When technology governs

Mark Wallace had a very honest and reflective post in his blog yesterday about ‘the issue of trademark, copyright and intellectual property rights in Second Life’. There seems to be a lot of trust in Linden Lab’s technology to take care of these rights – but that technology can only govern in its space, Second Life. If someone were to copy these virtual objects into another program – what happens to these issues? If then the object comes back into Second Life but modified from another program? And…well…what about when some of the virtual objects become real, without the original creator’s consent? And…oh I’m on a roll now – with virtual worlds such as Second Life, where citizens are making real money from real businesses – well, Linden Lab can’t protect the intellectual property rights of this, can they…would they?
It seems the IP rights issued for creators in Second Life are governed by technology – the ability to protect objects from being copied technolgically. But ideas and creativity go so far beyond technological restrictions, do they not?
Mr. Wallace feels that laws of the physical world should apply to the metaverse as well. And what I think is so funny in these discussions is the assumption that we’re trying to protect the rights of the little man from being stolen from the big corporational man! Or is it just me? These programs were designed to help creators – to create, to be imaginative, to be free – when we start protecting things with an iron fist of the law (real world) and screaming out “You can’t touch this, this is mine ALL MINE!” (wow – it just dawned on me why MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” is so popular now days) – it tends to put a damper on creativity and freedom to express oneself. If there’s absolutely anything this whole Web 2.0 movement has taught me is that you can actually trust people to create, be thoughtful and respectful at the same time. Give them the trust and they’ll give you a lovely gift economy.
I guess I’m wondering, what’s stopping the Creative Commons being involved in Second Life? I’m actually asking here! Is there really a need to go as far as the courts to deal with this issue? And does someone really have to be sued in ‘small claims court’ in order for people’s creativity to be protected as their own?
I’m very wary of the advocation to get real world courts involved in issues concerning the metaverse, but I find Second Life a difficult issue. It’s gone so far beyond any definition of a game and the protection of ‘the magic circle’, so I really can’t say if I agree with Mr. Wallace’s post or not, I just thought I’d point it out as an interesting read! But I will concur that I don’t think we can trust technology to govern such worlds! As he so cleverly puts it:

“If the focus remains on technology as enforcer of the law, then it will eventually be (as Lawrence Lessig has pointed out) the technologists who are writing the laws. Now, I’m all for technologists, don’t get me wrong. But we didn’t elect them as legislators, did we?”

"…even if their world doesn’t really exist."

Clickable Culture reports on a lawsuit made against Linden Lab for “a virtual land deal gone sour”. From what I gather, Marc Bragg found some glitch in the system (bug?) of Second Life where he could buy land for under the market value. He decided to invest in this discovery and see if he could make a profit when he proceeded to sell the land for market value.

And from what I gather something suddenly happened that made him loose his Second Life account. According to Bragg, Linden Lab terminated his account “without explanation, without citing any violation of community policy, and have since refused offer a credit or a refund”.

Bragg in a statement says: “These games are like the virtual Wild West, but Linden Lab is still obligated to honor real-world contract law and consumer law, even if their world doesn’t really exist.”

Of course he’s right! Second Life has a potent market with US dollars and since they’ve issued Intellectual Property rights to their citizens – they really do have to think about real life contract and consumer law. Second Life very much exists then, if you ask me. But by what laws should they adhere to? Don’t get me wrong, I love what Second Life has done! But with it comes some democratic responsibility and not dictatorial rule. I’m no lawyer, so I’m not sure – and to be honest, lawsuits like this kinda scare me for what’s going happen in the future. I, for one, don’t want too much reality in virtual worlds although it is exciting to see it evolving, it’s like a whole new society being born – and that is fun!

I find it really suprising if Linden Lab truely has behaved in this manner. They must have been prepared for this happening somehow, haven’t they? And I’m sure they’re within their rights of punishing those who take advantages of bugs for profit (after all, we’re not talking about a game here, we’re talking about reality) – but to just cut him off with no reason, no explanation and furthermore no dialogue! I’m sure they could have worked something out, somehow and learned from this ‘glitch’! So…I’m not sure if this is really the way it all went down – I’m looking forward to hearing Linden Lab’s response!