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Jan 21, 2008

Comments

1.

Unfortunately, I can't attend but can someone get the discussion going on what to do about the dictator Tom Nook?

He needs to be taken down by the free world.

KK Thx.

2.

Tom nook has a dark secret. Its not just about bells.

3.

Here is an issue I am hoping someone can ask the panelists to discuss.

I propose that the most basic right that an avatar can have is transferability from one user to another. If a world prohibits users from transferring avatars, then the avatar has no rights separable from the user, and the notion of avatar rights is meaningless. Thus, it would seem to me that if someone actually wants to create an avatar's bill of rights, right one would be:

No world can prohibit the transfer of an avatar from one user to another.

Two observations. First, Linden Lab's terms of service don't exactly grant this most basic right:

2.4 Account registrations are limited per unique person. Transfers of accounts are generally not permitted.

Linden Lab may require you to submit an indication of unique identity in the account registration process; e.g. credit card or other payment information, or SMS message code or other information requested by Linden Lab. When an account is created, the information given for the account must match the address, phone number, and/or other unique identifier information associated with the identification method. You may register multiple accounts per identification method only at Linden Lab's sole discretion. A single account may be used by a single legal entity at Linden Lab's sole discretion and subject to Linden Lab's requirements. Additional accounts beyond the first account per unique user may be subject to fees upon account creation. You may not transfer your Account to any third party without the prior written consent of Linden Lab; notwithstanding the foregoing, Linden Lab will not unreasonably withhold consent to the transfer of an Account in good standing by operation of valid written will to a single natural person, provided that proper notice and documentation are delivered as requested by Linden Lab.

I suspect that many Second Life residents would have concerns about avatar/account transfers, because they like to know that the real-life person behind an avatar is the same from day to day. However, don't users opposing transfers therefore oppose all avatar rights?


p.s. Blatant self-promotion: For anyone who is interested, the hour beforehand there will be a Metanomics event in Second Life discussing "serious games." The formal announcement will be posted soon on the Metanomics website.


4.

I think it might be more appropriate to consider whether people have rights on the Internet first. I'd love to get a panel response on that, particularly in how they see Civil Rights usage of the internet per international agreement - or lack of said subject thereof.

5.

I don't think we need to wait until we get Internet rights, or real-life rights, before we can be allowed to raise the issue of avatar rights.

I see the basic issue here is that game designers and virtual world software makers conceive of avatars essentially as their property. They are no different than the concept of rights for slaves or women or the propertyless or children, all of whom were viewed as the property of masters without any rights.

Coders view avatars as mere artifacts of code, and therefore they believe there is only one kind of right to discuss in virtuality: their right to self expression. This is likely why, in drafting a bill of rights for the Metaverse last summer, Ted Castronova and his colleagues granted game/world designers the right to free expression, but didn't grant freedom of expression to avatars, putting that problem off to the bright future.

Because they hold that view, coders are the first to disparage, even ridicule avatar rights, finding in the claim of avatar rights something that merely counters their freedom to make a game with inherent topics or rules or themes (like Tom Nook in Animal Crossing). So they guffaw that Amnesty International can't come marching into World of Warcraft protesting extrajudicial executions and the death penalty...

But this is an archaic view, that will go the way of the view that slaves or women or children or minorities don't have rights. The avatar will come to be seen as a legitimate extention of a consumer's identity and will come to be more respected by companies, just as it has by countries.

In a setting like Second Life, where you become a prosumer with your own content creation, rights of a sort for that content, real money trade, a real economy, etc. the issue of property rights begins to open up as not exclusively that of the game-god/coder.

The avatar -- the actor who possesses the intellectual property rights in SL, who pays money in order to have a business that makes money, and so on -- begins to be seen as a rights-bearing creature. So why, then, should he be clipped as to his rights to free speech or free assembly?

I don't see why we must dump all our rights at the door of virtual worlds and pretend that Internet rights or user rights will serve as a substitute for confronting the issue of avatar rights head on, in the world where they are implemented.

Furthermore, I reject the idea that you solve the problem of the absence of avatar rights by a forced migration policy, or a policy of exile, saying that unless you like to be the property of a coder, you can go shop for better conditions as the property of another coder.

I've challenged other common complaints about avatar rights here:
https://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2008/01/getting-it-righ.html

6.

'Wasting time on internet rights'. In essence, Prokofy Neva is stating that she does not believe that people should have rights on the Internet. And yet here we are in a discussion about avatar rights, where avatars connect on the internet?

How can an avatar have rights if the person, whose avatar is a presence derived from that person, have rights? It makes no sense, except perhaps in a fictional world where everything works backward.

Who benefits if people do not have rights on the Internet? Certainly not the avatars. With less than 20% global internet penetration, and with the world waking up to the Internet much more quickly, it stands to reason that there will be more interpersonal conflicts on the internet (something Prokofy Neva *can* claim expertise on causing). How are those conflicts to be resolved without rights?

I always find it peculiar when people are not willing to discuss what will be important. What is the reason behind this? When the planet got together and discussed these issues, where were the people interested in the Rights of entities on a network connection, be they avatars or human beings represented by avatars?

They doth protest too much.

7.

We don't need to *wait for* the resolution of "Internet rights," whatever those are, before claiming our human rights while manifesting as avatars in virtual worlds.

Some might interpret "Internet rights" in the way that some states and groups promoting WSIS do, which involves the right to control media freedom and force the media to take on a social role to cover certain topics deemed of use to the public, for example. Or to refrain from criticizing a state that is believed to need protection from criticism while in development. Or whatever the rationale is -- to right the wrongs of social injustices, to end poverty, and so on.

Interpersonal conflicts aren't usually solved by affirming this or that "right"; the overall right of freedom of expression is legislated differently in different communities, but one general rule of thumb holds; conflict is not resolved by suppressing freedom of speech.

I wasn't aware that "the planet" had gotten the ability to "get together" merely because the UN had a conference. In the end, WSIS was hugely controversial and ineffective and those concerned with media freedom were the first to protest.

8.

Prokofy Neva - since you choose to identify yourself as an avatar here instead of a human being, and make it clear that you approve the distinction - synthetic worlds exist on the internet.

I know my words are wasted on you, but for the folks in the cheap seats...

Thus, any avatar rights would have to be inherited from a human being. You should know the root of avatar derives from Sanskrit (avatāra). It is the manifestation of a greater being in another world. In synthetic worlds, that 'greater being' is a 'human being'. Thus, any rights that an avatar has cannot be divorced from the human being - unless, of course, you are divorced from reality itself.

You state that avatar rights have to come from the legal entities that run synthetic worlds. This is true, to a degree, but if recent history has demonstrated anything it is that legal entities running virtual worlds are subject to international laws. Denying that is not only denying the obvious, it is arrogant and foolish. It is myopic, and does not take into account the future of synthetic worlds.

So who determines what rights an avatar has? Certainly, Prokofy Neva posits that the legal entities running virtual worlds are supposed to give avatars rights. Who gives the virtual worlds *that* right? And who determines whether those rights are being infringed by the legal entity running the synthetic world? Again, we are back to the human beings.

Therefore, the stance that human rights are separate from avatar rights does not bear out. It is wishful thinking, or simply argumentative. Given the avatar that is in disagreement, I shall go with the latter.

You can go blue in the face and swear up and down that they are connected, but they are - tangibly, philosophically, geopolitically, morally, culturally... its right there. Those who deny it may spontaneously disappear if they are correct. Which, actually, would suit me just fine.

Note: I write 'synthetic world' since there is little virtual about synthetic worlds.

9.

Minor correction to last comment: 2nd to last paragraph should read:

"You can go blue in the face and swear up and down that they are NOT connected..."

10.

I'm sorry, but it doesn't make sense in any way to give "an avatar" rights. Avatars are not living beings. They have no need for rights. You can create rights for the use of avatars by people. When Mr. Bloomfield names the right:

"No world can prohibit the transfer of an avatar from one user to another."

In reality, this is really is a right for a user to transfer his avatar. The avatar itself cannot initiate the action. It cannot desire it. It *is* just an artifacts. Not that artifacts cannot be immensely expressive and powerful constructions, but they are not people.

When Prokofy Neva says:

"But this is an archaic view, that will go the way of the view that slaves or women or children or minorities don't have rights. The avatar will come to be seen as a legitimate extention of a consumer's identity and will come to be more respected by companies, just as it has by countries."

The big difference between slaves/women/children/minorities and avatars, is that the former are all people. Avatars are not people. They are information. Recognizing avatars as a legal entity might be a possible, in the same way corporations are recognized as such - but I am not sure this would be a very useful idea.

The concept of rights for avatars cannot make sense. It is simply not possible.

11.

It strikes me that the whole 'avatar rights' thing is an abstraction of something a bit deeper. A pair of oft contradicting rights where we need to find where the 'balance line'.

1) The right to engage in speech acts, performances if you wish, feely across the medium. Free speech.

2) The property rights of a soapbox owner to tell someone to get off the box. Property rights.

In the first instance, its pretty easy. The avatar is a representation of some aspect of the users subjectivity either speaking directly (OOC) or indirectly in some form of performance (roleplay). The avatar in it self really is nothing. Its just a fictional metaphor for either the user or some sort of stand in for the user (ie a character)

In the second I'm refering specifically to the owner of VR worlds. NOT necesarily the play-ownership that happens in Second life, but physical ownership of the servers.

The question is, how much responsibility does the owner of the spaces have towards the user of them. Does the free market allow enough wiggle room that if 'avatar' people get annoyed, they can pick up and go to a VR that is more libertarian , or does distortions in the market (for instance WOW's massive market penetration, or alternatively brand loyalty, say to a SL friend community) mean thats not always so easy.

I think the context of VR's with avatars is irrelevant. Its precisely the same context as Googles relationship with Blogger users, or AOL's relationship to its customers. The VR/avatar thing is just a manifestation and/or abstraction.

12.

Peder Pederson writes:

"Recognizing avatars as a legal entity might be a possible, in the same way corporations are recognized as such - but I am not sure this would be a very useful idea.

Yes, this is exactly the direction I am thinking. It may be odd to think about corporations having rights, or being separate from the people who own them, but free transferability makes both of those thoughts very useful.

So, let me refine my question, which I don't believe have been answered by the comment thread:

Do you support requiring virtual world developers to allow avatar ownership to be transferable, much as governments allow corporate ownership to be transferable? If you do not support this right, doesn't that mean that you oppose the independent existence of avatars as separate from their owners, and therefore oppose all avatar rights.

The avatar-corporation comparison clarifies just how draconian world developers would be if they prohibited such transfers. A prohibition against the transfer of corporate ownership would be viewed as a very severe imposition on a citizenry's property rights in the real world, akin to communism (or any form of government in which property rights are held entirely by the state).

Yes, I recognize that the people whose rights are violated just that--people, not corporations. But it still makes sense to think of the corporation as having rights that allow them to exist independently of their current owner.

And it still makes sense to argue that people who use virtual worlds won't have many rights if they aren't allowed to transfer avatar ownership.

My god, it might be communism!


13.

I think it's entirely up to the developer if they want to allow account/avatar transfer of ownership.

There's a host of reasons why they don't allow it:

It opens up an obvious 3rd party market of selling "premade" accounts/characters/avatars. In DIKU-style games max-level, well-geared characters can be sold. In effect allowing RMT. Games/world with reputation systems (implicit/explicit) also gets issues when the real life person behind an avatar can change. This could be handled by transfer ownership voiding all explicit reputation, and implicit reputation (ie this guy is known as a trusted operator who people can entrust with resources that have a significant RL value) can be handled by flagging the account/avatar in a very visible manner.

There also support issues relating to fraud, etc. If transfer is allowed, customers will expect the developer to handle problems ensuing from bad buyers/sellers.

In short, it's up to the developer. I don't think it's particularly draconian to disallow it, especially not in DIKU-style synthetic worlds/games, which comprise the majority at the moment. It might make sense for more niche-based worlds.

14.

Robert --

It seems to me that the right you're advocating is a person's right to a property interest (particularly an interest in a right of alienability) with respect to an avatar. I wouldn't call that a property right *of* an avatar, I'd call it instead a property right *in* an avatar. These are very different things, given the history of "avatar rights."

The whole notion of "avatar rights" more or less comes out of a post by Raph Koster to MUD-Dev, but he's explained what he was thinking at more considerable length in an essay here: See this.

Essentially, what Koster was advocating, and what most people (I think) associate with the idea of avatar rights comes down to the rights of players (against admins) -- see the actual title of Koster's essay. Given that modern MUDs are commercial MMOGs, you might understand this as a consumer rights argument situated to a particular VW context.

It seems to me that your interest in the alienability of avatars is actually deeply inconsistent with Koster's essay. While Koster includes a right to property in his points, he seems to be assuming an identity of the player and avatar -- the avatar is an extension of the player's self.

Arguing for the full alienability of a virtual self would be inconsistent with the player-avatar relationship that Koster appears to accept. People have property rights in their persons, but that does not include the right to alienate themselves. Among other things, in a virtual world context, that would seem to facilitate fraud.

15.

Re: "Avatars are not people. They are information. "

Mark Zuckerberg thought that, too, when he instituted Beacon at Facebook -- and was forced to back down. Robert Scoble thought that, too, when he ported his fast-friends out of FB -- and got banned temporarily.

First Electric Sheep, then Linden Lab thought that, too, when they scraped all objects for sale everywhere, without enabling people to opt-in to sales -- and then backed down.

Avatars are the digital embodiment online of the information footprint of human beings. They are extensions of people, and valid as people, and should have the same rights as people, even in these special realms.

Reducing avatars to information merely because their manifestations are coded by programmers; reducing *people* to information can only lead to totalitarianism, even if dressed in cyber clothing. Those wishing to keep avatars as mere information packets wish to keep control over them as property, that's all.

But in an era where avatar information is not only data but can be intellectual property and also the manifestation of peole's inner being, these outdated medieval ideas that go with the medieval-style gaming worlds have to be discarded. This avatar information comes from conscious expression, user creation of content, activity, business, intelligent selection of data, knowledge, experience, etc -- it is human, it has meaning, it is an extension of people, not merely available to be manipulated by coders.

I understand where you're going with this, Robert, you want the avatar to be a kind of corporation, a kind of representation or corporate seal that 'does business as' the entity behind it. That's useful, but it still doesn't go far enough for human rights as avatar rights, nor solve the problem of property I've highlighted by pointing out why coders are so reductivist about avatar rights, and even scorn and ridicule them -- it's because avatars are their coded property.

They simply don't see the avatar as any kind of permeable, interactive vehicle that will then be inhabited by real people to use, with their rights. I think the challenge is to get coders to acquire the social awareness and responsibility that comes with their public trust as makers of those vehicles for human expression -- just as we would demand from telephone companies, mall spaces, public parks, etc. a certain kind of responsibility to uphold basic human rights even if they are owned by private corporations.

It's good that you've singled out one of the key areas where players need freedom from game-gods -- but one they hold very jealously, even the Lindens, because they fear the misuse of accounts for fraud against them, and griefing. It does create a problem for them and for the world if people can trade accounts easily and confuse identity.

IT's also the case in SL that a common complaint about transactions that LL is asked to intervene on -- and doesn't wish to -- is the complaint of a an inworld partner that he or she has been duped and had some money or property stolen after a relationship goes bad -- because passwords were traded freely. So the company wishes to avoid complaints of that type and it solves the problem by being draconian about transfers.

I think they overhype the dangers way too much, and need to facilitate transfers by automatic procedures that verify ID or require only making a simple phone call. It sometimes happens that you wish to pay for someone's account, or they wish to give it to you with its content and permissions, and you can't accomplish this easily.

16.

"Avatars are the digital embodiment online of the information footprint of human beings. They are extensions of people, and valid as people, and should have the same rights as people, even in these special realms."

That doesn't make sense. Extension of people -> valid as people. Is a chat nickname an avatar then? My voice on the phone? When is something an avatar? You do not give any arguments as to why this extension of people, hence valid as people, should be so.

"They simply don't see the avatar as any kind of permeable, interactive vehicle that will then be inhabited by real people to use, with their rights. I think the challenge is to get coders to acquire the social awareness and responsibility that comes with their public trust as makers of those vehicles for human expression -- just as we would demand from telephone companies, mall spaces, public parks, etc. a certain kind of responsibility to uphold basic human rights even if they are owned by private corporations."

Synthetic worlds are not designed or operated by coders. They are implemented by coders. It is a rare organization where the coders make the decisions as to how the terms of service/EULA is spelled out. That is left to lawyers and business people.

Coders might have a special perspective on the total nonsense that this 'avatar rights' thing is, because they truly understand that the avatars are imagined entities, formed by our minds from watching colored dots on a monitor, spewed out by a computer. It would be like demanding rights for a book, or a piece of paper. The computer media may hold properties the other media do not, but that does not endow information stored on a computer or displayed by one with any special properties. It is still just information. But your reference to coders as decisionmaker does not make sense.

Can you give one example of an "avatar's right" that is not just a right for the user behind the avatar?

You cannot impose rules on how entertainment providers, and that is what synthetic world developers are, at the moment (and I do not see any signs of this changing in the near future), can treat data on their servers. Their property. You can make all the screenshots of your avatar you want and save on your computer. You can fraps whatever you like from your computer and store it on your harddrive. But the provider's property remains the provider's propery, and unless you have an agreement/contract with them that says otherwise, they can take away or modify your avatar at their leisure.

If you do not like this, you are free to find an operator that does guarantee you whatever rights you require. If no such operator exists, then it must be because there is no demand for such an operator. If you then claim the demand is there, but no operator is willing, then I suggest you start a business to exploit this fully untapped market.

17.

"Avatars are the digital embodiment online of the information footprint of human beings. They are extensions of people, and valid as people, and should have the same rights as people, even in these special realms."

That doesn't make sense. Extension of people -> valid as people. Is a chat nickname an avatar then? My voice on the phone? When is something an avatar? You do not give any arguments as to why this extension of people, hence valid as people, should be so.

"They simply don't see the avatar as any kind of permeable, interactive vehicle that will then be inhabited by real people to use, with their rights. I think the challenge is to get coders to acquire the social awareness and responsibility that comes with their public trust as makers of those vehicles for human expression -- just as we would demand from telephone companies, mall spaces, public parks, etc. a certain kind of responsibility to uphold basic human rights even if they are owned by private corporations."

Synthetic worlds are not designed or operated by coders. They are implemented by coders. It is a rare organization where the coders make the decisions as to how the terms of service/EULA is spelled out. That is left to lawyers and business people.

Coders might have a special perspective on the total nonsense that this 'avatar rights' thing is, because they truly understand that the avatars are imagined entities, formed by our minds from watching colored dots on a monitor, spewed out by a computer. It would be like demanding rights for a book, or a piece of paper. The computer media may hold properties the other media do not, but that does not endow information stored on a computer or displayed by one with any special properties. It is still just information. But your reference to coders as decisionmaker does not make sense.

Can you give one example of an "avatar's right" that is not just a right for the user behind the avatar?

You cannot impose rules on how entertainment providers, and that is what synthetic world developers are, at the moment (and I do not see any signs of this changing in the near future), can treat data on their servers. Their property. You can make all the screenshots of your avatar you want and save on your computer. You can fraps whatever you like from your computer and store it on your harddrive. But the provider's property remains the provider's propery, and unless you have an agreement/contract with them that says otherwise, they can take away or modify your avatar at their leisure.

If you do not like this, you are free to find an operator that does guarantee you whatever rights you require. If no such operator exists, then it must be because there is no demand for such an operator. If you then claim the demand is there, but no operator is willing, then I suggest you start a business to exploit this fully untapped market.

18.

Sorry about the double post.

19.

First point. The foundation started by John D Macarthur isn't a person.

And yet it is an entity which can hire people, make statements, manage its finances and so forth. Even fund a discussion on virtual liberties.

If it had no rights as a foundation, how then does it prevent people from simply walking away with its money?


Second point.

My avatar could easily be coded for land rental, existing digital content sales and so forth, using fairly basic AI from an off-grid webserver.

It wouldn't take much to have it convert $L to pay for membership, hosting services, &c. Rather like the estate of Marilyn or Elvis, even if the typist behind it walked away or died. Theoretically it could be assigned a corporate tax ID, pay taxes, even hire people to keep up with the details.

Has such an entity no rights? Who deserves to skim the profits if not?

If this sounds like a 'distant future' scenario... think again.

20.

A foundation is a legal entity. The laws regarding foundations, corporations, etc have been put in place for a variety of economic reasons. However, foundations and corporations operate in the real world. Avatars operate in a large variety of synthetic/virtual world - which can differ enormously in scope and design. Also the very concept of avatar varies from world to world. In addition, the vast majority of worlds are games - in which removal of responsibility for ones actions from the users is a problem.

Also, 'rights' as a concept can in my book only make sense for sentient beings. In your AI-avatar example, the AI is just a piece of code run by a user. It does not have free will, concept of self or any emotional state. It does not need rights. It does not make sense to give it rights, since it is in effect just giving the user rights, as there is a 1-to-1 correspondence between users and avatars.

I would like to reassert the idea that the synthetic worlds are the property of their developers, and any initiative to give users more rights is at the discretion of these developers/providers.

Who deserves to skim the profits of your example? The guy who owns the account/avatar, of course. It doesn't make sense to give the avatar a 'right' to it's own money. That would just be an obtuse way of saying something else.

21.

In the meantime Nook holds countless players economic hostages. Please spare them a thought...

22.

Who is Nook?

23.

A foundation has no sentience, no sense of self, no emotions. Yet, foundations can't have their stuff taken away.

Consider an official John D MacArthur avatar.

Would it be the property of very human world-developers, or an extension of the foundation? A foundation whose rights are assured by another very nonhuman entity - a democratic government?

* * * * *

It would be very interesting indeed to see an inworld embodiment of say, Henry Ford by the Ford Foundation.

The Ford Foundation has a very progressive charter. Henry Ford himself, however, had some famously unpopular opinions.

At the risk of Godwining this thread, any true representation of a Henry Ford avatar would certainly put to test a number of 'rights' issues.

24.

It doesn't matter if an employee of this foundation, on behalf of the foundation, created an avatar in whatever game - the aspect of the avatar that is a bunch of data on a server somewhere is still owned by the world-provider/developer.

Yes, you could create 'rights' for avatars, given a suitable legal definition of avatar. However, I have still to see anyone give me an example of such a right that makes any sense, as anything other than a right given to the user.

I think the interesting thing in this whole debate is the attempt by some debators, to gain ownership (because that is what I think this whole argument is about at the core) by the user over something in a synthetic world/game, to the contrary of the wishes of the operator of said game/world.

Why do you want this ownership? Do you realize what this would do to the ability of the operators to handle scammers/cheaters/spammers/other unwanted elements?

An analogy I think shows how bizarre this whole desire for avatar rights is:

Let say I make a post on a blog. I claim this post to be an extension of myself, and endowed with the right not to be deleted by the owner of the blog. Does this make sense? Of course not, it's not my blog. I have been given the privilege of being allowed to write posts, but in no way can I demand that my posts are not deleted.

If you want full control of your avatars, you have 2 options:

1) Find a world which offers exactly that control and ownership.

2) Create your own online world.

When you create an avatar in most games/worlds, you agree that the operator can delete/modify/ban/suspend/whatever at any time, at their discretion. If you do not like that, then do not sign on as a customer/user. It really is that simple.

All this philosophical debate about the rights of avatar, is nothing more than an attempt to impose ownership of other people's property and change the rules of someone's game. And that's not something that makes sense in a non-totalitarian society. It's not the operators who are totalitarian in their ownership of Avatars, it's the ones who want to deny them that ownership who are the totalitarian ones.

25.

>>"When you create an avatar in most games/worlds, you agree that the operator can delete/modify/ban/suspend/whatever at any time, at their discretion. If you do not like that, then do not sign on as a customer/user. It really is that simple."

Service terms and end user licence agreements do not supercede law, although many have tried.

In point of fact, it really is *not* as simple as you suggest. The recent case of Bragg v. Linden Research made it very clear that service terms and the decisions of world-builders are anything but final.

Let's talk about motives, and imposing ownership. I know of an avatar that makes approx. $L 1 million (game points) a month, smoothly and easily on a recurring basis. Not a lot of human intervention needed - arguably none at all, if expectations are lowered just a little! A great deal of effort was invested in the setup of said avatar - two solid years of effort.

Should this avatar ever have its 'game points' taken away without cause, someday? And if the user died, could the avatar then be part of a trust that converts game points to USD, in order to fund a scholarship?

Very serious questions, and yes, I'm thinking of a very real situation.

26.

Of course EULA/ToS/etc cannot supercede law. I have not yet seen a court ruling on whether suspension of service at the operator's discretion is allowed or not. Since no legal ruling has been given we should assume the this is a legal recourse. From what I know of Danish law, I am sure that the courts would uphold such a right of operator.

Question about $L: Are they the property of Linden Labs or the user? Is this specified in any service agreement? If it is specified that the $L are owned by the player, then of course they cannot take them away. If it is specified that they are the property of the operator (as for instance everything in world of warcraft is), then they can delete or modify at will.

If the user dies, the operator can do with the data as they please, as there no longer is a customer.

I really do think it is very simple, and should be kept simple. It is much easier for everyone if the terms of service/EULA states what can and can't be done. Noone is forced to use Second Life, Warcraft or any other online world. It is a recreational activity. A service. Anyone who decides to start a moneymaking business in such a world, should familiarize themselves with the terms of service, as they will have to accept these to even use the service.

The market-based worlds of Linden and the like are tiny niche compared to recreational worlds. I think people should keep that in mind when they debate this. Letting operators supply the service they choose is the way forward. Keep government and court interference out of virtual worlds. It will only ruin them.

27.

I just wanted to note that while Peder's comment on currency rubbed me in a soft spot - he has a real point and one that cannot be refuted easily *unless* there is a ruling which connects these privately issued currencies to accepted world currencies.

In this context, this section of the present Second Life terms of service (https://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php ) is quite sobering:

"1.4 Second Life "currency" is a limited license right available for purchase or free distribution at Linden Lab's discretion, and is not redeemable for monetary value from Linden Lab.

You acknowledge that the Service presently includes a component of in-world fictional currency ("Currency" or "Linden Dollars" or "L$"), which constitutes a limited license right to use a feature of our product when, as, and if allowed by Linden Lab. Linden Lab may charge fees for the right to use Linden Dollars, or may distribute Linden Dollars without charge, in its sole discretion. Regardless of terminology used, Linden Dollars represent a limited license right governed solely under the terms of this Agreement, and are not redeemable for any sum of money or monetary value from Linden Lab at any time. You agree that Linden Lab has the absolute right to manage, regulate, control, modify and/or eliminate such Currency as it sees fit in its sole discretion, in any general or specific case, and that Linden Lab will have no liability to you based on its exercise of such right. "

However: Linden Lab settled with Bragg, which does weaken the argument in a theoretical sense. One does not settle from a position of legal strength, you see. Well, not unless you're a philanthropist.

Umm.

28.

That's exactly the point, Taran.

In settling with Bragg there is a clear implication that no, a service provider can't just do as it will.

If a user dies, the avatar can be deeded in a will. In this case, it might be deeded anywhere the law provides, such as to a trust or foundation.

* * * * *

The issue of $L being considered a valued currency or not is a side issue. What matters is if there is value of any kind. One can't dodge the US IRS because one has converted their USD to cornfeed, Disneyland tickets or electricity for the moment. I do happen to agree, however, that any appraisal of $L value would have to include risk factors for lack of liquidity, dissolution of the platform, &c &c.

One thing of value that an avatar may have is a brand name. Compare one's possible success in the virtual land market with a totally unknown name vs a known one. It's an 'intangible' to be sure, but a powerful intangible.

Would it be alright if a service provider could simply change one's avatar name for no reason? Say, change the avatar name Anshe Chung to Ashley Chalmers? If that isn't okay, there are definitely rights issues involved.

One of the cornerstones of all business is the concept of good faith. Any contract that states "we can do what we want, when we want, how we want" isn't a valid contract, even if you sign it as such. Dealing in bad faith doesn't hold up very well in any court; it is generally viewed as fraud.

Nobody's going to press for 'avatar rights' over a level ten Ultima character - it's simply not worth defending. But right now if you have an avatar whose annual income exceeds that of the average US citizen, it's time to start thinking about what dealing in good faith actually means.

29.

Desmond - I completely agree about 'value' in fiscal and other ways. The trouble is negotiating something of value from the lack of value that is given to it by the Terms of Service and the people who use that lack of value to... shall we say... exhibit behaviors that would be considered negative in a world that is not as synthetic.

Your point on good faith links directly to the ruling that the Terms of Service was a Contract of Adhesion in the context of Bragg vs. Linden Lab - but as some lawyers have pointed out, that was also a matter of context. Of interest in that case, which Benjamin Duranske covered very well (VirtuallyBlind.com), were the things that Bragg requested. Some of these things that stood out related to the metaphors of land 'ownership' used on the Linden Lab website at the time - until about a month ago, some of it still existed. It seems possible (it is all speculation due to the settlement) that the strong posit of 'value', as we are discussing in this context, was why Linden Lab settled.

On your point of what is worth defending or not - I think your extreme example makes a point, but I would like to add that the less extreme examples may make better points - where one's livelihood is linked directly to the synthetic world itself. Anshe Chung is a corporation at this point - a legal entity - and I think the true meat of the matter rests on the value an entity - legal or human - can demonstrate.

For example, someone whose majority of income comes from a synthetic world, there would probably be legal recourse no matter what the level of income was. That 'value' then becomes something other than just a figure in a courtroom. It becomes a means of sustaining an eating addiction.

Tie this now to some of the stuff related to reputation, along the lines of Daniel Solove's work, and... you may see more to tease out. I heard recently from someone in a reputation defense business that they had been contacted about protecting a reputation *within* Second Life... and a reputation is important, be it in the synthetic world or non-synthetic world. That this was even a topic is by itself extraordinary, and emphasizes the point of income - but links it to reputation.

Something to consider.

30.

"Nobody's going to press for 'avatar rights' over a level ten Ultima character - it's simply not worth defending. "

Consider this case: https://www.wowinsider.com/2007/09/16/rogue-with-twin-blades-of-azzinoth-sells-account-for-almost-10/

A character with a very hard to get set of weapons is sold for $10k, and the account is subsequently banned by Blizzard. If 'avatar rights' were enacted as a general rule, then I can certainly see cases like this ending up in the courts. Which is hardly in the interest of game world operators or users, since protecting transactions like this, would create a situation where we'd yearn for the gold seller spam of today.

"The issue of $L being considered a valued currency or not is a side issue. What matters is if there is value of any kind. One can't dodge the US IRS because one has converted their USD to cornfeed, Disneyland tickets or electricity for the moment. I do happen to agree, however, that any appraisal of $L value would have to include risk factors for lack of liquidity, dissolution of the platform, &c &c."

$L present a special case in my opinion, because

a) It is directly convertible, via the operator, to real life money.

b) Linden Labs has through it's marketing and behaviour tried to launch Second Life as a way to make money.

I think Second Life in general differs from most virtual worlds. The two above points is where Linden Labs abandon their position of strength.

As for
"If a user dies, the avatar can be deeded in a will. In this case, it might be deeded anywhere the law provides, such as to a trust or foundation."

This is analogous to a player of online poker with a substantial amount of non-withdrawn winnings deeding these winnings to someone. I would say that Linden Labs stance on $L and RL $ conversion, would mean it would be fully legal to create a deed saying the $L should be exchanged into RL $ and enter into the estate of the deceased.

As for deeding away a user's account (and hence avatar) this depends on the terms of service. I do not see any legal problems with a clause saying that in case of the user passing away, the account will be closed.

As for closing an account at any time. I think Linden Labs do have this prerogative. However because they offer a currency exchange they are obliged to pay out any withstanding 'winnings' a user may have upon termination of an account, except if said termination is done because of a breach of terms of service.

Also, consider this: What if a player in Second Life found an exploit which allowed them to basically create $L out of thin air (an non-intrusive exploit not requiring hacking the servers or such). Would Linden Labs be allowed to take away this $L? I'd say yes. However, how does one define exploitation. Is scamming covered by this?

I think Linden Labs have opened a tremendous can of worms for themselves by creating $L <-> $ exchange, which is also showcased in part by their shutting of all in-game banks. They are treading in dangerous territory. I would liken their activities to online gambling, which may or may not be legal in all countries.

31.

Aye. Quite a can of worms... but in that can is the future.

I'm also not surprised that avatar reputations are being defended so vigorously. In a world where contracts barely exist and reputations mean so much, it makes sense.

Though I'm not sure what good any outside business could do for an inworld reputation. Likely any avatar's reputation could be taken down with two or three false accusations and some lying alts.

I've said my piece on this - at the end of the day it does leave a spooky, science-fictiony taste in one's mouth... rights for avatars? Well, why not. Humans extended, corporations... rendered corporeal. It seems we have been headed down this path for a long time before computers came along.

Perhaps we'll see avatar John MacArthur sitting on a virtual park bench someday, and through the magic of computers be able to hold a simple conversation with him. Regarding banks, history, philanthropy, and of course the Foundation, of which he really would be a part.

32.

For World of Warcraft, you pay a subscription to be able to play the game and that's possibly the limit of the agreement between you and Blizzard. However, in the case of the unlucky $10,000 rogue, maybe the only thing that we can say is that we don't know what the real legal standing would be, because the guy didn't pursue it in the courts. With a slick enough legal representation and argument, he may well have had a chance of forcing a settlement too. Who's to know?

In the case of Second Life, I don't pay a subscription to just be allowed to log in. I log in for free. I pay hundreds of USD per month for hosting services in the guise of slices of 3d landscape with certain permissions and rights to operate on that space. If anyone is suggesting that an EULA or a TOS can excuse a company for denying a paid for service without due compensation, I would disagree with that.

Besides all of this, I think people may want to look a bit further than the here and now. Bringing out the exit clause for the "company towns" of current virtual worlds is just avoiding the issue due to current conditions. What are we looking at years from now, when virtual spaces may well be truly "public" spaces? It's worth talking about, isn't it? Bleating over and over that "If you don't like the game, go play someone else's" doesn't contribute anything.

Ace Albion is my business. I would like some rights. Either mine enacted through my avatar, or provided to my avatar, and thus me (or whomever) by proxy.

33.

Ace: "Ace Albion is my business. I would like some rights. Either mine enacted through my avatar, or provided to my avatar, and thus me (or whomever) by proxy."

And that's kind of the issue: whatever rights are involved, they are *yours*, not "Ace's". The bits have no rights - you do. At the end of the day, what you're asking for isn't any kind of "rights for avatars" - you're asking for a specific set of rights over termination or contract.

34.

I thought the discussion might involve imagining how to determine avatar rights, as well as coming up with reasons why they don't have any. If the corporate model makes sense as an analogy, then it's worth looking into. It's an easy analogy for me to make, because "Ace Albion" is a business. But even without having earnings or income, an avatar as an entity may still have costs, expectations of service etc- you can divert these rights to the real person holding the subscription credit card, or you can explore the option for virtual entities of any kind, holding some rights, which may even be transferable with the avatar, or shareable, deedable, contractable etc.

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