log (2008/04/04 to 2008/04/10)

In the mail today, sitting waiting for me on the white table when I came home to the quiet house (quiet because M was taking the little boy to orchestra, and the little daughter was at rehearsal), there was a very official and important-looking envelope, of the kind that looks as though it probably contains money from the government. And this very official and important-looking envelope, quite possibly containing money in some indirect form, was addressed to someone on another street entirely.

And it was a beautiful day.

So I took the envelope, and went outside, and locked the door, and started off down our street, toward the cross street that leads to the street that the envelope was addressed to. A few yards up the street I kicked off my shoes (sandals, since there's no snow on the ground) and walked the rest of the way barefoot, the layers of callous on the soles of my feet grateful for the cool roughness of the pavement.

It was a lovely walk, the sky high and clear and shockingly blue, the trees still mostly bare, brown lines against the sky, brown ground, splashes of green shrubs and early grass, the blue-gray street, sweet and chilly air.

The house whose number was on the envelope is a small house among small houses, the kind of house that young people buy and knock down and replace and sell, the kind that someone's grandmother lives in, that smell of years and years of cooking spices. The man that came to the door, eventually, quite awhile after I rang the bell and in doing so pushed the door ajar because it wasn't latched and it swung a few inches into the mudroom beyond before I caught the knob and drew it closed again, was a small man, in loose clothing, teeth crooked because when he was young everyone wasn't straightening their teeth yet, and he said that yes that was his name on the envelope, and thanked me, asked me which street I was from, and thanked me again.

And then I walked home.

Also in the mail was a box from Federal Express that I opened and there inside was a bubble-envelope and inside that was a paper envelope and inside that were my reading glasses, back home finally from the Detroit hotel where I left them. And when M got home she laughingly asked what sort of strange thing I'd been ordering, and I said it was just my reading glasses, and she said "then why did it say Swank?", and I looked at the return address on the box, which I'd ignored before just assuming it was my glasses, and the return address on the box, rather than being the name of a hotel for instance, said "Swank Audio Visuals", which M and I agreed sounds like it surely must be a porn distributor, but which as it turns out apparently isn't.

But that was funny anyway.

And now I'm sitting waiting for the little daughter to call saying that she's done with rehearsal so I can go bring her home with my car, and Twitter is down, and I'm not going into Second Life because there's probably not really enough time, so I'm sitting here writing in my weblog, in one of those moods where I use many more words than in some sense I need to, and thinking about you mysterious readers out there, and listening to the fans in M's MacBook being overenthusiastic again, and the military voice-overs from whatever violent video game the little boy is playing in the playroom, and yawning, and thinking that I really really must get more sleep tonight.

And that's about all. *8)

We are back!

Faithful readers will have noticed that davidchess dot com and related sites in our media empire have been down for a week or so, due to causes that I'm sure our webhosts would have explained satisfactorily if we had ever gotten around to actually asking them about it.

But now we are back!

College results are all in: the little daughter got into all three of her safetyish schools, was accepted by two of the matchish schools and waitlisted by the third, and was rejected by two of the reachish schools but accepted by one; woot! So depending on just what she decides to do we may be going back to Old Nassau for more reasons than ever soon. *8)

Have been spending tons and tons of time in Second Life, and also in the surrounding Twitterverse and Blogoverse (there's a coupla lovely words for ya).

Linden Labs has had an attack of Lawyerosis and caused a big flurry (at least big in certain echo chambers that I frequent), by changing a longstanding very liberal policy about the use of their marks (encouraging fansites and so on to use them as long as accompanied with appropriate disclaimers), and instituting changes to the Terms of Service and posting Branding Guidelines that, taken literally, mean that for instance saying "I really like Second Life" in one's weblog is a violation of the Terms of Service. And then (most importantly) not sending anyone out to say "you're right, that was dumb, that wasn't what we meant", presumably 'cause their lawyers won't let them.

The reason it's a TOS violation is that the TOS says that you have to follow the Branding Guidelines, and the Branding Guidelines say the usual things that lawyers say, including that trademarks should only be used as adjectives, and should be decorated with the appropriate trademark symbols the first time they are used in a thing. So "I really like Second Life" should be "I really like the Second Life® virtual world", which of course no one in their right mind would say.

This area of trademark law is pretty interesting; I should really find some of the original decisions and read up. My impression is that there are two different classes of behavior here that companies don't want, and that they tend to squish the two classes together even though, from the user's point of view, they're wildly different.

The first category is stuff that's actually prohibited by trademark law. Since the Lindens have registered the "Second Life" mark for a virtual world service (or something), it would be a tort (i.e. they could sue me and win) for me to start my own virtual world service and use the phrase "Second Life" to apply to it in a way that might confuse consumers into thinking that mine was the same as, or associated with, theirs. Certainly it's reasonable for the Lindens to tell people not to do that, and even to have the TOS prohibit it (in general having a Terms of Service that forbids actions that violate the law seems like overkill, but relatively harmless overkill).

The second category is behavior that is not prohibited by trademark law (i.e. they could sue me and lose), but that does tend to dilute the brand, weaken the mark, and might eventually cause the company to lose the mark entirely (every trademark lawyer's nightmare is to have their marks become genericized, like "aspirin" famously was (although the case of "aspirin" is more complex than that, also involving the Allies' expropriation of German intellectual property after World War I, etc, etc)).

Having these non-tortious actions forbidden in the Terms of Service seems to me like an extremely bad idea. Sure, the company would rather that people didn't do them, but forbidding them and implying that one might be banned from the service for doing them is pretty over-the-top. My amateur impression is that these non-tortious behaviors that tend to dilute or genericize a mark include extremely common things like using the mark as a noun.

Quiz for fluent English speakers: What part of speech is "Second Life"? All of you that said "a noun phrase" are correct, but the Linden lawyers would rather you weren't. Anyone who said "an adjectival phrase" is urged to submit their resume to the Linden legal department at once, in the unlikely event that you don't already work there.

There are lots of in-between cases. The very amazing Second Life Ballet, for instance, is now in violation of the TOS. (Weirdly the Lindens have suggested that if they changed their name to "Second Life Ballet Troupe" they wouldn't be; I'm going to have to dig into the legal history to find out why that is.) If they are sufficiently clear in their materials that they are not associated with Linden Labs, I don't know how likely LL would be to win a suit against them for abusing the mark; it would hinge I think on how likely the judge would be to believe that consumers would be confused, and I don't know as much as I'd like to about just what criteria and tests the case-law has developed on the subject.

Similarly there are a zillion weblogs and websites called "Second Life, First Person", or "My Second Life", or "Whapdoodle, the adventures of an arachnid in Second Life", some of them sitting at urls that contain strings like "getaSecondLife" or "SecondLifeSuzy" or whatever. Again depending on just how obviously disclaimered they are I don't know how likely the Lindens would be to win a case (before a trademark judge, or before the ICANN in the case of domain names). But since the owners of these things are mostly private citizens, just the threat of a large expensive lawsuit, or the antipication of a threat, is enough to cause people to rename things, shut things down, have nightmares, make angry weblog posts, etc.

Which is really too bad.

From my point of view the Lindens have handled the community communication on this stuff really really badly. On the other hand, it may just be that I happen to be friends with the few propeller-heads that really care, and given that the vast majority of the SL population doesn't care, the Lindens may be putting the appropriate amount of effort into clear communication. On the third hand, though, I think the people who do care about this situation tend to be those with the deepest commitment to the world, and therefore perhaps the ones one should be least willing to piss off to please one's lawyers.

Hard to say!

So anyway, I hope the little musings there about IP law were interesting even to those of my readers who don't care a fig for Second Life.

I don't have alot of random little links saved up this time; I will just share one rather amazing little one: Sleep for me now dot co dot uk. I haven't decided just quite what it is yet, but it's definitely novel, and has a British accent. *8)

Um, I dunno, what else? Nice to be back here in the ol' weblog, nice to be sitting in the rocking chair watching M stitching, the little boy off getting all wet and painty in the woods at a friend's house, the little daughter still sound asleep because it's finally Sunday and she's had such a busy week. What could be better, really?