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A World Without Lawyers

A world without lawyers? Say it is not so. Ever since multiplayer video games hit the Internet, the application of real world laws to virtual games has fascinated me (sorry ladies, I am already spoken for). I envisioned problems such as online fraud, theft, murder etc. I waited and waited for the cases to hit the courts. They did not and I was heartbroken. Was the world indeed better off without lawyers?

Well you can now rest easy. Turns out the reason no one was suing anyone was that the damages were not large enough to justify a lawsuit. If you contractually agree in your end user agreement that your car, lover, or sword of destiny has no real value, a lawsuit is simply not worth the effort. Place some real world value on those things however, and lawyers are the only ones who can protect you.

Enter the game Second Life. Since its introduction in 2003, Second Life has grown to over a million and a half users around the world. Like in other massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), Second Life players create their own characters and then interact with other characters. The difference with Second Life is that the players purportedly “own” in real life, all of the property they own in the game. Online tycoons like Ailin Graef (aka German schoolteacher Anshe Chung) have already amassed online fortunes worth seven figures of real world cash.

A MMORPG like Second Life is a Utopia of sorts. No real houses, cars or property. No real lawyers or law. Just a large real world corporation unilaterally laying down virtual law pursuant to a non-negotiable end user agreement. While such a system of government may work well when damages for any crime is de minimus, the system may begin to break down when the bad guys take notice six figure booty.

Second Life has a police blotter of online “crimes” and, like other MMORPGs, has issues with pornography, gambling, compromised account information, theft and favoritism. Unlike other MMORPGs, however, problems compound with money at stake. Take the instance of attorney Marc Bragg who apparently exploited a flaw in Second Life. Mr. Bragg found a way to trigger online land auctions early, making himself the only bidder and winning the auction for the minimum starting price.

Instead of merely correcting the flaw or demanding the return of the ill-gotten gains, Second Life owners shut down Bragg’s access to all of his Second Life assets. Bragg sued. While the court has not ruled as to whether Bragg was at fault, having an online judicial system where the judge could take every piece of property you own for running a red light, would leave me a little wary of his or her objectivity.

I can tell you one thing, If I had a million dollars in real world value sitting in Second Life, I might seriously consider moving it somewhere where an overly aggressive interpretation of an end user agreement might leave my million bucks buying gold painted diamond speedboats for Linden Lab’s wakeboard team.

Brett Trout

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