Linden Labs Gets Zapped in Lawsuit by Taser For Hosting the Sale of “Virtual Goods” That Look Like the Real ThingThursday, April 30th, 2009
Linden Labs, the host of the immensely popular site Second Life, an online virtual world, has been sued in an Arizona district court for trademark infringement and unfair competition. The complaint, filed by Taser International, makers of non-lethal (and sometimes lethal) weapons, claims Linden Labs allows third parties to sell TASER guns inside the virtual world.
Just so we’re clear, no one on Second Life is actively selling real TASER guns; rather Taser is suing Linden (who doesn’t sell anything), for letting people sell virtual (digitally created) guns that look like TASER weapons, and that use the TASER brand. The suit also alleges unfair competition, trade dress infringement, and false designation of origin, among other claims.
For those uninitiated few, users of the Second Life world can use their credit card to buy digital currency (“Linden Dollars”). They can then use that currency to make purchases in Second Life. For instance, if a user would like to dress up his/her avatar in a ball gown, s/he can use the Linden Dollars to shop at a virtual prom store. Similarly, if a user wants “protection” (you know, from digital thugs), s/he can buy a virtual weapon. Linden gets its revenue from a small percentage taken during the currency exchange.
It’s not the first time a company has sued Linden; neither is it the first time a company has sued a hosting site for trademark infringement by third parties (think: Google). It may, however, be the first time a company has sued another company for hosting a site where third parties selling products that aren’t even real. Is it time for a Digital Millennium Trademark Act?
Practice Note: Notwithstanding the fact that there is no DMTMA, companies may want to consider adopting a policy that allows them to stay an arms length away from disputes between users when it comes to trademarks. It’s not a fail-safe method of safe harbor protection, but it may make would-be plaintiffs feel they have an option short of filing a lawsuit, for getting hard-to-find users to stop using their marks.
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