There Ought to be a Law

by prokofy on 14/12/06 at 6:29 am

Rube-Goldberg-style government plan for Neufreistadt; best to eat sausage than watch how it is made.

By Prokofy Neva, Communitiy Affairs Dept

SL is teeming with lawyers and judges! With Big Business coming into SL, can the litigators be far behind? Law, after all, is a business, too. Remember those two college kids who made the Metaverse Superior Court until Kremlinden Lab told them they couldn’t use the name “Second Life”? They didn’t make it past winter break, but we are so fast past that now; armchair philosophizing groups like the Law Society of SL have been overtaken by the “RL in SL” phenom and we now have the SL Bar Association, slated to hold its second meeting with RL lawyers in attendance Thursday, December 21, with a new blog for commentary.

The first stop for law and justice in SL has traditionally been the “socialism-in-one-sim” Neualtenberg, but since they had a coup and overthrew Ulrika Zugzwang and had some seminars in how democracy and the rule of law work, they’ve split, renamed themselves and spawned new factions to drink beer in the same foggy snow-laden pub. At a meeting at Neufreistadt FriesWithThat the other night, an American lawyer and a British barrister duked it out over competing legal concerns and various factions weighed in on the burning issue of whether the Scientific Council’s function of constitutional interpretation was overreach or vital.

And did you know that the ACLU has dipped its toe into Second Life? The first scout from a local ACLU chapter board, Little Gray, soon found himself in hot water with the Lindens.

It seems that Gray found himself doing 4 days in Ban Town for getting booted from the Elbow Room for wearing a hippiepay, and complaining about it persistently. He’s managed to pull a dozen relevant legal principles out of this typical SL experience, here, here, here, and here.

What has most torqued Little Gray is the forums phenom of legions of fanboyz telling him to shut up, who aggressively defend the Lindens’ failure to uphold basic rights on the grounds that it is a private company.

We’ve all heard Robin Linden tell us that SL is not a democracy. Just how much it’s not a democracy will become increasingly clear.

Of course, the fanboyz aren’t wrong if we consider that the genre of Second Life is akin to the Boy Scouts in Boy Scouts of American v. Dale. The court rules that in a private “expressive” association that sought to instill values into young men, if the group wanted to condemn homosexuality, that was their right, and the state didn’t have a right to interfere. That’s the sort of ruling that protects a group’s right to freedom of assembly, but irritates a lot of people who think that a public group using public facilities like schools or churches should have more obligation to protect minorities and uphold tolerance.

Others argue that SL is more like Mall of America, and hash over the dozens of cases involving people wearing anti-Bush or peace or Green t-shirts in malls, and being stopped by security.

With a visit by Judge Richard Posner to SL in a talk arranged by Hamlet Au, avatars got a little more professional opinion than they’d been served up by anonymous people with exotic first and last names and groups that fade on and off your screen in chance group bull sessions.

Yet at these events, as the dialogue is skillfully directed to both important RL issues like terrorism, and the generic issues of SL like intellectual property, the deeper problems of sharing of power with LL and the separation of government into powers with checks and balanches remain undone.

While we have Judge Posner and his book in our world; not one, or two, or even three but more legal associations, and even Government-on-a-Prim for sale with Hammurabi’s Code, while the Lindens are about to overhaul the abuse-report system, we don’t have the first clue about how the next autocratic move of LL — the real law of Second Life — will be executed.

11 Responses to “There Ought to be a Law”

  1. Urizenus

    Dec 14th, 2006

    Excellent essay prok, the legal experts come into second life time after time and yet in all those visits they never have time (or are allowed time) to discuss the legal fabric of our brave new virtual world — the very world that the grandchildren of these legal eagles will work in, play in, and socialize in. When the grandchildren are serfs to virtual platform owners, berefit of property, free speech, and right of assembly, they can blame their famous legal grandfathers for coming into SL and using it as an Esquire-style photo op to burnish their hepcat reputations, rather than help lay the foundations for a just society.

  2. Cocoanut Koala

    Dec 14th, 2006

    Little Gray is from the ACLU? I followed his case on the forums, even sent him a PM asking for more details (but he didn’t respond).

    Yes INDEED it does get a person torqued when not only has something unjust happened, but then you are punished or banned for TALKING about it, while the fanboyz speak to you in any way they want – yet you can’t talk back.

    In fact, I’ve never run across anything quite so maddening. It’s one thing to suffer injustices – we all do, to one degree or another, in various ways, in the real world.

    But in the real world, we’re also allowed to TALK about it, without having our property confiscated.

    We are so used to this basic freedom that it is really strange, unexpected, frustrating, and infuriating to discover that speaking out against injustice only brings on even more punishment.

    That is the maddening part, and it is so bad, I really don’t believe it will be allowed to stand for long, “private company” notwithstanding.

    I don’t buy this business about private businesses being able to do whatever they want to their customers for a moment, at least not without risking lawsuits.

    I hope more from the ACLU come, and I hope they DO SOMETHING.


  3. Prokofy Neva

    Dec 14th, 2006

    Coco, this maddening phenomenon of not only being victimized by injustice, but also not being able to talk about it without further punishment, is the lynchpin of most oppressive states.

    In the Soviet Union, if you pointed out the obvious fact that there was a GULAG and you’d been in it, and also saw others tortured to death in it, why, that could be determined to be “deliberately false fabrications that undermine the socialist order” or “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”. Torley is following firmly in the spirit of the KGB when she decides that something must be removed from the boards because it is portraying LL in unflattering lights, or it seems to be intentionally false, or it “agitates” or it “incites”.

    Today, journalists whether in Zimbabwe or Burma or Belarus all face laws exactly like the Linden TOS that make it a crime to do things like talk trash about their country to foreigners outside the country, or criticize their country inside on newspapers, or talk about the repression of others who have braved the punishments to do this. And those countries, too, are maintained by legions of fanboyz who belligerently always rant about the journalists being too negative, and urge that they be put to work in the cornfields gleaning the husks.

    A milder version of this plays out in the United States and the UK as well, with the rabid hate of the press, and even cases of suppression of press freedom and jailing of reporters.

    The principle is always the same: you can’t be negative, you have to get with the program, you can’t undermine us, you have to be loyal, and you can’t talk about our repression of us, either.

    That’s why I’ve always chosen to fight and expose this particularly evil facet of game TOS language and now the SL TOS language and practice.

    It’s unacceptable for a country. Trying to make it unacceptable just because it’s a game company doesn’t wash for me.

    The only corrective for abuses that inevitably happen in any system is if you can talk to them. At the very least, this opppressive game company could relax its punitive practices against those who talk about their disciplinary actions openly and seek justice.

    If this were allowed, we’d be sure to see some very obvious cases of malpractice, like the time Cristiano was summarily booted from the forums for 3 days for describing an exploit — a kind of early CopyBot sort of thing. And the selective and injust permanent banning of me.

  4. Seola Sassoon a.k.a Random Writer

    Dec 14th, 2006

    There’s a difference in your country analogy…. people born of a country are forced to be there til means carry them away.

    No one forces anyone to choose Second Life. Whether we like it or not, this is THIER game and THIER choice to do with it whatever they want, regardless of how stupid it is, because they are a business, not born of coding.

    People hate nerf bats in any game, but you can’t take them to court for nerfing your favorite item or spell.

  5. mktgemail

    Dec 14th, 2006

    as long as all second lifers report and pay taxes according to law as they should….

    Topic 420 – Bartering Income

    Bartering occurs when you exchange goods or services without exchanging money. An example of bartering is a plumber doing repair work for a dentist in exchange for dental services. The fair market value of goods and services exchanged must be included in the income of both parties.

    Income from bartering is taxable in the year in which you receive the goods or services. Generally, you report this income on Form 1040, Schedule C (PDF), Profit or Loss from Business. If you failed to report bartering income on returns you have already filed, you should correct this by filing an amended return, Form 1040X (PDF), for each year involved. For information on amended returns, refer to Topic 308.

    A barter exchange is any person or organization with members or clients that contract with each other (or with the barter exchange) to jointly trade or barter property or services. The term does not include arrangements that provide solely for the informal exchange of similar services on a noncommercial basis.

    The Internet has provided a medium for new growth in the bartering exchange industry. This growth prompts the following reminder: Barter exchanges are required to file Form 1099–B for all transactions unless certain exceptions are met. Refer to Barter Exchanges for additional information on this subject.

    If you are in a business or trade, you may deduct any costs you incurred to perform the work that was bartered. If you exchanged property or services through a barter exchange, you should receive a Form 1099-B (PDF), Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions. The Form 1099–B or other statement generally will show the value of any cash, property, services, credits, or scrip you received from the exchange during the year. The IRS will also receive the same information.

    If you receive income from bartering, you may be required to make estimated tax payments. Refer to Topic 355 for additional information.

    Additional examples of bartering, and information on how to report the income, are described in Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.

  6. humanoid

    Dec 14th, 2006

    “… but irritates a lot of people who think that a public group using public facilities like schools or churches…”

    Where are these public churches?

    As for the policies of LL, I’m afraid making them behave anything like any sort of democracy is a pleasant pipe dream. SL is private property. I wouldn’t count on any game company in the world allowing anything approaching free speech, unless the ACLU buys out SL. Now there’s an amusing idea.

  7. Cocoanut Koala

    Dec 14th, 2006

    Seola and Humanoid, you are both begging my issue.


  8. Seola Sassoon a.k.a Random Writer

    Dec 14th, 2006

    No, because you are arguing about opening defiance of liberty lawsuits against a privately held company.

    While thier ToS may not hold water with minors, it’s iron clad that they own EVERYTHING, and you pay to use it and they can do what they please at thier discretion. They could ban you for no reason and get away with it, simply because you as an adult created your avatar and all your world inside thiers.

    They can publish your avatar, they can take away your land, they can resell the creations you uploaded (if you look closely, once you upload your content it becomes ‘thiers’) if they so pleased. Sure people would hate it, but it’s thier right.

    No one’s suing WoW for banning thier account with 10 level 60′s when they started griefing because they can’t. No one sued online gambling companies for liquidating an account and taking monies from an account inactive for a year (yes some did that, before they squashed online gambling).

    The only recourse for this stuff is the possibility that a minor accrued this stuff which regardless of click through I am 18 constitutes a contract.

  9. Cocoanut Koala

    Dec 14th, 2006

    I already know that the argument is, “They are a private company and can do what they want.”

    I’m arguing that they may be a private company, but they CAN’T do what they want when they violate the laws of their jurisdiction.

    I’m also saying there have got to be restrictions on what a privately held company can get away with.

    I’m no lawyer, but off the top of my head I can think of numerous scenarios regarding private companies which would I am certain would land them in legal hot water, should they occur and someone wish to pursue a lawsuit, or at the least, some very bad PR:

    . The Boy Scouts confiscate the popcorn they sold someone during a fundraiser because they found out he was homosexual.

    . A store makes a sale to someone, then takes the item back because the person complained about the merchandise.

    . An amusement park rips up a family’s season tickets because the parent complained in public about the way an employee treated their child.

    . A home improvement company allows some of its customers to sexually harass other customers and create a hostile and intimidating environment on their premises.

    . A restaurant publishes a list of rules which all customers must adhere to or risk banishment (wear shirts, etc.), but allows its favorites to break those rules, and punishes those who object.

    At base, I don’t need to be a lawyer to figure that when a private company egregiously ignores basic fundamentals in a society – non-discriminatory fair treatment for all its customers or members, basically – it will ultimately land them in hot water somehow, somewhere, and I hope the ACLU (who ARE lawyers) can somehow put some of this to rights.


  10. Prokofy Neva

    Dec 14th, 2006

    People said the Soviet Union and South Africa couldn’t ever be free either *shrugs*.

    Churches are private organizations, religious organizations, with a certain charitable and tax-exempt status. But many of their turn over their basements for public meetings. The public meetings they hold for things like clothing drives, AA meetings, Boy Scouts, are non-denominational, not religious, and open to any faith or non-faith. And that context is what gives people the notion that if the Boy Scouts are meeting in that kind of public place that has been made into a public place even though it is the property of a private entity, that they have more obligations under the First Amendment. This isn’t necessarily a successful argument; I’m saying it is made.

    Yes, Coco, I’d love to see a lawyer go over all those types of cases you mention and see what they come up with.

  11. Little Gray

    Jan 14th, 2007

    It will be at least a year before the ACLU has an official purpose in SL to watch over government and regulation of SL for the public interest of residents, a board of attorneys, scholars, and persons with expertise into the workings of the Lindens an/or other in world governmental agencies, regular meetings, and discrete public interest projects. Approval for an official chapter has to come from the National ACLU and takes time.

    There’s an old legal axiom, .. i’ll spare the latin .. it goes like this: for every wrong, there is a remedy. If, and when, egregious matters arise, there are plenty of residents, including myself, willing and able to speak up — and litigate if necessaray — for the protection of residents’ rights.

    Unfortunatly, its true that there are a huge number of naysayers who simply don’t believe or understand that people do have the power to change their government and that its the residents who make the government, not the government who makes the residents.

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