4.4 Without a written license agreement, Linden Lab does not authorize you to make any use of its trademarks.
So reads the summary sentence for the now-infamous trademark clause in Second Life’s Terms of Service. That unfortunate choice of words, and the similar phrase contained in the full text for that clause, might just be the source of the confusion that has myself and other concerned Residents up in arms.
The full text of section 4.4 reads (emphasis mine):
You agree to review and adhere to the guidelines on using “Second Life,” “SL,” “Linden,” the Eye-in-Hand logo, and Linden Lab’s other trademarks, service marks, trade names, logos, domain names, taglines, and trade dress (collectively, the “Linden Lab Marks”) at http://secondlife.com/corporate/brand and its subpages, which may be updated from time to time. Except for the licenses expressly granted there or in a separate written agreement signed by you and Linden Lab, Linden Lab reserves all right, title, and interest in the Linden Lab Marks and does not authorize you to display or use any Linden Lab Mark in any manner whatsoever. If you have a written license agreement with Linden Lab to use a Linden Lab Mark, your use shall comply strictly with that agreement’s terms and conditions and use guidelines.
Here again we see “does not authorize”. But how are we to interpret it?
To a lawyer, it probably means, unambiguously, that Linden Lab does not grant special permission for you to use its trademarks. It’s not a restriction on your rights, just letting you know that you don’t get extra permission simply because you pressed “I Agree”.
To a layperson, though, it can easily be interpreted to mean that Linden Lab will not allow you to use its trademarks. You can’t write or say any of Linden Lab’s trademarks, anywhere, ever, in any form, or Linden Lab will ban you faster than you can say “nominative fair use”.
I’m sure it’s a perfectly benign phrase, when translated into plain speech. Heck, they even granted us a license to use “SL” and “inSL”! Linden Lab’s General Counsel is probably utterly baffled as to why we’re not genuflecting and thanking LL for its supreme generosity.
But, in general, we’re not lawyers, and we’re not fluent in the twisted dialect known as Lawyerese. To many (if not most) of us, it reads as a restriction of our rights, and a threat of legal action. And as Residents watching the gradual “crackdown” on various freedoms we had enjoyed in Second Life, we’re especially prone to interpret Linden Lab’s legal moves as being hostile and restrictive, even if they were not intended to be.
There is one sore point, though, that isn’t directly attributable to poor communication: the “taking-back” of the phrase, “my Second Life”. Linden Lab doesn’t want us to talk about “my Second Life” or “our Second Lives”, because of the potential for confusion and/or genericide. That issue is a legitimate concern on the part of Linden Lab, as well as a legitimate complaint on the part of the Residents.
However, I’m willing to find an alternate phrase (“my virtual life,” maybe?) that does not have the potential to damage Linden Lab’s marks. And just maybe, Linden Lab will be willing to find an alternate phrasing that is less prone to being interpreted as overtly restrictive. Then maybe we could put this whole mess behind us, and get back to living our virtual lives.