Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Does Trademark Use Belong in a TOS?

Hopefully I will correctly have followed the guidelines and read enough in the four of the, I believe, 8 pages of trademarking law and guidelines that this post will not result in my account in the Second Life® virtual world being revoked. The strange wording of the previous sentence was predicated by the new Terms of Service and specific brand guidelines that would prevent me from saying my account with the name of the virtual world between my and account.

Now I agree that the corporation that owns and operates the above mentioned virtual world (neither which I am certain how to properly address since it isn't clear that just mentioning them as proper nouns is permitted) has a right to protect their copyright, and perhaps even a responsibility to do so. However, I have three major issues.

1) The guidelines are not exactly clear. (as is evidenced by the above awkward wording and references.)

2) We are describing a virtual location that lots of users reference. When referring to other trademarked terms a person can a say I love company A and I hate company B and I work for company C and not be violating trademark, even if it they do so in their personal blogs. The new branding rules are very confusing. I've studied law and I find it confusing. The not so great with legalese users are going to get lost in the pages of requirements. I'm not sure how to find the balance between protection of trademark and reasonable use but I can tell you it isn't there yet.

3) This is my biggest complaint. These do not belong in the TOS. Yes, trademark should be defensible, but when it remains trademark law it means if you flub up you will get a cease and desist notice first and you can fix the problem. Sometimes it is an innocent mistake or a use from a time previous to the branding documents. When it goes into a TOS it means that a violation of these rules can result in a summary cancellation of the users account and a forfeit of all of their intellectual property and investment in the world with little or no recourse.

Now, I am not a lawyer, I could be misreading these things. Also it is likely a legitimate thing to put into a terms of service. If I object I am free to remove my account.

That said, it seems to me that it is a valid complaint and a cause for unease that these trademark laws are appearing in the Terms of Service. I know of at least one person who is canceling a project. It certainly has caused me to pause and consider the risk of the projects I am proposing.

Are there any lawyers out there who would care to comment?

P.S. Finally found a 9th page 3 links down from the page referenced in the Terms of Service with the chart of usages, I can now tag my post appropriately.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Having watched so many events from a distance and wanted to be there I think MediaCasters.tv is an an awesome idea. What is Mediacasters.tv? Well to quote their press release:

Live events stimulate conversations, but those offsite can’t really respond until later, when “the moment” has passed. What if you could engage from anywhere right as something interesting happened? In real time? Using super flexible, lightweight “social media” tools that make anyone a mediacaster.”

And that is an awesome idea. As I have watched live streaming and chat programs and more evolve and spread I have been wondering - Why can't we create a way for people who can't come to the event to participate and join in the event? I mean, it isn't going to be the same as being there, but it can certainly allow partial involvement and move this "distance is shorter because we can use the network" to the point where it involves participating in actual events.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing how Mediacasters.tv evolves and I'm hoping I will be able to make it down to join in the last day of Boulder Startup Weekend 2 to see it first hand.

I'd love to bring Mediacasters.tv into Colorado Podcamp. New Media is global and local - what a great way to enable both. Thank you Laura "Pistachio" Fitton.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is Griefing Free Speech?

I just went to an incredibly interesting panel at Life 2.0 on Intellectual Property, Privacy and Identity in Open Virtual Worlds. One thing that came up in the discussion was griefing, and was griefing free speech. Several people posited that it wasn't but I think that the issue is not so cut and dried. I also think that the supposition that griefing is limited to virtual world situations is incorrect. There are physical world analogies to the acts of griefing, and we may consider the real world analogies, as acts of free speech.

Just as a note, I am not saying that griefing is just fine - I am asking that we think about griefing in the context of speech and ask at what point an action goes beyond the bounds of valid free speech. Outside of virtual worlds there are disruptive actions taken, ften in the name of free speech. Some of these disruptions are seen as protests that are valid free speech - as they do not threaten the lives of others, and then there are protest actions amd disruptions that go beyond that that leave the domain of reasonable/valid free speech.

Likewise there are disruptive actions that some people define as griefing that may be seen as free speech and then there are points where griefing goes beyond reasonable/valid free speech. Defining that boundary of where virtual world disruption goes beyond "reasonable/valid free speech" is tricky because we want to use physical parallels, but an action in a virtual world is not necessarily identical to its analogue in the physical word.

One more point to mention, free speech does not only apply to protests and speech that are for "valid causes" (who decides valid.) Some of the fundamental cases that defined free speech as we know it now (within the US) were based on the rights of some less than pristine characters. Rights exist for scoundrels and angels alike.

To look at griefing and free speech in more detail lets look at some edge cases.
(For these examples I will ignore the aspect of this being private property verses a public venue. Private domains fall under a much different legal scope than public domains. Private domains can restrict who comes and what they do to a much greater extent.)

Lets take a look one of the more publicized "griefing" incidents in SL, the CNET interview with Anshe Chung. If the protesters had only held up signs protesting Anshe Chung and her business practices I think most people would claim it was free speech. However, when they threw phalluses it was elevated to "griefing" in most people's eyes.

Why? Because of the offensiveness of the object? Is free speech made invalid because it is offensive to some? Because in a physical world throwing something would be a valid action? But an we say that throwing things in a virtual world (which does not have the same physical impact) has the same status as throwing something in a physical world? The flying objects caused no physical damage to the people and created no laundry bills unlike throwing rotten tomatoes or rotten eggs

I am not saying that CNET and Anshe shouldn't be upset by it. Furthermore the effect on the public perception of SL adds to the emotional ire towards the event. But many protests in the real world have caused ire and affect the reputation of institutions. But at what point did the protest cease being free speech? And, at what point did this become griefing? Is that boundary the same?

Lets look at another example. Noisemaking devices can be very disruptive. Lets say that on some sim some group left a bunch of noisemakers that would alternate when they would make noise and turn off and on, over a period of time and then the noise makers would delete themselves. Would this be griefing? It seems disruptive and perhaps pointless and I know some would claim that it is griefing.

Well what about the Cell Phone Symphony at Improv Everywhere. I would posit that this is a near identical example, and something see as a glorious example of making art with free speech. And it also parallels some examples of griefing in the virtual world.

How much does the perspective of where it is (real/virtual), who is doing it, and why they are doing it change our desire to call something a valid act of free speech? Are the difference that change our reactions ones that actually change the validity of their right to speech?

It is true that (at least in the US context) that freedom of speech can be restricted in time, place and manner. But the ability to restrict these (within the public space) is limited and speech cannot be simply prohibited because it is offensive to some. This limitation on the restriction of speech within the public sphere brings us to a few questions which I think need to be asked, and do not yet have answers.

What are the public places within a virtual world? Must there be public places within a virtual world? If there are public places, to whom to we redress issues of excessive limitations of freedom of speech? If there are no public places, does the right to free speech exist within a virtual world?

Yes, right now virtual worlds could simply be left, or the protests published outside of the world, but as virtual worlds become more of a daily reality, does that mean that freedom of speech erodes?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Free Ingrid Betancourt

I just watched this video about and responding to the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt. It really touched me and if you haven't seen it yet I think it is important to watch.

To do more you can go to the Agir pour Ingrid Betancourt website. I don't know of an English website supporting this cause, but if you do please let me know and I will update this post.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Colorado Podcamp Update

If you didn't already know, planning for Colorado Podcamp (yes, I know the word order is usually different) has begun.

If you are interested in it and haven't gotten involved join the Colorado Podcamp Google Group we are using for planning/coordination.

We are also using TalkShoe for weekly meetings (except for the week of the Denver Area Podcaster's meetup.)

The next Talkshoe meetup will be Thursday March 13th at 7PM. There is more on the talkshoe site for the call.

Yesterday's call was excellent. We got to talk with Angelo Mandato who is "point" for Podcamp Ohio. He talked a bit about what makes Podcamp an "unconference" and about what they are planning for Podcamp Ohio. They have also been using talkshoe and have their sessions up on their website - so if you are in Ohio be sure to check them out if you haven't already.

We also talked about ideas for Colorado Podcamp, next steps, fundraising and promotion ideas and all sorts of stuff. If you would like to here more I've embedded the most recent episode at the bottom of this post.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

PC and Mac Brightness

On my previous post I mentioned something in passing about PC brightness versus Mac brightness. Hache asked if the PC/Mac brightness was a Machinima specific thing (in the comments.)

The PC brightness versus the Mac brightness is a general display difference (at least in the default settings.) I first came across this back in the days of the "Browser Wars". Web pages that looked great on a Mac would be way to dark on a PC.

I still find this to be the case that the PC displays things (with the default monitor settings) much more darkly than the Mac does. This is true on both of my XP boxes, a laptop and a desktop.

CGSD has an article about how to adjust gamma for web images images to look good on both PC and Mac. It also points to a few other resources on gamma and explains why the difference exists.

Interestingly the article implies it is an issue of graphics cards but with Macs moving to Intel, and there being PC/Mac cross compatible graphics cards I wonder if it is more a backwards compatibility reason now. You don't want the gamma on everything to suddenly shift if you are on the same platform.

Obviously you can calibrate the monitors differently but most users are going to go with the default calibration, so it is good to know what the differences are. It would be cool if there was an easy way to set up monitor calibration files for both the "mac" view and the "pc" view and swap between them if you are developing graphics and video for the web so you don't need to test it on two machines.

Actually I would be surprised if information on how to set up the two calibration settings didn't exist, but having never looked extensively into calibration (and not having success on a quick Google) I don't know where one would find the settings (other than creating them yourself.) Anyone out there have experience working with the PC/Mac gamma compatibility?