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Nov 19, 2004



What was the middle one again?


The middle what?


I've had people impersonate me in virtual worlds both directly (by saying they're me when they're not) and indirectly (by acting like me so as to make people think they're me, but then denying it - thus making people think they're me even more).

This is different to what you seem to be talking about, though, which (if I read you right) is more to do with ripples of identity that fan out in all directions with our every action. When do we stop following them, when should we stop following them, and when can we no longer discern them anyway? What happens when your doppelganger gets a doppelganger?

I hope you weren't hoping for answers to those questions!



Concerns about digital identity are at the heat of many of my writing on virtual property. There are acres of legal text on what constitutes identity in a digital age, much of this come from the area of law particularly concerned with the commercial exploitation of identity i.e. the entertainment industry.

One key writers in the field is Joseph Beard who wrote the wonderfully titled: Clones, Bones, and Twilight Zones: Protecting the Digital Persona of the Quick, the Dead, and the Imaginary, which looks a most permutations of taking the essence of an actor and using in new and imaginative ways. These include: digitally cloning living actors (example being Robert Patrick’s ‘digital clone’ data from T2 used in Jurassic Park – one performance one fee? Does the actor own their acting anymore?), digitally resurrecting dead ones and synthesising new ones.

A number of writers have also started to take a look at an area of US law that is of particular interest to me (and which I’ve applied to the case of avatars in the past) that of Rights of Publicity. The fun paper in this area is Jacoby & Zimmerman (no not Eric): Foreclosing on Fame: Exploring the Uncharted Boundaries of the Right of Publicity.

Actually this law has already come up in the context of video games, in the case of Pesina v. Midway [948 F. Supp. 40 (N.D. Ill.1996)] it was claimed that the name and likeness of a martial artist hired for use with Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II were used in subsequent games and that this was a breach of the artists rights of publicity – the case was not held, but its interesting that it was even brought.

I’ve argued that I can no reason in theory why someone cannot claim rights of publicity, hence property rights, over their avatar in a virtual world even if it does not look anything like them (see Motschenbacher v. Reynolds (no not me) [498 F.2d 821 (9th Cir. 1974]) – I’d kind of like someone to try to see which right (publicity or copyright) trumps, and whether the EULA is seen as adequate as a transfer of even these type of rights.

So to your question:
nate > Soul-stealing, or the passing of a torch, a ghostly ride of another sort, for you to let go?

Well, in the US, in certain circumstances, depending on what state you are in, then it’s a matter of property rights, so not ‘soul-stealing’ but plain ol’stealing.

What should it be is a different matter, I happen to think that property and personal identity are not things that should mix, at least in this way. Thus I think that in some cases what’s going on is a breach of rights, thought those of a post modern persuasion would argue that what is happening actually is the construction of identity not its dilution.

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