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Telstra in Second Life 'Ayers Rock' kerfuffle

Aboriginal owners probe virtual Uluru

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The administrators of Uluru - the sacred rock formerly known as Ayers - are "investigating" images of the outcrop which Oz telecoms outfit Telstra has slapped on its Second Life island, news.com.au reports.

Telstra opened its virtual presence, The Pond, back in March. It features a "scaled-down" Uluru which, although protected by a barrier which stops avatars "walking or flying over the sacred site", may allow visitors to "view sacred sites" around the rock.

This is a touchy subject for Uluru's traditional owners, the Anangu people. For 20 years there have been "tight restrictions" which "limit photography, filming and commercial painting at Uluru". Specifically, taking snaps of sections of the rock's northeast face is an absolute no-no. In Second Life, however, tourists can "virtually fly in the no-fly zone to the northeast and take snapshots".

A spokesman for National Parks, which administers Uluru on behalf of the traditional landowners, said that while "rules governing photography, filming and paintings have been in place since 1987", the matter of digital images online "had never been raised before".

Accordingly, National Parks has dispatched lawyers to Second Life for a reccy, and is "considering sending a delegation to meet landowners to discuss the situation". Telstra admited it had not asked permission to use images of Uluru.

In Sydney, meanwhile, the powers that be at the famous Opera House are also probing Telstra's use of an image of the building on Big Pond. A spokesman said: "We are looking into the use of the Opera House image on that website at the moment and that's all we have to say."

Intellectual property lawyer Tony Anisimoff was more forthcoming. He described the "issue of recreating iconic buildings and sacred sites in commercial websites" as a "grey and untested area", adding that "in general copyright only protected blueprints and not the buildings themselves".

He explained: "I know the Sydney Opera House Trust does occasionally object to the use of the Opera House and puts forward an argument that it's such an iconic commercial building that its use in a certain context implies an association, a sponsorship or an endorsement. But that sort of argument has never been run in court."

Regarding Uluru, Mr Anisimoff warned that "the exploitation of Uluru for commercial gain was a dangerous move". He said: "Anyone who puts Uluru in advertising asks for controversy. As far as reaction of the Aboriginal bodies is concerned...they do tend to react aggressively against commercial use of Uluru." ®

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