‘Virtual Land’

by prokofy on 30/06/07 at 11:24 pm


By Prokofy Neva, Dept. of Virtual Estate

If you own land in Second Life, hug it a little closer tonight. Its valuation — its very *reality* as a virtual thingie — is open to question — it may be (or always was) merely a kind of service you rent, server space for your content, from which you can be alienated at any time. Everybody knows that at some level, but they figure the Lindens won’t be too precipitous in grabbing back people’s server space and content because they’d look bad, wouldn’t they?

Not if they can invoke destroying an individual in order to save the community. Linden Lab has just come out today with its reply to Bragg — and provides more fascinating reading in this turning and twisting legal saga. In their blog explanation of their reply, signed by Robin Linden, VP for Community Affairs, LL immediately repudiates the idea that virtual land is “really land” with one demonstrative, optical act: they put ‘virtual land’ in scare quotes.

Going further, they say that they can strip away Mark Woebegone/Bragg’s virtual assets that were *not* acquired through the use of an exploit — and that means a lot less property rights for all of us.

Interestingly, they’ve used the argument that LL has the right to seize Bragg’s assets and even auction them off precisely because he immediately informed them of a lawsuit not long after he saw his account closed and his former land auctioned, and they invoked the right to hold any of the proceeds as collateral against future damages a court might award LL for being defrauded. So far so good — that’s normal in some countries, and in the U.S. in cases like illicit narcotics dealers. Yet there’s a troublesome new argumentation they’ve introduced into the case.

Disturbingly for those concerned about individual property rights, LL invokes “the community” and “the good of the economy” in a collectivist manner, claiming that they had to violate Bragg’s rights as an individual property holder for the good of the collective, so that no one else would suffer “unfair” undercutting of prices and loss of value. It’s another one of those amazing Linden triumphs — pulling socialist values out of the jaws of capitalist activity like auctioning land.

That opens the door to all kinds of other activities the Lindens might decide to invoke “for the good of the collective” — collectivism, once began with false invocations of “the people” and “the social good” is never content to leave property alone or limit its seizures, as history amply indicates.

The Lindens might feel that a property owner who has been repeatedly banned, or who is “negative” or who is “just not moving the conversation forward,” as Daniel Linden once put it, really shouldn’t be allowed to hang on to his property. It’s not good for the community. That evil land baron might be artificially keeping prices inflated with all kinds of gimmicks. The community shouldn’t be “damaged” and shouldn’t have to suffer such high prices. Therefore, maybe his land needs to be seized, and redistributed. That would be “good for the community” after all!

The comments — closed at 100 as usual — are ascerbic, to say the least. Ricky Zamboni had only one word to say: “Landbots”. Ricky is the former owner of Gaming Open Market, the open currency market website that the Lindens forced into closure by first ostensibly cooperating and seeking ideas and information, and then creating an alternative that put it out of business (creating a Second Life verb “to GOM,” meaning to take residents’ ideas and creations from them and put them out of business). And his point is that if Lindens care about the community so much, if they care about land value so much, they need to do something about landbots other than to feed their owners more cheap land on the auction. But the Lindens never met a script they didn’t like.

Some residents commenting seem “stunned” that LL is even showing its hand with the publication of this blog statement — yet if they have filed court papers to this effect, the information would eventually be in the public record anyway.

In a somewhat cryptic comment, Bob Bunderfeld, an oldbie and charter member, indicates that there may be a new Linden campaign of glasnost’ afoot, about which he seems to have inside knowledge:

” his BLOG is up for comment, because in the past week, there is a new initiative at Linden Lab to be OPEN with their Customers and Residents of Second Life,” he writes.

At comment no. 51, Carl Metropolitan, officer of New Citizens Incorporated, who helps newbies orient to SL, noted that what happened to Linden Lab through Bragg’s machinations is no different in kind to what happens to an inexperienced land seller who puts his land to $1 for a friend to buy or to move it out of a group, and then is suddenly blindsided by a landbot. If the Lindens refuse to reverse fraudulent deals like that when people clearly didn’t intend to sell their land for $1 in a land market where land is always set for much higher prices, why do they expect better treatment themselves in Bragg v. Linden?

” “Wait? You mean they do have the ability to reverse lanbot transactions?,” says Carl. “But–that would mean they were holding Marc Bragg to a diffrerent standard than they do the host of landbot operators in SL. They wouldn’t do that, would they?””

Lawyers and pundits and ordinary residents just annoyed at all their inventory missing will be chewing on this one for a long time to come.

For the first time we can see the contours of the eventual win. By invoking “the community” and “the economy” the Lindens can not only rally all the skeptics on the grid itself, they can make juries weep over the victims in this virtual world and the loving Lindens who look out for their welfare. Bragg, after all, tried to grab something for $1.00 US that everybody else had to pay $1,000 US for — and that will incite the mob and the uravnilovka sentiments as well.

And many will see the Lindens’ need to seize Bragg’s assets pending resolution of their own claim of damages for fraud as perfectly legitimate.

In the end, Bragg loses, the Lindens win, and they win not by affirming our land, and not by exactly devaluing it, but by invoking the collective, the community, and their role as looking out for its well-being.

54 Responses to “‘Virtual Land’”

  1. Lil Fitz

    Jul 2nd, 2007

    Anybody seen my Mommy? She’s inside Second Life. If you do, can you tell her we’re hungry and there’s no scrappings left on the oven floor for me and Big Fitz to eat.

  2. Prokofy Neva

    Jul 2nd, 2007

    >Prokofy says: “Coincidental, you’re forgetting that land is server space. It *does* take up physical space at the server farm.”

    >Umm… So I rent a server and run a sim on it. Now I add a second sim, running on the same server. And a third. How much extra physical space has the additional “land” taken up when I added an extra sim, running on that server?

    >Land is software and data. It requires physical infrastructure to run, but it’s not physical itself

    This has GOT to be one of the DUMBEST things Ian has EVER written. If what he claims is true, then the Lindens can stop buying new servers, and just keep piling land up endlessly, eh? And if they resell the same island over and over again, like Joshua Sao and his pals, and only 40 people can ever come home at any one time, well, I guess they can tell them to “take it to the Herald,” eh?

    So ummmmmmm usage of land — and its capacity to hold builds, prims, etc. is LIMITED on servers. It is not endless. Usage of land IS land in this setting. And yes, it’s a scarcity.

  3. Prokofy Neva

    Jul 2nd, 2007

    >Anybody seen my Mommy? She’s inside Second Life. If you do, can you tell her we’re hungry and there’s no scrappings left on the oven floor for me and Big Fitz to eat.

    My kids are actually up at the lake now eating fresh pike galore, but maybe they can send me and the kitties back some scrapping as the lines at the store for the 4th barbecures are humongous.

  4. CheeseburgerX

    Jul 2nd, 2007

    I think LL wants people to feel safe and invest in SL, so they can turn around and seize random things for profit.

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