Brands under the hammer in Second Life

smolinaro-aug2009 The Second Life blogosphere is igniting with the news that the listing guidelines for Second Life’s marketplace, xStreetSL, have been tightened up.

Essentially, it’s now prohibited to sell any virtual goods that resemble a real-world brand. That’s no shock and probably reasonable. The contention is over the ban on avatars that resemble actual celebrities. It’s a pretty silly ruling that’ll be essentially unenforceable outside of the xStreetSL website. Admittedly, protecting brands is a balancing act for any company, but this appears to be an over-protective move.

Let me throw out another conundrum likely to occur in the future as a result of this decision. Let’s say an avatar becomes a celebrity in its own right. Its shape, clothing and skin may have been created from scratch or different aspects purchased from vendors. Could said avatar argue they are now a brand and prevent people creating avatars that resemble them? Avatars-as-brands well and truly exist now – it’s the policy developments like these that continue to push well beyond the traditional boundaries of intellectual property law. It’s going to take some serious legislative work in the medium term to create some solid ground under virtual world content creators.

The impact of brands on virtual worlds

Second Life blogger Dusan Writer has written a detailed article on the impact he believes brands have had on virtual worlds and the trend toward smaller virtual worlds.

His tone is best summed up by this paragraph:

And this social media stuff has been a drag too. Best we could do for the poor suffering brands was to come up with the idea of “viral” – which really means “something short, like a commercial, only we’ll get consumers to pass it around rather than pay for media placement”. Because look, everyone’s ignoring your banner ads on youTube, and if you get involved with Facebook widgets you might end up next door to some rocker chick posting half-naked pictures of herself and joining the “I Slept with Someone On Facebook” group, and that’s can’t be so hot for brand equity right?

The section showing different worlds and their alleged immersive elements is worth a look alone.
What say you?

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