MANY UPDATES BELOW AND AFTER THE BREAK. In summary, we now know the lawsuit singles out third party developers who sold "Taser" weapons for urban, Grand Theft Auto-style roleplay gaming in Second Life which also makes reference to drug use and other criminality cited in the lawsuit. Read on for more details. - WJA, 4:10pm.
At this point, it's unclear why Taser International Inc. has filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit against Linden Lab and a third party company called Virtualtrade LLC, for the alleged selling of virtual versions of Taser weaponry. A search for "Taser" on XStreetSL, the ecommerce website the Lindens recently acquired, shows no items for sale purported to be Tasers, or for that matter, any mention of Virtualtrade. [See updates below.] The closest item you will find on XSreet is this gun sold by Wyatt Hykova , which is called an NLSD, for "non-lethal stun device". But the only mention of Taser in its sales description is a disclaimer, "Taser is a registered Trademark of Taser International Inc. and not affiliated with NLSD..." I've sent an interview request with the fine people of the Taser corporation, and hope to speak with the Lindens later today. Meantime, Virtual World News has a good summary of the legal issues, including an interview with virtual world law expert and lawyer Benjamin Duranske. "Trademark law," he notes, "is all about eliminating consumer confusion." In other words (as I interpret this) Taser must prove there are virtual versions of their weaponry which consumers might sensibly believe is sold by the actual company.
Whatever the specifics of this particular lawsuit, we're almost certain to see many more complaints of this variety, either as DMCA notices, or suits filed against Linden and third party content creators who operate in Second Life. The world's continued growth rate will make in-world activity more public and conspicuous, while XStreetSL, with its search-able, web-based inventory, will make it that much easier for intellectual property lawyers to locate possible knock-offs of their clients' assets. By this process (or a preemptive strike from Linden Lab), it's likely that all unauthorized virtual references to real world trademarks and copyrighted material will soon be entirely removed from Second Life.
No matter which way this plays out, there's another Taser-related item for sale on XStreetSL, and in all seriousness, its fate is just as crucial: Jodi Jewell's "Don't Tase Me Bro" sound clip, inspired by the infamous 2007 Florida incident/viral video, now available for use in Second Life for the low price of L$20. It makes explicit reference to Taser International's good trademark, but at the same time, it's a virtual world parody of a real world news event, and parody is supposed to enjoy legal protection. Will Taser's suit pressure the Linden Lab to remove that item, too? And what happens if Andrew William Meyer files a DMCA notice with the Lindens?
Update, 11:54am: In Comments, Sioban McMahon suggests Taser's objections may be related to mention of Taser in BDSM sex toys in Second Life, some of which are sold in the "Uncensored" area of xStreetSL. For example, at least two items sold on xStreetSL, a restraint collar (NSFW) and a chastity belt (NSFW) mention "taser" in the sales description. BSDM Second Life product mentions of Taser: "The sub/slave may be 'gagged' via a built-in taser: if the sub/slave speaks without permission, the taser sends an electric shock in their neck (with textured particles sparkles, electric shock sound, and electrocution animation)", and, "Built-in crotch taser (with textured particles sparks, electric shock sound, electrocution animation), for unruly/naughty subs/slaves..."
Update 2, 12:55pm: Massively's Tateru Nino has reviewed a copy of the brief, which seems to be directed at products related to Crack Den, a popular Grand Theft Auto-style urban roleplay area in SL. (Website here.) In Comments below, she says the NLSD product featured above was previously described as a Taser, and is docoumented in screencaptures in the brief. Now checking to see when this description was changed. (Virtualtrade LLC, also mentioned in the suit, was the holding company of XstreetSL before Linden acquired it earlier this year.)
Update 3, 2:26pm: I just got word from Crack Den owner Nadir Taov, who tells me the Lindens contacted the in-world company Newman Group, which operates two stores on his land, on April 14. "From what the designer told me," Taov tells me, "[the Lindens] suggested alternative names such as 'stun gun'." He adds, "I wasn't personally contacted by either Linden Lab or Taser. Both store owners who had designed products with 'taser' in their description/names were only contacted by Linden Lab via email."
Update 4, 3:26pm: I sought a comment on this case from Linden Lab, but a company spokesman told me, "We don't comment on pending litigation." Also, I've changed the title to reflect the story updates.
Hat tip: Otenth Paderborn.