Trademarking and educators: Linden Lab responds

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:

Lowell: What was the impetus for LL tackling Jokay’s Wiki specifically?

Pathfinder: Jokay’s Wiki is a wonderful educational resource for the Second Life community, and Jokay organizes incredibly thoughtful and informative conferences about education in Second Life.

Some Lindens were recently invited to participate in a conference that Jokay was organizing, and we wanted very much to accept and show our support for Jokay and all the amazing work she’s done for the community. We were concerned, though, that the name of her blog is “Second Life in Education” and that her uses of our trademarks do not comply with our policies and create confusion about her blog’s relationship with Linden Lab.

We realize now that we poorly expressed our concerns by sending her an email from our trademark team, and that we should have reached out more personally to such an important contributor to the educational community. I (Pathfinder Linden) did speak to Jokay inworld after we sent her the email to explain to her why it’s so important for Residents to respect our trademark policies. However, in hindsight, this should have been the first step in our process.

Lowell: Does LL 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)?

Pathfinder: We have great respect for the work of Jokay and other educators in Second Life. We’re also committed to increasing awareness of intellectual property, as we said in our recent Content Management Roadmap, through improved policies and outreach to the community. When we get in touch with Residents about improper uses of intellectual property – whether it be the intellectual property of other Residents, companies outside of Second Life, or Linden Lab itself – it’s nothing personal. It’s simply what we must do to help protect intellectual property.

Lowell: 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?

Pathfinder: When choosing a brand name or name for your website or domain name, it’s good practice to check that you are not using another person’s trademark or brand name. Trademarks do not need to be registered – so it’s best to search the web as well as trademark office records, and to consult a trademark attorney if you’re uncertain. This good practice is called “trademark clearance,” and it protects against your having to make a name change down the road.

Pathfinder: In this case, both Second Life and SL have been Linden Lab trademarks since we first started using them for our virtual world many years ago. To help promote awareness about proper use of our trademarks, especially for Residents unfamiliar with trademark clearance, we updated our trademark policies in early 2008, providing additional information and examples. We have also been reaching out to Residents about our trademark policies.

Lowell: How would you respond to claims that actions like this provide further motivation for people to move to other grids or platforms outside of SL?

Pathfinder: Intellectual property rights are part of what makes Second Life unique and compelling, and we’re committed to supporting a community that respects each other’s intellectual property. Although making changes in response to intellectual property complaints can be frustrating, it ultimately makes our community stronger, more aware and respectful of each other’s intellectual property, and a more desirable place for content creators and content consumers alike.


Over to you – is Linden Lab’s position a reasonable part of protecting intellectual property rights or an example of brand protection at the expense of community?

Update: Tateru Nino at Massively has a follow-up piece with some views of educators on Linden Lab’s response to the issue.

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 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

The trademarking of an avatar

aimeewebertm229Late last year, Grossman Tucker Perreault & Pfleger announced that they had successfully registered as a trademark the multidimensional likeness of Aimee Weber, the Second Life avatar of New York content-creator and businesswoman Alyssa LaRoche.

While GTP&P referred to it as a groundbreaking decision (it is — groundbreaking is another word for ‘first’), it is not actually an astonishing, surprising or unexpected result. It’s an obvious application of existing trademark law, in fact.

What we have here is a trademark image in a new medium, but that isn’t particularly special. At some point in the future, someone is going to trademark a projected 3D holographic logo for the first time, and that will indeed be groundbreaking, but is still an obvious extension of the trademark system into new media and expressions.

What’s interesting here is that the trademark is, essentially, a personification. LaRoche’s avatar appearance, for all intents and purposes is her, which actually makes the avatar-as-a-trademark a good deal more ordinary than a lot of the existing trademarks that have been registered.


There’s literally hundreds of examples like that in the trademark database, including lengthy platitudes and sections of biblical scripture. Next to those, a 3D avatar seems positively mundane.

Benjamin Duranske, a respected commentator on law as it applies to virtual environments, said of the filing that, “McDonald’s trademarked Ronald, so there is no reason an avatar — for many users, a computer generated representation of their brand — could not also be trademarked. The rather distinct appearance of avatar ‘Aimee Weber’ is indisputably identified with the brand. And ‘Aimee Weber’ is as much a Second Life icon as she is a person you chat with at a virtual coffee shop or hire for design work; the little “TM” just makes that official.”

And LaRoche now has considerable legal leverage if someone wants to misuse her image to brand or promote unrelated products or services, or simply to mimic her for malicious purposes.

It will be interesting to see if any other people move to follow suit.

SLCN – trademark challenges

As this post by Benjamin Duranske alludes to, Linden lab have requested an extension of time to determine if they’ll oppose SLCN registering their name as a trademark.

The extension may lead to not much at all in that Linden Lab may decide not to challenge. We’ve discussed the trademark issue previously and the situation isn’t getting any less vexed. We contact SLCN for comment but understandably they’re not wanting to discuss the issue publicly.

What do you think? Are Linden Lab rightfully protecting their name or is it a move that’s only going to damage their standing in the virtual world community?

Linden Lab further clarify trademark policy

We mentoned last week that Linden Lab had launched a brand centre designed to clarify what’s acceptable use of trademarks like the Second Life logo. The response since has been forceful and arguably negative in the majority as the reality of needing to change domain names becomes apparent for some business people.

Today, Linden Lab have further clarified their policy and there’s certainly so sign of them resiling from their initial stance. One aspect that interests me revolves around what is appropriate use of the term ‘SL’:

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.”

Is it just me or is this taking things a little too far? Take our own original domain name: – if we were still running this site under that domain it’d need to be changed within 90 days. It seems farcical to me. Say there was a blog called Sleaze that covered virtual sex (there’s an idea!) – would this meet the guidelines? I’m not certain – Linden Lab have certainly provided clarification of some aspects but i don’t believe clarity is anywhere near achieved.

Australian Second Life resident Shai Khalifa makes a pertinent comment on the Linden blog announcement: “So transitioning a web domain name – does that mean LL will compensate those who have to fork out real money for registration of a new name – and paying web developers and graphic designers to re-do work?? This after-the-horse-has-bolted approach is going to have a detrimental effect on a number of active and useful sites I’m sure.”

The whole issue isn’t a show-stopper but it’s certainly going to cause some friction in part of the Second Life community. What are your thoughts – are Linden Lab cutting off their nose to spite their face?

Update: New World Notes are running a poll on the issue.

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