Starting on September 14, virtual Angelina Jolie will no longer be for sale on Second Life's ecommerce site. (Unless, that is, Ms. Jolie herself sees fit to put a copy of herself on xStreetSL, the Lindens' ecommerce site, which was acquired last January.) The same can be said of virtual Barack Obama, several avatar versions of whom are now for sale on xStreetSL, like this one. Unless, again, the President himself authorizes someone to create and sell a version of his appearance as an avatar.
In a long-expected announcement on the official blog yesterday, a Linden staffer laid out stringent policies on the sale of unauthorized virtual copies of real world products and brands. That includes avatars based on real world celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Barack Obama -- those two are explicitly cited by example, in the new xStreetSL listing guidelines-- along with unauthorized clothing, trademarks, furniture and car designs, avatars based on copyrighted characters (like these Watchmen avatars), and more.
This move comes several months after a trademark infringement suit was filed against Linden Lab by Taser, targeting virtual shock devices sold in Second Life which were originally called "Tasers". It's almost certainly a necessary move for the company to protect itself legally, though at the same time, it will be difficult to enforce as worded now. To prohibit, for instance, the sale of Second Life furniture which merely has "the distinctive appearance of a brand of furniture available in the real world (like the Eames® lounge chair and ottoman)", seems to set the bar far too high. There are probably a large number of SL products that qualify as contraband under that criterion. And while I'm not a lawyer, I would think avatar imitations of celebrities, especially political figures, would fall under the parody safe harbor of fair use. In the real world, you can still buy an unauthorized Barack Obama mask for Halloween. Not so in Second Life very soon.
The biggest challenge to this policy, in any case, is likely to be the SL content creation community itself, who often do reference the real world in their works, but are still proprietary about their products. In the xStreetSL product listing of the unauthorized Angelina Jolie avatar, for example, the creator warns: "We added digitally encrypted signatures into all our textures! Any theft will therefore be prosecuted in a RL court."
Images of Angelina Jolie and Barack Obama found on xStreetSL -- for now.