News

Second Life Avatars and First Life Trademarks

More and more, the body of laws that govern our “first lives” are traveling into the world of Second Life, an online virtual world that allows people to own land, buy and sell products for Linden Dollars, and now, register trademarks based on graphics created by a user in Second Life.  Click here to read the full article.

This should probably come as no surprise, given the strong and growing commercial activity within Second Life.  According to their site, in-world users of Second Life are exchange about USD$35 million each month for virtual goods and services.  First life laws on trademarks were created in part to encourage commerce by helping consumers know the actual source for the goods they were buying.  It seems to me that the next step will be first life businesses like Nike and Rolex seeking a way to enforce their trademark rights in a first life court against Second Life infringers.

Sony ebook reader with google

Sony and Google announed today that Google will be making its online PDF library of public domain works available through Sony’s epub reader. Google has well over 500,000 books online as a result of its work to scan public domain works into digital format.

I have used Google’s book search for historical research and it is a great tool for finding books published before 1925. The search tool also gives you results for materials still under copyright but not the entire book in PDF. Will Sony’s reader come in an iPhone flavor? Maybe, but not just yet.

Google Targets Targeted Ads

Big brother is watching your every move on the internet.  And, by “big brother,” some privacy experts mean Google, the internet search engine with a majority of all searches online.  According to Yahoo News (click here for the story), Google has begun a new advertising campaign that uses where you have been to present advertisements to you from AdWords advertisers.  So, for example, if you had previously visited my web site, http://www.faithatlaw.com, and were searching for legal services next month, you might see my Google ad show up in your Google search results, where another user that had never been to my site might not see the same ad.  Read Google’s Blog here.

The controversy for privacy advocates is that people other than you have access to your web history, regardless of whether you wanted those other persons to have access or not.  It is kind of like the FBI agent walking over to the public library and printing out a list of all the books you have taken out in the last year – most patrons of the library (way back in the good old days before the Patriot Act) just would not expect the government to be investigating what books they were reading.  Of course, most of us also probably don’t get all that upset about it, unless the cops have a warrant and are banging down our door at home!

What’s different about this situation, however, is that Google is not a government agency (though Google, like other service providers do comply with warrants from government agencies, or the laws of other nations where they operate, including some of those dictatorships who shall not be named, but whose country’s name rhymes with Whina).  And, Google’s advertisers are generally just other businesses looking for customers.  I think that we have gotten over the commercialization of the internet.  We’ve been living with stupid advertisements from stupider products now for some time.  I imagine that Billy Mays is probably living in your subconcious, too, but it just makes me bound and determined to never buy any crap that guy is pushing on those TV commercials.  I mean, how often do you have a torn US flag that you repair and want to fly in a wind tunnel (even sixty mile per hour winds will not drown out Billy!).

So, if you go to a web site selling that crap, and search for things like that crap on Google, that stupid web site’s ads will be more in your face than they might otherwise be.  Personally, I think you deserve to be tortured with endless pop up ads for visiting that web site and contemplating supporting Billy Mays’ personal quest to yell at everyone on the planet.  And don’t get me started about ShamWow.  But I digress.

The issue for us users of the internet is how much we are willing to put up with others knowing about us.  I’d be willing to bet most readers of this blog treat the internet as a parking lot under surveillance, and just don’t pay much attention to the cameras.  Our expectations of our privacy on the internet continue to be lowered as social networking and other web sites allow us to live more publicly than ever before.  Google is part of this trend, as is your television, newspaper, trade magazine, your neighbor’s pets, your government – pretty much everybody.  That’s because we need to buy more stuff.  Ask Whina – they are ready to sell you a new flat screen TV that you can hook your internet-enabled new WiFi Macbook Air to while you are reading an advertising-sponsored blog, searching through internet ads on Google for the best deal on the next cool thing.

Coming next month: free clothing sponsored by Google ads that are updated regularly to reflect your geographic location, courtesy of Google Maps!  (Oh John, just been shopping at The Apple Store in Towson, I see…)

Amazon Kindle on iPhone

Yahoo News reported that Amazon has created a new applet for the Apple iPhone that allows users to download kindle-friendly books right to the iPhone for reading.  Others, including Apple itself, have for some time had a way for iPhone users to download certain books electronically, but Amazon getting into the mix this week increases substantially the number of titles that you can purchase and read on your iPhone.  Just one more reason to join the iPhone club.

Online Marketing Update

As a follow-up on a previous post, I decided that I would spend some time with yahoo in order to advertise on that search engine as well.  Unlike google, in order to get yahoo to pay attention to your site, you have to wait for them to get around to index your web pages.  You can submit your site for free, but that just means that they will eventually index your pages.  So, if you are in a hurry, you can pay $49 a year to yahoo and they will index your site within about a week, and come back and visit your site on a regular basis.

In addition, you can pay for search marketing on yahoo, which is similar to how google’s advertising works – you pay per click and for high placement of your advertisement in search results, based on certain keywords that you configure when you create your ad.  One key difference: you have to deposit a minimum amount of money into your yahoo advertising account with a credit card to get started.

It is probably no wonder that google has a larger share of the search market than yahoo today – google indexes automatically and more quickly (my web site showed up in search results in google a few days after I posted content, where yahoo has still not come to visit my site as of today).  But advertising on both is a safe hedge, given that the two are the dominant search engines on the internet today.  I’ll keep you updated as I investigate other search engines and online advertising, including MSN Live.

Marketing a Law Practice Online

I have heard from a number of new attorneys about how to market yourself online through a web site.  I thought I would share some thoughts about this here on my blog, based on my own professional experience as a web developer and entrepeneur.  As always, if I can be of further assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me.

First Things First – Get a Domain Name

You will need to pay to register a domain name, like faithatlaw.com, with an internet registrar, such as Network Solutions.  This is required in order for all the other computers on the internet (well over a billion) to be able to find your site’s location on the network server that will hold your web site’s files and data.  Network Solutions was the original registrar back in the bad old days, but today there are a number of registrars that you can work with (try searching with google to find others).  Be sure to pick one that looks like they are going to be around for a while (and that may not be the guy that registers domain names for $10 for 1,000 years).

Your domain name should make sense based on the name of your practice, your specialty, and should ideally be short.  Don’t try to use a famous trademark as your domain name or you will get in trouble!  Don’t pick a name that is three hundred characters long, either.  And your name should usually end in .com.  There are other possible domains, like .biz or .tv, but these have really not caught on for the average internet user looking for your site.

Web Site Hosting

Your web site has to physically be located as a set of files on a server that is connected to the public internet.  You will generally have to pay someone who is in the business of hosting sites for this service, unless you have a T1 connection at home with a static IP address and your service contract allows you to host sites.  There are a lot of businesses that offer web site hosting.  You may want to find a hosting company that will support multiple web languages, backend databases, blogging, and other features, even if you don’t need that right away.

Content of Your Web Site

Your web site should be straight forward for your users to get around, and should have a basic navigation scheme that highlights your skills, services, and a way for users to reach you.  Think of what you would put on a brochure that you would mail to prospective clients and put that on your site.

Be careful about the graphics or other art that you place on your site.  Using other people’s art without a license or express right can get you into trouble, especially if your site gets a lot of traffic.  There are a number of services that you can purchase that will allow you to create a web site from a template (this service is often wrapped up in the hosting of the finished web site itself).  Be sure to read the contract before you sign up for the service.

Meta Tags

Meta tags are a special hidden indexing tool that helps internet search engines like yahoo and google to properly index the content of your site.  These are placed in the header section of each web document, and are basically a list of the words that describe the content of your site, like “attorney,” “copyright infringement,” “tenant and landlord,” “intellectual property” and so on.  You may or may not have the ability to add this to the header of the documents that you post, but check with your service provider or hosting company about editing these tags.

Blogging and Dynamic Content

Once you have your site up on the internet, you need to make a note on your calendar to update the content of your site on a regular basis.  And by regular, I do not mean once every thirteen years.  You should have a section of your site for news, and you should post updates to this section on things that are going on with your firm.  You can also create an online blog, like this one, and post news and updates to it.  This is good for several reasons.  One, the search engines stop by your site regularly and they see what is on the site.  New content will get indexed by them, which helps to increase the chances that someone searching for you will find your web site.  Two, people that actually do come to your site will think you actually still exist and are actively working as an attorney.  And three, the more content you have overall, the more established you will appear to others that might be researching you, including other attorneys, especially if you can demonstrate some expertise in your area of the law.

Online Adverts

Google, Yahoo, and MSN probably make up 95% of all the searching of the internet today, with Google making up nearly 60% all by themselves.  All three of these allow you to pay for advertising, which basically helps to make sure that, based on the keyword search, your web site will show up towards the top of the search results.  Generally speaking, this is the entire web search game.  If your site is indexed but consistently appears as search result 624,691,504 out of 624,691,505 results, no one will ever find your site via a search engine.  That makes the search engine pretty much useless to advertise your site, and by extension, makes your web site kind of useless (I mean, people will find your web site if you meet them in person and give them your business card with your web address on it, but how many people can you meet in person to do that?).

Of the three, I would recommend starting with google.  The cost to run an ad with keywords is generally minimal to start, and you only pay if someone clicks on your ad and comes to your site.  Now, not many of the clickers will become customers, but you don’t need a million customers to start.  In fact, you may only need just one.

Statistics

Some web site hosting companies will provide you with statistics on your web site’s utilization.  These stats are very helpful as you begin to develop your site and want to measure how successful your efforts have been, because you can compare site activity before and after you begin advertising in various places.  Also, most web servers will allow you to collect referer data, which you can use to see how people get to your site, such as a search engine or other web site address that has a link to your site.

So, for example, if you are advertising on google, google will tell you how many times someone clicked on your ad in a given period.  You can then query your web site itself to see how many people used google to search for you and what search terms they used to find your site.  If your google had got 2 clicks in a month, but people got to your web site via a google search 60 times, you might need to change your ad on google, or change the keywords that you are advertising to match how people got to your web site.

Or, if you are advertising on yahoo, but all of your referers are from MSN or AOL, you might stop advertising on yahoo and start advertising on one of the other search providers or services.

Market From Multiple Angles

Marketing is all about advertising in multiple ways at the same time.  So, if you are considering building a web site and advertising from it or about it, also think about other places you can get the web address in front of your prospective customers.  Also, think about what’s cost-effective for you, especially if you are just starting out as an attorney.  Ads in a major newspaper that you run weekly for a year are going to cost thousands of dollars, and it is very hard to measure what impact these ads are having on those that contact you.  But, you can put your web address on your business cards, stationery, on other materials that you handout to prospective clients, perhaps on direct mailings that you send to prospective customers, and as a tattoo on your forehead (that will go over well in court!).

Good luck in your efforts and contact me if I can be of service.

Tim Faith, esq.

http://www.faithatlaw.com

Loopt – Real Life Online

So, I stood in line with my many compatriots last Friday at the Apple store to get the new 3G iPhone from Apple, which, by the way, is way cool.  One of the really nice features of the phone is the ability to download specially designed applications that take advantage of particular characteristics of the iPhone, like its ability to vibrate, the fact that the phone can determine its orientation using a built in gyroscope, and, here, the fact that the phone in combination with GPS, knows where it is in the world.

So, being adventurous and a geek, I took a look at some of the applications available for use.  One, Loopt, is a social networking application that allows you to publish your physical location, in near real-time, based on the GPS locator built into your iPhone.  And as a consequence, you make this information available to other Loopt users (and, in theory, to the police that have a warrant and knock on Loopt’s door for their logs).  It is like a stalker’s dream come true, or perhaps a dream come true for the people that drafted the Patriot Act!  I guess it might be actually useful if terrorists were the target market for the iPhone, and are the kind of people that use social networking sites to exchange bomb-making recipes, but for the normal consumer, this is kind of whack.

Needless to say, I did not accept the terms of service to join the system.  Maybe I’ll change my mind after I install those fully transparent glass walls in my home and stop wearing clothes as a matter of course.

Online Privacy v. Copyright Infringement

Looks like the copyright infringement allegers will win, when the judge has to choose between your online privacy rights and plaintiffs proving their infringement claims.  Check out the article on Yahoo.

This isn’t new, in the sense that Napster, Grokster, and other similar cases involved the sued company turning over information about the users and what they viewed.  However, youtube logs of what videos were viewed by whom, may very well feel different to youtube users.  Where the successors to Napster advertised themselves as another way to violate the property interests of copyright holders, youtube has not.  The primary focus of youtube has been to help the general public publish their own diatribes, and silly sexy commentaries on obscure definitions or concepts, but not so much to view pirated full-length feature films.

Online Virtual Realities – Do You Know Who Owns Your Virtuality?

Second Life, a virtual reality simulation system available online, is a privately managed computer system that allows “real” people to participate in “virtual” activities within the system.  You can download a copy of the program and login for free at Second Life’s website.  But, if you do, you’ll notice that you have to consent to a rather lengthy (which is kind of normal for these sorts of sites) online agreement that governs the terms of service of the site.  Undoubtedly written by risk-conscious lawyers, the terms of service give users a more or less one-sided set of rules that govern the basic way that the site will operate.  These terms include a number of discretionary matters reserved to the good folks at Linden Labs, that creator of Second Life.

In reality, no one but you owns your right to exist or engage in interactions, so it is a little unsettling that a private company has, in its discretion, control or ownership over your virtual existence.  But, like most of us children of the internet age, we quickly breeze through such concerns.  What’s more interesting about the agreement relates to the copyright possessed by users of Second Life.  As students of copyright law can surmise, Linden Labs is an author under the Act.  The system it has created is a copyrightable work, which includes the audio visual presentation, along with the application code underneath that makes things work within the system.  Individual users have a license to access the system and roam its virtual landscape, but are also empowered, effectively, to create their own little derivative works.  The system gives users the ability to create new objects within Second Life, upload images and pictures, and then buy and sell those virtual objects to other users in the system, in exchange for a virtual currency that is managed by the system creator.

Normally, Linden Labs would have an exclusive right to create derivative works.  However, under the agreement with Linden, users are able to retain an exclusive copyright in the virtual objects that they might create within the system.  This likely includes programming code users can generate themselves within the system to automate or otherwise cause virtual objects to interact with Second Life in particular ways.  Section 3.2 of the current agreement describes this right and the limitations upon it.  So here’s an interesting question: how do you go about enforcing your rights under the Copyright Act in the event of a potential infringement?  Today, you generally have to sue in a real court of law somewhere, and gain personal jurisdiction over the alleged infringer, who may not even live in the United States (it is the internet where this system exists).  But Linden, to date, has not established an internal judicial system within Second Life that might have the ability to bind users of the system to the outcomes of adjudication of claims within the system – virtual complaints, claims, and so on.  Perhaps there will one day be a virtual 15th circuit in the federal court system that operates in systems like Second Life.

In the meantime, I think it would be interesting to see if it would be possible to create an informal arbitation or mediation system within Second Life that might provide an alternative way for users in the system to settle disputes over virtual land, goods, warranties of fitness, and the like.  See you in Second Life!