actions like this provide further motivation for people to move to other grids or platforms outside of SL?

Linden Lab deserve full right of reply and they’ll certainly get it (Update 2: you can read their response here).  My guess is that the takedown was instigated by Linden Lab legal people without a lot of consultation with others. Time will tell. I also had a brief chat to Jokay in-world late this evening, and although insistent on keeping positive about things, she made one key point that sums up the senselessness of this decision:

I’ll also be working to consolidate and publish my research on other platforms and will seek to diversify the wiki.  In the end all of this only strengthens my desire to establish presence in a broader range of virtual worlds, and we’ll be working on that over the coming months.

Then again, expanding the outcomes derived from Second Life into other platforms can only be a good thing. Perhaps it’s been Linden Lab’s intention the whole time 😉

Update: Jokay has posted her thoughts in more detail on her blog

Comments

  1. … I wonder if they're also taking down the international conference on research in SL at http://slactions.org/ … and who knows how many more educational/research portals.

    The problem, Ann, is that there is a slight problem when going too literal about the use of “SL”. Imagine I buy the domain name called slice.com and talk in it about how researchers are using SL to, say, investigate the properties of solid H2O. Is that a trademark violation? Well, “slice” is a common dictionary word. And so are “slug” or “slip” or “slander” or “sleeve” and so on. Not to mention words in other languages, of course. So does LL has the right to enforce the use of the two letters “SL” in any existing word?

    Then we have the typical puns with unexisting words but which clearly intend to convey the notion of “Second Life something”, like, say, “slog – A Second Life resident blog” (yes, the site has a disclaimer on the trademarks). And I'm sure we can imagine quite a lot of cases where the letters “sl” happen somewhere in a fake name which is intended to represent a pun on words.

    Notice that this is quite different than creating something called “SL Business” or so (a clear violation). On the other hand, http://sl.education.wikispaces.com/ would be perfectly reasonable (see examples) or http://sleducationalresources.wikispaces.com/

    I'd say, the difference is really small, but attacking the fastest-growing non-entertainment use of Second Life® is really a Bad Idea…

  2. annotoole says:

    Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. Or buy 200 regions.

    All joking aside trademarks are trademarks. Don't use other people's trademarks period. LL needs to step up enforcement in world and run the “theft is kewl crowd” out of SL.

  3. … I wonder if they're also taking down the international conference on research in SL at http://slactions.org/ … and who knows how many more educational/research portals.

    The problem, Ann, is that there is a slight problem when going too literal about the use of “SL”. Imagine I buy the domain name called slice.com and talk in it about how researchers are using SL to, say, investigate the properties of solid H2O. Is that a trademark violation? Well, “slice” is a common dictionary word. And so are “slug” or “slip” or “slander” or “sleeve” and so on. Not to mention words in other languages, of course. So does LL has the right to enforce the use of the two letters “SL” in any existing word?

    Then we have the typical puns with unexisting words but which clearly intend to convey the notion of “Second Life something”, like, say, “slog – A Second Life resident blog” (yes, the site has a disclaimer on the trademarks). And I'm sure we can imagine quite a lot of cases where the letters “sl” happen somewhere in a fake name which is intended to represent a pun on words.

    Notice that this is quite different than creating something called “SL Business” or so (a clear violation). On the other hand, http://sl.education.wikispaces.com/ would be perfectly reasonable (see examples) or http://sleducationalresources.wikispaces.com/

    I'd say, the difference is really small, but attacking the fastest-growing non-entertainment use of Second Life® is really a Bad Idea…

  4. annotoole says:

    Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. Or buy 200 regions.

    All joking aside trademarks are trademarks. Don't use other people's trademarks period. LL needs to step up enforcement in world and run the “theft is kewl crowd” out of SL.

Trackbacks

  1. […] As reported yesterday, there’s been some activity around the use of the ‘SL’ trademark, with Australian educator Jokay Wollongong receiving a takedown notice. I shot through a few questions to Linden Lab on the issue, and Pathfinder Linder has formally responded. So as promised, here’s Linden Lab’s full right of reply: […]

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