Wednesday, August 12, 2009

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Unbranded: Lindens To Ban Unauthorized Virtual Copies of Real World Brands on Ecommerce Site

Angelina avatar for saleStarting 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.

Obama avatar on xStreetSL 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.

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Todd Borst

Behold, the sound of inevitability. I warned about this already.

http://virtualworldbusiness.com/2009/06/25/two-myths-about-second-life-income/

This will no doubt eventually be applied in-world as well as xstreetsl. Although, enforcement will be spotty at best. Probably on a per-report basis.

While this will no doubt tick people off, it shouldn't really catch anyone by surprise...

moggs oceanlane

I get it to a point, though, ironically the original cause of the move is interesting as 'taser' has become a generic word for shock devices regardless of brand. meh.

Loki

Is there another site that they can advertise Angelina Jolie with an SLURL to where can buy in world?

Vivienne Graves

'the SL content creation community...who often do reference the real world in their works, but are still proprietary about their products.'

When that 'reference' takes the form of blatantly infringing real-world companies' intellectual property, this is a laughable stance. Expecting your IP rights to be respected when you're infringing someone else's? Not rational at all, yet a lot of SL content creators are of precisely this position. If LL are serious about enforcement of these new guidelines, most of these people are probably due a wake-up call.

Jovin

Sorry, but I'd file this in Linden Lab's "Things Lawyers Told Us to Do That We Haven't Got the Resources to Actually Implement" drawer and then I'd move on...

Toxic Menges

It is about time this happened. As Vivienne says, a content xreator cannot expect to be able to infringe trademarks and copyright with their designs inworld and then get antsy about their own "designs" being copied. There is somethign to be said about the understanding of context for these people who shout and scream about stealing, when at the base level, they appear to be doing just that...

Now what will happen to those "Tribute Bands" who sit on pose balls dressed as their favourite band and stream in their greatest hits to huge crowds who tip them?

Cover songs done live are one thing - the above is something different entirely.

Maybe I should start to sell cans of worms...

Tenshi Vielle

This is like Christmas!!!

Too bad they really can't handle the grid. XStreet is a start.

Arcadia Codesmith

If you steal from a copyright/trademark infringer, not only have you committed a theft, you're also liable for the original infringement. That's not poetic justice, that's smackdoh central, stupidity of Homeresque proportions.

I would presume that items can be listed under the new policy that are duly licensed from the copyright/trademark owner? The various marketing departments might be very interested to hear about a novel promotional opportunity that won't cost them a cent. I would definitely favor merchants that were certified official dealers for various brands.

There's opportunity here for those bold enough to grab the reins.

Vextra Messing

Stopping people stealing trademarks to put on a tshirt or shoes is one thing but it would be a shame if this indeed applied to items that fall under "parody"..(In RL, it's not banned to sell costumes with which you can "dress up" as celebrities. I don't think it should be in SL either.)

.. Also, what about fan fiction? DrWho/Starwars fans in SL immerse themselves in replicas of characters and items from real world brands. Hopefully for this kind of use there will be case by case allowances, perhaps granted by the copyright holding companies?

It's important to note that this only applies to XStreetSL. As LL receive a direct commission from sales made there, and it's on the open web for all to see, it's natural they want to clamp down on trademark and copyright infringements on XStreetSL.

Hopefully this policy will be applied in-world to protect RL brands too, without taking away basic freedom of expression, or enjoyment of fan-based culture.

Very much agree with Tenshi that "There's opportunity here for those bold enough to grab the reins."

Metacam Oh

They are sucking the fun right out of SL. You can't buy an avatar of the President now?

Bella

This is not going to work or needed.

People who create avatars are expressing their artist version of an image it is not a actual picture of the person or work of art put on an object or texture for cloths and sold. Artist in the real world can paint as many images of anyone in the public in their own image the same goes for avatars. It is not an actual copy it is an artistic rendition.

In addition if such a crazy policy is passed then all those people need do is remove the name of the person from the avatar. Thousands are avatars are made forsale just because they look like someone without a name it can not be considered any type of infringement.

Ann Otoole

I'm pretty sure the people that run xstreet know who they want to get rid of and will on the designated day. As for the rest? No shortage of conspiracy theories floating about.

As for me I will continue to make creations that are not based on some unimaginative rl company's art. I worked for Fortune 100 corporations long enough to know better. LL needs to take tougher action on the thousands of residents stealing Warner Brothers, Disney, and Harry Potter content. Of course if they did the entire child business in Second Life would probably evaporate.

The biggest issue I see for the future is people that have been making original art will suddenly find themselves targeted by the massive majority of Second Life Thieves Guild. Up to now the Thieves Guild appears to have been primarily interested in stealing from other thieves that stole from real life.

Adric Antfarm


Ann always seems to say what I want to say (just grammatically intact and spelled correctly). Were my heart not split between prok & tenshi it would be love.

The child business would be indeed be gone, but also the Sci Fi one, the car one, et al.

I must disagree with this notion it will not spread to the grid. It will indeed. People will be mad others are not getting busted and will make noise. Before long there will be an email address for you to report fishy things to ([email protected]) and it will be yet another way to strike out at your competitors (DMCA is too slow).

I hate to say such a nonsensical thing, but to the extent copying off others is creativity, that will be what suffers here as there has not been an original idea since 1847.

Oh yeah, I also forecast this on my blog as well. Yeah. Many times. Like 1547. Yeah.

Maybe 3.


Coyle Brenmann

Ok, yeah. Let's protect the IP rights of RL companies. No more selling of obvious copies to RL products on XSL.

"What? Our Second Life homepage uses a picture of a mixing board to advertise our XStreetSL website, that is a direct copy of one in real life? Oh, um, nothing to see here, move along."

anna gulaev

How about furniture makers who slap downloaded pictures of products on some prims and put them up for sale. Is it an unauthorized copy of a RL object if it's not branded?

Chez Nabob

About freakin' time.

I get so tired of being contacted by other content creators asking for advice/help on DMCA issues or to bitch and moan about their IP rights being infringed and walking into their store seeing replicas of RL shoes (for example) bearing the corresponding RL logos.

If content creators want to be taken seriously when it comes to their IP rights, they need to have respect for the IP rights of the copyright holders of RL brands

Starting with Xstreet is great, but I'd love to see LL move this policy to the grid very quickly.

The whole celebrity avatar issue is probably a bit more of a gray area, but it's also true celebrities can prevent someone from using their likeness to make money.

At any rate, overall I'd say this is a fantastic first step in the right direction.

Adric Antfarm

So does this effect my Hamlet Au avatar or what?

Leondra

We should have all learned this in 1st grade, if you live in the US.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJn_jC4FNDo

Coyle Brenmann

@Leondra: wow, that video hurts my head just trying to follow :)

iggy O

/me shrugs....At least Edgar Allen Poe's stuff is in the public domain! I can keep working on my House of Usher build for my university.

Until Poe's ghost bricks me up in a wall...

epredator

Well I suppose my avatar is doomed.
It is such a balancing act, but it does occur to me that if a copyright owner cant be bothered to make a good enough x, y or z in environment a, b or c then someone else doing it for them is doing them an advertising favour.
Also I wonder what you are supposed to do if you are pitching to a RL brand to show that you could make their stuff work in an environment, you would not even be allowed to prototype things in a legal lock down.
I don't agree with theft, nor condone profiteering from others work, but I do support fans, and those who want to feel part of something through rebuilding the things they love.
We seem to be considering this as that everyone is on the take, and therefore punish everyone?
I don't have a good answer for where the middle ground is, but lets hope no one trademarks each colour pixel or we are all in trouble.

Hamlet Au

Unless I missed it, the new LL rules only prohibit *selling* branded items on xStreet SL, but don't say anything about creating such content for personal, non-commercial use. I.E., you can still be Barack Obama in SL, you just can't sell copies of him online.

Paydaymister

author's note seemed to me very helpful and changed my outlook on many things.

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