Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

October 7, 2009 -

An article on Law of the Level takes a look at whether using real brands on virtual goods in online worlds—by someone other than the trademark owner—could be interpreted as trademark infringement.

A publication of the law firm Sheppard Mullin, the blog was written by Thayer Preece, a lawyer in the firm’s Video Game Industry Group. She begins to answer the question by noting that several real world brands have taken exception to counterfeit virtual goods sold online, especially when the money from these sales line someone else’s pocket.

One way to deal with infringements is to sue. Taser International, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Second Life creator Linden Labs (along with others) earlier this year, which alleged that fake Taser-branded products were being sold in Second Life and infringing on the company’s sales. Taser sought $75,000 in damages but eventually dropped the suit.

Another way to fight the knock-offs is to join the virtual world and pump out your own branded goods. Law of the Level writes that this is the tact Herman Miller took. In response to a number of fake Herman Miller goods offered on Second Life, the designer launched its own official presence in the world and even replaced “fake” Herman Miller products with “real” ones.

What would happen if a virtual world trademark infringement lawsuit made it to court? Breece writes:

At present, there is no legal precedent on this subject. But as the popularity of virtual worlds continues to grow, it seems likely that it will only be a matter of time before the courts make a decision on the issue. In the meantime, it will be up to each brand holder individually to decide how to respond to the emergence of this growing marketplace and its potential opportunities and pitfalls.


Comments

Re: Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

Video game companies must license any real world products in their games or they are guilty of trade mark infringement. I infer from the examples given that issue is coming from user-created content in games, which would appear to be a grey area. Not from the perspective of legality (I'd assume any use of real life names or appearance would be an infringment) but from the question of who is liable: the company who makes the tool (the game) or the person who uses that tool to violate a copy right infringement. The video game company, presumably possessing "deep pockets" makes for a more appealing target for lawyers.

Re: Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

Arguably, both could be liable. Or, at least, it isn't the case that only one or the other need be liable. The Lanham Act provides for two different types of liability: "direct infringement" (the tool user) and "facilitation infringement" (the tool maker).

Re: Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

Is this really all that different from mentioning a brand in a novel, or seeing one on a movie screen?

Come to that, don't companies usually pay to have their brand reinforced in media? Getting exposure for free should not be an offence, unless it depicts the brand in a deliberately bad light.

Re: Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

I always thought so. In fact, Ive already seen in some games where brands have had to be replaced because of licensing infringement. But yes, Ive always thought big companies shouldnt complain about people advertising for them without charge.

Thats also why I avoid clothes with logos on them; why should I pay them to advertise for them?

Re: Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

I think it's the phrases "branded products were being sold" and "infringing on the company’s sales" which make the difference.

Re: Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

"What would happen if a virtual world trademark infringement lawsuit made it to court? Preece writes . . . nothing which would inform her reader one way or the other as to the likely outcome of such a suit." There. Fixed.

 
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Matthew WilsonAgain the consequences were not only foreseeable, but very likely. anyone who understood supply demand curse knew that was going to happen. SF has been a econ/trade hub for the last hundred years.04/17/2014 - 2:45pm
Andrew EisenMixedPixelante - Would you like to expand on that?04/17/2014 - 2:43pm
MaskedPixelanteWell, I am officially done with Night Dive Studios. Unless they can bring something worthwhile back, I'm never buying another game from them.04/17/2014 - 2:29pm
PHX Corphttp://www.msnbc.com/ronan-farrow/watch/video-games-continue-to-break-the-mold-229561923638 Ronan Farrow Daily on Video games breaking the mold04/17/2014 - 2:13pm
NeenekoAh yes, because by building something nice they were just asking for people to come push them out. Consequences are protested all the time when other people are implementing them.04/17/2014 - 2:06pm
Matthew Wilsonok than they should not protest when the consequences of that choice occur.04/17/2014 - 1:06pm
NeenekoIf people want tall buildings, plenty of other cities with them. Part of freedom and markets is communities deciding what they do and do not want built in their collective space.04/17/2014 - 12:55pm
Sora-ChanI realize that they have ways getting around it, but one reason might be due to earthquakes.04/17/2014 - 4:42am
Matthew WilsonSF is a tech/ economic/ trade center it should be mostly tail building. this whole problem is because of the lack of tail buildings. How would having tail apartment buildings destroy SF? having tail buildings has not runed other cities around the US/world04/16/2014 - 10:51pm
Matthew WilsonAgain the issue is you can not build upwards anywhere in SF at the moment, and no you would not. You would bring prices to where they should have been before the market distortion. those prices are not economic or socially healthy.04/16/2014 - 10:46pm
ZippyDSMleeYou still wind up pushing people out of the non high rise aeras but tis least damage you can do all things considered.04/16/2014 - 10:26pm
ZippyDSMleeANd by mindlessly building upward you make it like every place else hurting property prices,ect,ect. You'll have to slowly segment the region into aeras where you will never build upward then alow some aeras to build upward.04/16/2014 - 10:25pm
Matthew WilsonSF have to build upwards they have natural growth limits. they can not grow outwards. ps growing outwards is terable just look at Orlando or Austin for that.04/16/2014 - 4:15pm
ZippyDSMleeIf they built upward then it would becoem like every other place making it worthless, if they don't build upward they will price people out making it worthless, what they need to do is a mix of things not just one exstreme or another.04/16/2014 - 4:00pm
Matthew Wilsonyou know the problem in SF was not the free market going wrong right? it was government distortion. by not allowing tall buildings to be build they limited supply. that is not free market.04/16/2014 - 3:48pm
ZippyDSMleeOh gaaa the free market is a lie as its currently leading them to no one living there becuse they can not afford it makign it worthless.04/16/2014 - 3:24pm
Matthew WilsonIf you have not read http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/04/introducing-steam-gauge-ars-reveals-steams-most-popular-games/ you should. It is a bit stats heavy, but worth the read.04/16/2014 - 2:04pm
Matthew Wilsonthe issue is when is doesn't work it can screw over millions in new york city's case. more often than not it is better to let the free market run its course without market distortion.04/16/2014 - 9:36am
NeenekoTrue, and overdone stagnation is a problem. It is a tricky balance. It does not help that when it does work, no one notices. Most people here have benifited from rent controls and not even realized it.04/16/2014 - 9:23am
ZippyDSMleehttp://www.afterdawn.com/news/article.cfm/2014/04/15/riaa_files_civil_suit_against_megaupload04/16/2014 - 8:48am
 

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