Linden Labs vs Trademark Reality

I just saw a post on the Second Life forum (part of the thread I mentioned earlier) which claims to quote a “Notecard” handed out by Linden Lab employees giving direction to residents/customers on intellectual property. This is the part I found astounding:


All Lindens are required to remove all content utlizing trademarked materials, with or without notice. This includes all RL corporate logos and name brands. Understand that certain objects to look like a RL item is not the same and utilizing trademarked names or logos. So one can create a car in SL, make it look like a Mercedes Benz SL, but cannot use the name “Mercedes Benz SL” in it’s description or textures, nor can one use their trademarked emblems or logos. The mere shape of the car that was created is NOT trademarked (but making shapes to replicate actual trademarked logos is NOT acceptable) . Use of designer logos like those of Gucci, Nike, Louis Vuiton…etc. are also not acceptable. Any resident may file an abuse report if they see any other resident violating trademarked material usage on in-world content in SL.

{emphasis is mine}

Wow. Did Linden Lab have a real, honest-to-god lawyer write up this thing? Here’s my comment on the forum (I won’t put the entire thing in quotes to make it easier to read):


The mere shape of the car that was created is NOT trademarked (but making shapes to replicate actual trademarked logos is NOT acceptable).

Tell that to Coca-Cola. The bottle’s SHAPE is trademarked. There are other examples of SHAPES being trademarked. I thought they had lawyers helping them with this stuff. Did a lawyer write that notecard?

Reference (Link):

This “bottle-shaped concept” was patented in Alexander Samuelson’s name on November 16, 1915. The bottle was one of the first glass containers to be patented solely on its distinctive shape. When it expired, a successor patent was issued to the Root Company in 1923 and under this license the company received a 5 cents per gross royalty until 1937 when Coca-Cola acquired the rights.

More reference (Link):

Finally, in an effort to safeguard the contour bottle design indefinitely, The Coca-Cola Company requested that the US Patent Office grant a trademark on the bottle. The Company argued that the bottle had become so well known that it had taken on trademark status. On April 12, 1960, the trademark was granted, indefinitely, protecting the unique design.

More reference (Link ):

Under some circumstances, trademark protection can extend beyond words, symbols, and phrases to include other aspects of a product, such as its color or its packaging. For example, the pink color of Owens-Corning fiberglass insulation or the unique shape of a Coca-Cola bottle might serve as identifying features. Such features fall generally under the term “trade dress,” and may be protected if consumers associate that feature with a particular manufacturer rather than the product in general.

Some here might recall that in an older thread I pointed out that a uniquely-shaped car like the VW Bug might be trademarked. The obvious difficulty here is that the tools in SL are probably insufficient for shape alone to violate any trademark VW might have. However, mapping ripped photographic textures of the real vehicle on a close facsimile might be enough to start a legal conversation. Beyond SL, there are issues of game engines that can use simple, non-infringing shapes enhanced using techniques like displacement mapping which gives – after processing – the appearance of the actual object. I suspect that in the end the word “shape” will give way to “the appearance of shape”.

I’d be interested in hearing a Linden explain the apparent inaccuracies in their notecard.

Based on everything I’ve seen, it’s no wonder their policy strikes me as being utterly screwed up. Now will Linden Lab openly explain themselves? I’d like to think they will, but based on previous responses I won’t even bother asking them directly.

4 thoughts on “Linden Labs vs Trademark Reality

  1. This is definitely interesting. If I were the Lindens I wouldn’t be worried about their intitial policy. They must fully understand the magnitude of such a problem and how it could progress. That understanding has everything to do with possible agreements with aggrivated trademark holders. For example, it was an idea of mine to start holding contests in Second Life for users to build a Gibson guitar, a very specific model. The winner would recieve that actual guitar. It wouldn’t matter if they wanted it, they could sell it before it was in their hands. Such a contest would require Gibson to put up a guitar for promotion. So what does Gibson get? The same thing VW could get, free advertising material, free commercials made in Second Life, using a system similar to Current TV.

    So this makes perfect sense. The best thing that could happen is someone starting a lawsuit against LL. Their response is already typed and filed away, and looks a lot like a pitch. These lawsuits will turn into pitch meetings.

    LL can turn this issue around with cross promotional contests up to WAAZZOOOO! The resources for such a transition are already in place. WHAT YA THINK?

  2. They must fully understand the magnitude of such a problem and how it could progress.

    “must”? I might believe that … if the sentence structure were correct. Look at this line:

    Understand that certain objects to look like a RL item is not the same and utilizing trademarked names or logos.

    That doesn’t even make sense to me. Forget who wrote it. Who proofread this thing?

    My gut feeling is that LL is filled with people who fall on the “free” side of intellectual property. That is, except when it applies to them. Remember how much they didn’t like it when the client got hacked? That’s part of the “free” mentality too.

    So LL can put up a good front for the “free everything” crowd and parade Lessig in-world and talk about open sourcing the SL code, but they themselves don’t plan on actually open sourcing the code within the foreseeable future – at which point it probably won’t be competitive anyway (think id open sourcing Quake – it’s not competition to Doom3). Based on my perception of how they regard IP – and this notecard of their’s informs that perception – I consider this par for the course.

    So basically I don’t think they have this figured out long term because to me they appear too casual about the issue. Another reason I think this is that handing over ownership of IP to the residents a) wasn’t initially an idea when SL launched and b) someone outside LL suggested it. I guess they thought people would make stuff and just give it away to them to use as they see fit. Geez. It took Lessig to tell them that not offering IP ownership was stupid?

    Now, do they need to worry about this policy (if I can call what they’re doing a “policy”)? I don’t know. I do know that I think we should all be worried about the lack of good information to educate people on these issues. In a world where more and more people become creators (hopefully independent creators), understanding the rules of the game is best for everyone imo.

    As for a pitch, I had the same idea you suggest. I even spoke with a company guy last year about it (btw, not a “client” then or now). I honestly don’t think corporations take SL seriously. Yet. And when they do I don’t think it will be LL in hot water, it’ll be the residents violating corporate IP. After all, the RIAA and MPAA aren’t going after ISP’s for piracy, they’re going after users. And that is how LL is positioning itself imo.

  3. This situation makes me think of when cars first came out on the market. Crashes were inevitable and safety was not the key ingredient for increasing sales. People were too amazed that such a device could even manifest itself within their current model of physics to consider safety, any further than wearing a ridiculous helmet. Perhaps a small group of people, who couldn’t even afford such a monster, had hypothesized about who would be blamed for a terrible crash.

    My opinion suggests that the current situation will follow the same evolutionary time frame as the former. In this case, SL is the car and the crash is the mass infringement on trademark and logo, in addition to LL’s grammatically stunning policy. (I’m don’t write that GOOD either).

    Where are those people hypothesizing about where to place blame? I feel confident to say it isn’t the residents and I don’t think it will be the larger companies who are known mostly for their logo/trademark either. With regard to the low but increasing population in SL, large companies can’t really lose out yet. That is to say, only until a much larger amount of people owned those shiny hunks of Ford metal, (actively participate economically in SL) was there a large enough mass to represent concern for safety (for IP/trademark/logo/identity).

    I know. It’s a stretch. My point is, we are the small group worrying about how it will play out in regards to IP. But people still don’t bother to fix their car until it is broken.

    Thank God that’s over with.

  4. I agree. This is a crash in slow-motion.

    Although I believe thinking in terms of “blame” isn’t worthwhile. I’m attempting to point out to people that it’s not just the people in the car who can be hurt. There are bystanders. And where once the street held only a few bystanders/creators, we will likely have a far greater number in the future. Not the 1% I’ve seen used (reference), but more along the lines of the 25% we’ve seen in some of the Linden data.

    So you’re probably correct. People won’t be able to protect their own IP. Won’t be able to stop it from being stolen. And won’t have the savvy to stay alive in that kind of Darwinistic economy. They’re going to go from download advocates to wondering what to do when their ONLY option is to crawl back to the corporations. Of course there will be service jobs. The U.S. is growing those at a wonderful rate (and notice the pretty diverging curves indicating a widening split between the Have’s and Have Not’s).

    “It’s survival of the fittest, Max. And we got the fucking gun!”


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