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  The Non-Grabby Terms of ‘Gaia Online’  
Posted 2007-06-11 by Tony Walsh
I have a special hate-on for unfriendly Terms of Service--those legal agreements which govern the use of a web site or virtual world. The worst Terms of Service (ToS) are set up for wholesale exploitation of user submissions while giving the contributors nothing or very little value in return. These ToS agreements are known as "grabby." I wrote an article on grabby ToS agreements six years ago--it's remarkable how little things have changed since then.

While signing up for a Gaia Online account the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very user-friendly ToS agreement behind the scenes. Like many online communities, Gaia demands a license to exploit user-created content, but unlike most online services, Gaia promises to exploit the content "solely as necessary to provide the features and functionality of the part(s) of Gaia Online within which you choose to make your Member Submissions available..." Also unlike many online services, Gaia's license to your content expires when you remove the content. I'm no lawyer, but I do read a lot of ToS agreements (most users don't), and this is one of the fairest I've seen. Even Second Life's ToS, which is commonly believed to be user-friendly (and was recently found unenforceable), isn't as good as Gaia's.

Continue reading: The Non-Grabby Terms of ‘Gaia Online’
  Reporting Trademark Infringement in ‘Second Life’?  
Posted 2007-05-28 by Tony Walsh
This is an open call to my readers for information on reporting trademark infringement in Second Life. My (potentially incorrect) recollection is that it was once possible to specifically report trademark infringement through the in-world Abuse Report system, but when I tried this last night, "Trademark" was not listed as a reportable offense. Following the attempt to report in-world, I searched through the official Second Life site, and couldn't find any information on how to report trademark infringement.

The short story is that I can't figure out how to report trademark infringement (it didn't seem so obscure before), and I'm left wondering if my memory is faulty or if the system has changed. If the reporting system has changed, my impression is that it has changed in the last 2 - 4 weeks. Any help, advice, or information from my readership would be appreciated, thanks.
  Child Porn Panic Hits ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2007-05-10 by Tony Walsh
As recently reported in the Second Life Herald, Second Life Insider, and acknowledged by Linden Lab, German TV network ARD has revealed Second Life depictions of child porn to national viewers and authorities.

Linden Lab explained yesterday that it was contacted last week by ARD, which presented footage of an adult and child avatar "engaged in depicted sexual conduct." The virtual-world maker assured readers of its blog that both participants were adults, and were "immediately banned from Second Life." Apparently, an ARD reporter also found pictures inside the virtual world described as "sexual photographs involving a child," and ARD reportedly handed over the images to German authorities. Linden Lab's requests for the location of the photos in-world have not been responded to, according to the company's blog.

Continue reading: Child Porn Panic Hits ‘Second Life’
  Linden Lab Lays Down Law: Give Your ID, Or Give Up Adult Content  
Posted 2007-05-04 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab has announced that new restrictions on how users consume and host content in Second Life will be rolled out by mid-May. According to an official blog posting, users who do not pay a fee to verify their age will be restricted from accessing Mature-rated areas of the virtual world. These areas will be identified by virtual land owners, who Linden Lab says "are morally and legally responsible for the content displayed and the behavior taking place on their land." Land owners will be required to flag their land as "adult" if it contains "adult content."

According to Linden Lab, "The verification system will be run by a third party specializing in age and identity authentication. No personally identifying information will be stored by them or by Linden Lab, including date of birth, unless the Resident chooses to do so. Those who wish to be verified, but remain anonymous, are free to do so... US Residents will be asked to provide the last four digits of their Social Security Number, while non-US Residents may need to provide a passport or national ID number." An extensive Q&A is provided on the company's official blog.

Continue reading: Linden Lab Lays Down Law: Give Your ID, Or Give Up Adult Content
  ‘Second Life’ Trademark Infringement Quantified  
Posted 2007-05-04 by Tony Walsh
In 2005, I wrote that Second Life intellectual-property infringements were rampant, but were largely unrecognized due to the virtual world's barriers to entry and separation from the web. In 2006, I noted that aside from the dramatic increase of outside businesses entering the virtual world, "Basically, the only thing that's really changed here is that the stakes are higher."

Today, Virtually Blind posted an unintentional follow-up, entitled "Rampant Trademark Infringment in Second Life Costs Millions Yearly, Undermines Future Enforcement." In the post, the virtual world's "dirty little legal secret" is quantified. After providing some examples of infringement, intellectual property attorney Benjamin Duranske finds that well over 1% ("probably closer to 3-5%") of in-world merchandise carries unlicensed trademarks--about 115,000 items in March, 2007, or about $2M USD in counterfeit transactions at a conservative estimate of $1.50 per item. Duranske notes that "businesses will need to begin paying close attention to the problem of trademark infringement in virtual spaces much sooner than they think, if they wish to avoid legal and practical difficulties later." Glad he added some numbers and simple examples in the mix, it illustrates the problem quite well--hop over to Virtually Blind for a read.
  School Authorities Arrest Teen Game Map Maker  
Posted 2007-05-02 by Tony Walsh
According to Fort Bend Now, a Chinese-American teenager who created a game map of his school has been "removed from campus" and placed in another educational facility. The president of the Fort Bend Chinese-American Voters League told Fort Bend Now that the teen was arrested by school police. The teen's house was reportedly searched with consent; the police found a hammer on-site, and decided the boy was a threat. No charges were filed, but the teen "won't be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies with classmates."

Fort Bend Now reports that "Speakers at the [school board's] April 23 meeting...drew a connection to the April 16 shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in which a Korean student shot and killed 32 people." The commentary on the story by Fort Bend Now web site readers is particularly interesting. Several commentators accuse the teen of bad judgment, something I completely disagree with. In my opinion, this is at the very least an overreaction with political motives, if not flat-out racism.

What the authorities in this situation don't seem to be aware of (or care about) is that it is not uncommon for gamers to reproduce familiar real-world environments as game maps, from offices to schools, to malls. If you want to learn how to create game content, it's easiest to start with locations you know well--it's the same mentality that goes into creating model railroad scenes which replicate one's town or neighborhood. It's fun to play a familiar game in a familiar setting, just as its fun to operate model trains in a familiar setting: We like to play with what we know. I don't think a gamer is any more likely to be a murderer than a model railroad hobbyist.
  Why ‘Heroes’ is a ‘360 Experience’  
Posted 2007-04-23 by Tony Walsh
Fabric of Folly's Dan Taylor summarizes NBC's cross-platform offerings for its TV series Heroes, which extends well beyond standard "show site" material into genre-appropriate graphic novels and user-generated content. According to Taylor, "huge swathes of unofficial audience created content" outstrips official show content by over double (not sure how he's measuring"volume of content" though).

At least a few user-generated ideas seem to feed back into the series as series creator Tim Kring says in an official video clip. The fact that fan input is captured and responded to (even if not in an obvious way) is probably one reason why the levels of user-generated content are so high (this seemed to work for LOST, too). Another reason has to be that NBC is actually permitting fan fiction and other derivative works to flourish rather than fire a barrage of lawyers across the community's bow.

Continue reading: Why ‘Heroes’ is a ‘360 Experience’
  Third-Party ‘Second Life’ Search Discovers Backlash  
Posted 2007-04-10 by Tony Walsh
Immediately after a third-party Second Life search system was launched yesterday by the Electric Sheep Company, backlash followed. The system scans public areas of the 3D virtual world daily, cataloging objects marked for sale, and making that catalog available for web-based search.

Privacy concerns have been voiced, first by high-profile veteran Second Life resident Prokofy Neva, and then (as reported by The Second Life Herald) by international-headline-making land baroness Anshe Chung. At issue is the opt-out nature of the Electric Sheep's search system, which presumes that Second Life residents don't mind being exposed to the web at large. By default, all avatars' items marked for sale are subject to indexing by the search system. To change this setting, an avatar must visit SheepLabs HQ in-world and either opt out completely, or volunteer all objects (marked for sale or not) for indexing.

Continue reading: Third-Party ‘Second Life’ Search Discovers Backlash
  Linden Lab Cleans Up ‘Second Life’ Adspace  
Posted 2007-04-06 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab, maker of Second Life, announced via its official blog that it "will not accept any classified ads, place listings, or event listings that appear to relate to simulated casino activity." Previously, residents of the company's virtual world were permitted to advertise in-world casinos. Linden Lab's use of the term "simulated casino activity" is merely a formality in my view, given that the company operates a real/virtual currency exchange (not unlike the way casinos trade cash for tokens), facilitating actual-dollar winnings from the "simulated" activity.

The change in policy comes on the heels of a recent review of in-world casinos by the F.B.I. at the invitation of Linden Lab, and follows a similar clampdown issued against so-called "ageplay" advertisements, promotions, or descriptions. Normally Linden Lab doesn't meddle much with in-world affairs (or at least meddles inconsistently and ineffectively), but I'm not surprised Linden Lab has felt compelled to tread safely where gambling and simulated pedophilia are concerned--will porn be next? It's been two years since the company banned nipples from PG-rated areas of its world.
  Brand Confusion: Wii Miis, WeeMees, Meez  
Posted 2007-04-03 by Tony Walsh
Wii is the Nintendo console that features Mii avatars, oft-pluralized as "Miis." Meez are 2D avatars developed by Donnerwood Media used on the web and IM services. WeeMees are 2D avatars developed by WeeWorld, featured on AOL Instant Messenger. Seems to be an awful lot of soundalike branding going on in the same commercial space--I can't imagine consumers are completely clear on which brand is which. Last month I observed brand confusion in action when Donnerwood's Jan D'Alessandro visibly bristled due to Miis being momentarily misidentified as Meez (notes from that panel at

Although I missed its initial mention, I'm not surprised that WeeMee maker WeeWorld reportedly filed suit against Nintendo--however, as GameSpot explains, WeeWorld has since tried to drop its lawsuit, despite Nintendo's refusal to let it go. Clearly there's some namespace worth defending here. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems that there's enough overlap in naming and commercial interest that a shakeup is inevitable. I don't expect such a tussle to end well for anyone but Nintendo, particularly if it scores an initial victory against WeeWorld.
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Dinozoiks wrote:
Wow! Thanks for that Tony. Just posted a bunch of other tips here... Hope it helps someone... Dino...
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