Linden Lab explanation alienates educators


When news broke about Linden Lab sending a takedown notice to the core Second Life education community Web-site, our colleagues over at the Metaverse Journal put a number of questions about the matter to Linden Lab.

The Linden Lab response to those questions yesterday seems to have generated a reaction among educators akin to pouring gasoline on a blaze, coupled with a vigorous fish-slapping. While there's a undeniably a spectrum of reaction to the Lab's response, most of what we've seen seems to cluster around the livid end.

You see, back when Wollongong's site kicked off, Linden Lab used to distribute its Second Life trademarks in a Web-site kit with a perpetual license and encouragement to use them. Even after changing their policy last year, Linden Lab has, for its part, encouraged the use among the education community of the terms 'SLeducators', 'SLeducation' (and occasionally 'SLudents') and continued to promote and tacitly endorse the education Web-site in question.

"Although making changes in response to intellectual property complaints can be frustrating, it ultimately makes our community stronger, more aware and respectful of each other's intellectual property, and a more desirable place for content creators and content consumers alike," writes Pathfinder Linden in response to the Journal's queries.

While that constitutes a non sequitur, nobody seems to be disputing that intellectual property rights are important.

Most of the argument seems to revolve around Linden Lab's apparent inconsistency of rules and licensing surrounding these particular properties, the possibility that Wollongong's particular descriptive usages has first-amendment protections under the Lanham Act that governs trademarks in the USA, and the feeling that Linden Lab is taking the most fractious of their available options.

"The change of heart can only point to an organization losing touch with what they claim is most vital - the creative people who breathe life into its flagship service," educator Kerry Johnson told us, "I found the PR-response to be a wasted opportunity for Linden Lab to open up a dialogue with users who might feel offput or disenfranchised. Instead, it was more of a patronizing wag of the finger."

And she's far from alone. More than one educator feels Linden Lab's response indicates that the Lab is out of touch or does not understand the nature of the communities that it purports to foster and ultimately convert into customers.

Dean Groom, co-founder of Second Classroom, observed, "As virtual worlds mature, education lends a lot of academic credibility to the Second Life brand. In the time this wiki has been around, it has prompted many academics to research and publish, and indeed has been used by Linden to promote it's commercial interests - which without doubt has led directly to Linden revenue."

"There is a two-way interchange between Linden and academia that is clearly not being recognised or understood. Educators are interested in Virtual Worlds, more than just one brand. Already this week, many educators with virtual world interest are seeing this as a further risk for investment in one proprietary solution. It seems a shame that someone who is clearly a great asset to Linden, would be treated like this. I can understand the policy; however, it's a bad policy in the educational context."

The simplest solution for the Lab would have been to simply send a letter permitting the usage (with or without specific conditions); Their trademark would then have been fully-protected under law, and with no fallout or loss of trust among the education sector. The Lab has taken this route before (which gained it a tremendous amount of positive media coverage), and that this did not happen is what is causing dismay and anger.

And that's really what it comes down to. Given two course of action available to it, the Lab chose the one least likely to please either itself or its supporters -- or anyone else for that matter. What the Lab's explanation accomplished is confronting educators with the need to remain free of ties to a single proprietary platform. That's not something that can be undone, even if the Lab were to reverse course now.

Only hours after Linden Lab's formal response, a number of prominent educators of all stripes began assembling and meeting on Second Life alternative, ReactionGrid in what became an impromptu convention. It remains to be seen whether that trend will continue.


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This article was originally published on Massively.