Jack Balkin is the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment and the Director of the Information Society Project (home of Lawmeme) at Yale Law School. He is an accomplished and prolific scholar who helped organize the amazing State of Play conference last year, where many of the Terra Nova authors first met each other IRL.
So obviously, when Prof. Balkin publishes scholarship about the legal regulation of virtual worlds, this is big news to many of us here. And it looks like my all-time favorite law journal, the Virginia Law Review, has been lucky enough to secure Professor Balkin's forthcoming article: Virtual Liberty: Freedom to Design and Freedom to Play in Virtual Worlds (forthcoming 2005).
Here are a couple paragraphs from the introduction:
Precisely because virtual worlds are fast becoming important parts of people’s lives, and because they are likely to be used for more and more purposes in the future, legal regulation of virtual worlds is inevitable. If this regulation is not developed by courts through resolving contract and property disputes, it will be surely occur through legislation and adminstrative regulation. Even at this early stage of technological development, people have simply invested too much time, energy, and money in virtual worlds to imagine that the law will leave these worlds alone, and allow them to develop their own norms and resolve their own disputes unhindered.... Rather, the key question is how the law should preserve and defend the autonomy of virtual worlds and those who play within them, including the ability of participants in those virtual spaces to develop and enforce their own norms. This question is important precisely because those internal norms can be preempted or made irrelevant by law.
I have not read the 48-page draft carefully yet, but this is clearly going to be a landmark piece of scholarship regarding the legal regulation of virtual worlds. PDF available here, on Prof. Balkin's home page. (He's also got a blog, btw.)