Allons, mes enfants!! Man the barricade!”

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At this press time, 23 Second Life bloggers have gone on a three-day virtual strike in protest of Linden Lab’s introduction of their new Brand Center trademark rules.

As reported here and elsewhere, LL has changed their rules from an open, easy to read and understand set of guidelines that encouraged bloggers to write about the virtual world, to a set of rather opaque rules that have left many writers uncertain what the status of their blogs will be at the end of the 90-day grace period. Many writers are wondering if they must pepper their articles with ™, ® and © symbols every time they mention the words “Second Life” or “Linden Lab” in an article; others fear being forced to change domain names that contain “Second Life” or “sl.” There have been some legal concerns that, having been compelled to agree to revised Terms of Service that include the new branding rules, any failure to comply completely will result in a shutdown of an account.

Gwyneth Llewelyn, one of the best-known SL bloggers, has demanded a clarification of LL’s new policy beyond the second article posted in their Big Blog (the official SL blog), which is considered essentially a rehash of the actual Brand Center page without any true explanation of what the Lab’s intent toward bloggers is. At the end of her article, she stated that she would “go on strike” for three days if no full explanation was given by LL. Other bloggers have now chosen to join her in this. A list to date of participating blogs can be found at Rheta Shan’s blog, Rheta’s World, along with a nice touch of humor that raises the image of a Les Misérables-like stand on the virtual barricades, raising the red flag of revolution.  A protest stand in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Clementina is planned for Sunday, at good times for both European and American participants.  Interested participants should contact Gwyneth Llewelyn for more details.

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Linden Lab is still botching its public relations with a group that has done it more good for free than any amount of paid publicity could have done. The appointment of a new communications manager, Katt Linden, is a positive step for the future; but they should address the present as well, which includes this situation.  That they have not, in a form that is clear and satisfactory to the Residents concerned, does not augur well for their future communication ability.  While it is quite possible that Second Life could have grown in similar ways from paid advertising, nothing beats the advertising of satisfied customers — the legendary word of mouth.  Someone who likes what they see will try to get more people involved in it to share the fun; they will talk it up to friends and strangers alike.

Similarly, though, a dissatisfied customer can also express their dissatisfaction — and many studies have shown that the words of a dissatisfied customer affect more people in the long run.  Those studies were done years ago, in the days before public use of the Internet.  Imagine now how much reach this powerful communications tool can have.  The current customer base outside of the concerned bloggers are mostly unworried at this time; but potential future customers can run across all the negative press generated by the controversy, and be turned away by concerns over a potentially tyrannical situation.

In their second blog writeup, Catherine Linden also seems to believe that we don’t understand why trademarks are important to companies.  She fails to realize, apparently, that there are many professionals, corporate types, Highly Educated Persons, and just general smart people that understand quite well what value a trademark holds.  Few or none of us have any objection to LL’s protecting their rights — provided that they do not step on our rights in the process.  The newly restrictive attempt at trademark enforcement, coupled with a failure or disregard to explain things adequately to satisfy our concerns, makes LL look even worse in the eyes of an increasingly estranged customer base.

The ball is in Linden Lab’s court.  How will they respond now?

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