Trademarks, oh my!

This is a post I've been wanting to write ever since Linden Lab announced their new trademark policy but somehow I took on my other activities and the topic has been waiting till now. The end of 90-days period to adjust to the new guidelines is approaching (23rd June) so I think it's a good time to post some after-comments and a good moment to share what I think about Linden Lab's move.

The restrictions are out for quite a while now and there's been a lot of talking on the SL blogosphere about them, mostly negative. I remember in the beginning, when I saw the official blog post, I thought it was a good move. I was happy that Linden Lab decided to protect their trademarks and I considered the inSL™ logo useful. Then I kept reading people's posts complaining about the new trademark policy and got myself into thinking the same way they did. It was very easy to fall for that, it was like reverse groupthink and it took me a bit of time to realize that and get back to my own opinion.

Probably one of the most silly remarks was the one stating that Second Life tagline Your World. Your imagination.™ is not true anymore and that SL world isn't ours any longer. Well, when I say my country it doesn't mean I actually own it, does it? It's a place where I live, which I'm part of, I decide about what surrounds me to some extent, I meet people, I have family and friends, it's where I work, etc. I influence it. But it's managed by the government. So yes, the SL world is ours, it's where avatars meet, interact, have fun, create and learn, but the assets belong to Linden Lab. They created this world from the scratch, so don't expect they'll just give it to you. It's their right to decide about company's future and I'm sure their decisions are discussed thoroughly before being announced, not just thrown in the wind because someone said it would be fun or interesting to see what happens.

Another silly reaction (but I must say a bit funny) was people adding ® or to every mention of any of Linden Lab's trademarks or registered names, or renaming them to phrases like virtual world, you know where or something similar, on the whole blog, in every entry they ever posted there (some of these were ironic, I know). I haven't had much legal education except some obligatory classes I took in high school, but the first thing they taught me (or maybe just the one I remember the most cause it's really useful) is lex retro non agit (law isn't retroactive), which means that blog entries dated before the creation of Second Life Brand Center don't have to be corrected. On the other hand, if all those trademarks and logos were registered earlier (and I think some of them were), people shouldn't have been violating usage rules in the first place, even if they didn't know about them. Ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of the law does not excuse) is another rule I was taught. But I don't think Linden Lab would chase bloggers for leaving past entries as they were. And finally, befofe the creation of the Brand Center, Linden Lab stated that fan sites (and I think that includes SL blogs) should put the following note in a visible place (you can see it on my blog's sidebar):
Second Life® and Linden Lab® are trademarks or registered trademarks of Linden Research, Inc. All rights reserved. No infringement is intended.
If you had placed this text on your blog and you're outside the United States, you're OK, according to Proper Reference to Linden Lab's Brand Names in Text article:
Outside the United States, do not use trademark notice symbols like ® and ™, but do use the statement of trademark notice provided in Paragraph 2 below.
And the Paragraph 2 says:
In the United States and elsewhere, always use a legible and reasonably prominent trademark attribution notice in the following format: "__________ and __________ are trademarks of Linden Research, Inc."
As to residents located in the United States, it's not as complicated as it may seem. LauraP Linden said in her blog post:
The first or most prominent reference should be followed with the correct trademark symbol (® or ™) and an appropriate noun to indicate what you’re talking about (...) Now just to be clear – we’re only talking about the first or most prominent use. We’ve seen some blog posts using ® after every mention of "Second Life." After the initial reference to the trademark at issue, there’s no need to use the symbol again.
So basically, you need to place ® once, in a visible manner, and then you can continue as you used to. I'm based in Europe, so I don't really have to do that, but I might add ® to Second Life words in my blog's header, and I won't be using ® when I mention Second Life in my blog entries, unless Linden Lab employee will contact me and say that I should. Which I'm pretty sure won't happen.

Finally, there were people who said that new trademark policy will make them type more and waste their time. Seriously... Typing ® or ™ is not even one second, and as I said earlier, in most cases you won't even have to type this in every blog entry. And if that's not enough, look, Linden Lab does the same on their website. It's just law and it's there for a reason. I agree law can be silly sometimes, interpreted in as many ways, as many lawyers there are - so even if there's something people don't get, I think Linden Lab will explain (which they proved posting the explanation twice already). Linden Lab cares about their community, and the step they took is in fact to protect both - the company and the community. They're making sure their company's reputation is not at risk, and making sure their community won't be scammed, for example by sites pretending to be their affiliates. But community will always complain. There will always be someone who doesn't like changes, especially if the changes require them to adjust.

While I understand annoyance of those residents who had to change their blog address or name of SL group, I think we really had enough names like SL This And That. The changes encouraged people's creativity to come up with something unique. Take Second Life Ballet for example. Yup, it must have been hard to think of a new name, and probably it took a significant amount of work to prompt all the fans to switch groups and update web address, but isn't Ballet Pixelle so much more creative and individual? This type of name is much better than the boring Second Life Something and I think it is much better to actually identify with for people involved with the project.

All in all protecting your brand is a very important aspect in business and it's a good thing Linden Lab took care of that. What's nice is that they provided the clarification twice to demanding community, even though they didn't really have to. It's your responsibility to comply with law, and no company is obliged to provide you with instructions and detailed how-to. Isn't that a sign they care? I agree sometimes LL is in the wrong - probably everyone was at least once. They do make mistakes, and they do take actions I don't agree with. But in this particular matter, I think they're doing the right thing. Even if it was a difficult move, it was a needed one. The longer they waited with this, the more difficult it would be.

As I said earlier, I'm not a lawyer and this is just my point of view as a resident of Second Life. If you know I'm wrong somewhere in this post because you're a lawyer and understand law better than I do, feel free to let me know in the comments, but please also explain why. Also, the point of this post is not to stand against residents who disagree with Linden Lab's move, but rather to show the other side of this issue, so people can read and have their own opinion.

5 Responses

  1. Daedalus Young on June 16, 2008 at 12:05 AM

    I think you're right, but a lot of people were simply asking some Linden to say: "Just put the disclaimer on your blog or site and make sure you have the (R) and TM in the 1st mention and you're basically good to go." Instead, LL came with a second post, repeating the first and not giving satisfying answers, leaving people still in the dark. Of course you can't make one rule that fits all, there's a big difference between our humble blogs and a larger company that tries to leech off SL's success by simply having an inworld office and then putting the eye-in-hand all over their website. That is why the reference seems quite strict, but it seems obvious LL can be flexible in a lot of cases, if only they'd just said that rather than remaining (seemingly) vague about it.

  2. Espresso Saarinen on June 16, 2008 at 10:15 AM

    "probably it took a significant amount of work to prompt all the fans to switch groups and update web address"

    in this case, use of the past tense is not appropriate

    nice words, likely by someone who did not have the problem of a
    serious conversion with 'branding' both in sl and in rl.

    espresso saarinen, for ballet pixelle, nee second life ballet

  3. Ayumi Cassini on June 16, 2008 at 4:16 PM

    Probably they could have said that in the post that introduced the Brand Center, but I think they assumed people will read the Brand Center articles, and it was there (or at least I think it was there at the time, cause I must admit I didn't read all articles when the new trademark policy was introduced ;)). So when residents asked for explanations, Linden Lab tried to make it clear WHY they are introducing the new trademark policy, and only later they realised residents were asking for less complicated guidelines, or just less reading ;)

    As to being strict, there's also another aspect of protecting trademarks, which I didn't mention in my post. If you do not enforce your trademark, you risk losing it. Words like gramophone, excalator, linoleum, nylon or cellophane used to be trademarks, but became generic because the trademarks were not enforced, or were used improperly (there's a very interesing article about that here). That's why it's important to be strict in this case :) Even if it's 'only a humble blog'.

    Sorry about the past tense, I meant past only for creating a new name, not the whole procedure of rebranding. I realise the process of switching groups and updating links (and a lot of other stuff actually) is not something to be done in a short time.

    I didn't know Second Life Ballet / Ballet Pixelle was a RL company, I thought it's only in Second Life. But if it operates in RL as well, you must have expected that sooner or later there will be a problem with a name that uses other company's name (actually it's surprising you managed to register that name). So the sooner the change, the better. I actually experienced rebranding of a big institution in RL (not in SL). I know it's not easy, I know it requires some work, but I also know it is possible to do that successfully :)

    I've been a member of Second Life Ballet group (and now Ballet Pixelle) from the very beginning, from the very first premiere of the very first ballet :) I've seen it developing so much over time, and I think this name change is a step that will strengthen your identity. I understand you're probably angry and annoyed now, tired with a lot of additional work, and possibly miss the old name too, but I think in a few months from now you'll be proud of this transition, rich with new experiences and ready for new challenges.

  4. Daedalus Young on June 16, 2008 at 6:39 PM

    Yes, I understand that, it's also what I meant, in a way. Being strict because they don't want 'Second Life' to become synonymous with any virtual identity. But that strictness is not necessary for me, I'm sure, I'll always use SL when I mean SL and not anything else. So when I talk about 'people with Second Lives', I mean Resis in SL, even though strictly, I can't say that.
    Then again, if you read closely: "Always follow a Linden Lab brand name with an appropriate generic noun for at least your first reference to the brand name." Which is getting me confused already. So is it allowed to write "People in the Second Life(R) world have Second Lives"?

  5. Ayumi Cassini on June 16, 2008 at 10:28 PM

    Same here, when I say SL I mean SL. But it's not like that with everyone. I've seen a sentence like this:

    By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a "second life", but not necessarily in Second Life, according to Gartner.

    And that was a year ago. So I guess that's what Linden Lab is trying to stop too.

    As to your question, I think the sentence is OK, since the first part indicates that 'second lives' are related to Second Life, and not just any virtual world.

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