September 21st, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
Second Life’s ‘Aimee Weber’ (Alyssa LaRoche) recently became the first avatar with a registered trademark. The application for the registered mark was filed February 18, 2007 approved for publication July 7, and published for opposition August 14. According to ‘Weber,’ no opposition was filed, and she plans to immediately begin using the mark. In a sea of often silly metaverse firsts, this one could well signal a trend. ‘Weber’ runs a respected design studio in-world, has one of the most recognizable avatars in Second Life, and literally wrote the book on Second Life content creation. And now she gets to wear “TM” bling too.
A trademarked avatar, though novel, shouldn’t really be a surprise. McDonald’s trademarked Ronald, so there is no reason an avatar — for many users, a computer generated representation of their brand — could not also be trademarked. The rather distinct appearance of avatar ‘Aimee Weber’ is indisputably identified with the brand. And ‘Aimee Weber’ is as much a Second Life icon as she is a person you chat with at a virtual coffee shop or hire for design work; the little “TM” just makes that official.
One interesting legal angle here: the avatar, once trademarked, is basically locked into a persistent image, so VB hopes that ‘Weber’ is happy with her pigtails, butterfly wings, green tutu, zebra leggings, and stompy boots, because that’s what she’s stuck with as long as she wants to keep the mark.
VB caught up with the ‘Weber’ today for a short interview.
Virtually Blind: First off, why trademark your avatar? Some specific problem, or is it more a general move to protect your brand?
Aimee Weber: It’s a general move to protect my brand. We haven’t seen any problems yet, but prior to the trademark, we wouldn’t have been as well protected if somebody wanted to plaster my image all over an unrelated product.
VB: Do you plan to pursue people who infringe? If someone creates a new avatar that looks just like ‘Aimee Weber,’ should that person expect to hear from your lawyers?
AW: Well I think there are two levels to that question, one is my own personal concerns, which are pretty laid back. I don’t want to see my hard work co-opted by another company, but as far as I’m concerned any non-commercial reproduction of my avatar doesn’t bother me. I’m more flattered than anything. The other side of the coin is the general protection of the trademark. That may compel me to ask for the removal of stuff that doesn’t bother me so much. I’m not sure where that line is yet, but if there is one thing I learned from Anshe Chung’s DMCA spree is that I don’t want to piss off the community by being overly territorial.
VB: How closely do you identify with ‘Aimee Weber?’ Is it at all odd, knowing you can’t really alter your avatar’s appearance much now?
AW: Well I see Aimee Weber as a “character” and myself the creator of that character. Not that there is much difference between Aimee and myself! A whole lot of who I am gets channeled into this avatar. But I do see them as distinct. Aimee is the Dilbert to my Scott Adams.
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