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Apr 23, 2007



As a student in Prof. Townsend's Property class, I was a part of a group that looked into how Sex Work in Second Life presents some very interesting property questions. My group had our chance to do our research together very close to the end of the semester, and we all had frayed edges by the time we got to this project. Anyways, the day we finished the project, I wrote this about my experience:

1. The Initial Shock
The subject of sex work in Second Life as a property question was really challenging. Are we talking about ownership of bodies? Are we talking about ownership of personalities? Are we talking IP? Is this "prostitution" or "erotica"? Is this like phone sex, or is it more? And if someone is pretending to be seven, and someone else has "sex" with someone who is pretending to be seven, what is that? Is that sex with a minor? Is that just role playing? What about cops who pretend to be 12 year old girls to lure sexual predators online...perhaps SL age play is just like that and should be prosecuted.

2. Going In-World
There were so many what-if's, and I had a very strong opinion that this whole Second Life thing is really ridiculous (like what went so wrong with your first life that you had to get a new one? And have you seen a psychiatrist for your attachment to an online game?). I tried to set my criticisms aside when I went in as Fizzy and tried to talk to escorts and learn about them. What I found was that these people were utterly unwilling to "break character." I could not figure out where they were in the real world. I'd ask "where are you right now?" and they would respond "I'm Here." I would say "I mean in the real world" and they would act like they didn't get the question. On the other hand, I met a stripper who sold real pictures of herself and offered "webcam" services (crossing into first world). She looked a lot like Patricia Arquette, but her avatar was more like Angelina Jolie.

I found myself wondering why anyone would pay her avatar for sex when they could go to a club and get it for free (SL is full of sex clubs). Perhaps people enjoy power dynamics involved in paying. Perhaps there is some pleasure from the feeling of doing something "illegal." Perhaps most of her work was the "webcam" service.

Some sex clubs were booming (notably the lesbian sex club that allowed NO age play and NO men), but most had only a few people in them. The vibe was very "don't talk, just screw." Of course, every avatar was either a professional body builder or a pin-up model (its comaratively easier to do it to your avatar's body than to your own). This whole project, this whole subject, makes me think a lot about psychology, and how culture affects the law. For example, prostitution was made illegal in most states in the 1920's because of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which lobbied for illegalizing prostitution, drugs and alcohol (and affecting the way people think about prostitution). When Seattle was first settled by non-Natives, they shipped women in to be prostitutes because there were so many male workers, but no women, and this was not only legal, but in all probability, very common. There is no Women's Christian Temperance Union in Second Life. People in SL go there to get away from the restrictions of the real world. The likelihood of public sex, sex work, or any of the like to become illegal in SL is highly unlikely in my opinion because their psychology is already dead set against having another world like the real one (my opinion again).

3. The Presentation
I put a lot of time into this project. Talking, flirting, learning how to try to make Fizzy stand sexy, talk sexy, look sexy. I tried to get pictures of age play, strip clubs, real photos of people, etc, for the presentation. I feel that the amount of work I put into this project isn't truly reflected in the final presentation. There is the added cost that my computer is much slower now.

4. How I Feel About This Assignment
I admit it- I was really frustrated at first. I think I was frustrated because I was really stressed out and short on time- getting ready for finals, doing that torts project, legal writing, and then being in Second Life really did take a lot of time. If I had worked on it earlier in the semester it would have been easier. Now that the work is done, my feelings have changed. Listening to the entire group do the presentation together today felt like watching a sunrise.....a week and a half of "what does this have to do with property?!?" suddenly became "Now I get it!"


For my group's Second life presentation, I was responsible for discussing transactions occurring in Second Life in terms of real-world currency, US dollars. Because I am such a skeptic of the usefulness and attractiveness of the Second Life arena, I was surprised to learn the sheer amount of money flowing through Second Life, roughly over 1.5 million US dollars every day.

Beyond that, I was surprised to find that currency exchangers and listing agencies that advertised virtual property for sale in Second Life made anywhere from 3 to 5 percent commissions on each transaction. Furthermore, the fact that real world corporations were viewing second life as a commercial outlet was surprising. Specifically, H&R Block was providing a product called Tango they normally charge $70 US to purchase for roughly 68 US cents in-game.

All in all, the sheer volume of transactions, the potential for real world companies to charge transaction fees and commissions on these transactions, and the potential advertising outlet for real companies provided by Second Life makes it seem like less of a game. However, the fact servers control this game and the servers must be maintained or owned by someone causes some severe legal problems. If Second Life truly is a game and accounts can be terminated without compensation, people will have wasted a lot of time and money on nothing more than a fictitious experience. Looming unresolved tax questions on virtual world gains as well as unresolved property questions on whether property rights attach to virtual property make Second Life a big gamble. Given the riskiness of this activity, I was surprised to see as much happening in SL as is.

I felt my group integrated well in this project. We quickly generated topic areas, made our own slides and forwarded them on to our PowerPoint manufacturer, Emily, who did a great job creating our slide presentation. Because we scripted what we would say during the presentation, the presentation went smoothly and was highly informative. Further, because each group member focused on being efficient, we agreed quickly on the tasks we would perform. Our choice not to use a narrator to do transitions in between each individual's presentation helped our presentation flow more smoothly and seem more professional. I feel that each group member contributed greatly to the success of this project and there weren't any problems with individuals not contributing.

In sum, while I feel the presentation provided useful information and was interesting, I felt the Second Life project took away from the property class experience. While it was memorable to see many foundational property issues such as finders, adverse possession, etc discussed in terms of Second Life, most if not all of the issues were inapplicable to Second Life. There is no finders in Second Life, no adverse possession, minimal if any controls on nuisance. Because Second Life is based largely on contract law, I feel the discussion would have been more beneficial in a contract class.

My personal preference for the future is that the Second Life project be omitted from the course schedule. While it was memorable and somewhat informative, I feel class and outside-class time could be better utilized focusing on the issues of the textbook in real world application. That being said, my group performance was excellent and I felt we accomplished our task with great precision.

--Doug Clark (Group 11)


The Second Life project was a rather interesting experience. I was unfamiliar with this kind of online experience. The thing that immediately struck me was how seriously the people in Second Life take it. For example, I managed to arrange an interview with an attorney who had recently set up a practice in Second Life and the first thing he did when I got there was offer me a digital cup of coffee for my avatar to hold. All you need to do is take a quick glance at the Second Life newspapers and magazines to get a brief glimpse at just how seriously people take Second Life.

That said there are serious problems with the way Linden Labs has setup Second Life. Linden Labs has setup Second Life so that you can own digital property and have the intellectual property rights to what you create and Linden Labs uses this as one of its primary advertising points. Yet, they have failed to provide a meaningful method for enforcing such rights. This is an incredible disservice to the users of Second Life, given how seriously they take it.

Linden Labs takes on the role of Government by claiming to provide some sort of property rights, providing basic service to that property (by keeping its servers up), and taxing the ownership of land. Despite this semi-government activity Linden Labs leaves all the enforcement of property rights and dispute resolution to the users to work out. This is inherently problematic because any system created by users would either have to derive from a single owner of property who then sold it bit by bit with restrictions on its use or would require many users to band together to create limited areas of lawfulness. Neither of those options is very affective in that they only address the use of digital land and still leaves user’s intellectual property rights unprotected from infringement and piracy.

Other problems persist. It is possible to bring a real life lawsuit over a dispute within Second Life. However, this is only feasible in rare occurrences since most disputes within Second Life deal with small dollar amounts that make the cost of hiring an attorney prohibitive.

Private dispute resolution and mediation within Second Life is available, if in a limited fashion. There are several attorneys practicing within Second Life who might provide such services. However, there is no system for insuring that the attorney you have contacted within Second Life is actually licensed. The American Bar Association lacks a real presence in Second Life and Linden Labs provides no such services.

Furthermore, there is a problem with enforcement. Any dispute resolution forum created by the users of Second Life would lack any real power to do anything about infringement other user’s property rights, other than condemn it. Only Linden Labs has the power to enforce any such decisions within Second Life. Linden Labs needs to make a decision as to whether land and created intellectual property in Second Life should be treated as real property with all the rights given by the US government and the States, whose Court decisions Linden Labs would then enforce on the Second Life servers; or a subtype of property whose rights are limited to what Linden Labs is willing to give and enforce. Given the time and energy the users of Second Life have put into it, Linden Labs is letting them down by failing to provide a recognized method for protecting the property rights that Linden Labs uses as a hook to gain additional users.


I have been really excited about the opportunity to work and play in and with Second Life in this context. While my group just recently went, I’ve personally been exploring Second Life with my own avatar. I have found that my personal exploration has been enhanced by this project because it has helped me to focus my thinking about Second Life in the context of existing law. And, it has helped me to critically engage in a concrete way with amorphous concepts of how law changes, mutates, and adapts to new situations. Additionally, taking old concepts and applying them in this new world has helped me to learn these concepts better and to gain a deeper appreciation for the fact that society and the world today present interesting challenges for existing law.

My group’s mission was to explore questions surrounding eminent domain and regulatory takings in Second Life in order to determine if Second Life can best be described as post-modern feudal system. The following are some the questions that we used to guide our exploration:
· Who is the feudal lord in Second Life? Linden Labs? Individual community owners?

· What feudal structures are we examining? How have they mutated in the Second Life environment? How have they stayed the same?

· How does the concept of takings change when it transitions from being a common-law tradition of property rights (eminent domain) to being a contract based right (Linden Labs ability to terminate service at any point)?

· Is Second Life inherently a contracts question instead of property?

Specifically, I examined regulatory takings. A regulatory taking exists when some governmental regulation functions in a way that takes property from the property owner.It is important to remember that the government can take real AND personal property. All Second Life users retain their rights under the Terms of Service to their intellectual property. But, their intellectual property is meaningless without Second Life, and Linden Labs retains the right to alter, delete, or transfer items at any time for any reason.

If a regulation asserts a permanent physical occupation of property, then a regulatory taking has occurred, and the property owner is entitled to just compensation. In a virtual world, what would a permanent physical occupation of property look like? Would it simply be a computer script executed by Linden Labs that blocked you from parts of your land? Or, would it occur if Linden Labs told you to put something on your land and threatened to delete your account if you refused?

However, if a regulation is a legitimate exercise of the police power, then no taking exists and the property owner is not entitled to just compensation. If you posit that Linden Labs is the ‘government’ of Second Life, then the question to ask is what types of regulation would be a legitimate exercise of the police power? Under the terms of service, it seems that any type of regulation would be a legitimate exercise of Linden Lab’s police powers.

Finally, a regulatory taking can occur if the regulation, even though it is a legitimate exercise of police power, goes too far in diminishing the value of the property. Assuming that Linden Labs is the ‘government’ of Second Life, can you even go too far if your contract allows broad ‘police power’s? And, what would a diminishment in value of virtual property even look like? These are questions that might be unable to be answered until there are more virtual worlds.

Our exploration of regulatory takings and eminent domain revealed many things. The first is that, while it may be useful to talk about virtual property and the happenings in Second Life utilizing the language of property law, the actual legal framework is more closely aligned to contract law. However, where property law might be particularly useful is in conceptualizing what remedies might look like in disputes that arise within Second Life and between users and Linden Labs. Property law also provides a framework for even conceptualizing the virtual products of Second Life as things of value deserving of compensation.

The second is that, while the creators of Second Life have adamantly asserted that they do not wish Linden Labs to function as a government, the reality of the situation is that Linden Labs has set itself up to be a government. It has done so through the terms of service that set Linden Labs up as ‘king’. It has done so through granting users their intellectual property rights in their creations. Despite Linden Labs wanting to be hands-off, they have created a system where it is impossible for them to be so.

Ultimately, I feel that this project was incredibly fun and useful, and I loved having the opportunity.


My group looked at Zoning, Public Spaces, and Nuisance issues in Second Life. What we found was that Second Life does not have an effective mechanism to deal with the problems of residents who disturb the property rights of others. In fact, Linden Labs has completed abdicated the resolution of property disputes to the individuals involved or to Island owners if there are any. Only if the problems rises to the level of "harassment" as defined in the Terms of Service will Linden Labs get involved.

This is not suprising since Linden Labs has said many times that it does not want to become like a government. However, a cursory examination of human history will show that whenever large groups of people congregate there must be rules, guidance on behavior, and an enforcement mechanism for keeping order or what you get is anarchy. This is what is happening in Second Life today.

In doing this project I was struck by how problems of the past repeat themselves in Second Life. Before beginning this project, Professor Townsend-Gard assigned us a law review article on the history of interactive environments similar to Second Life. The article discussed in great detail the history and problems of MUDs and MOOs from the 1970s to the 1990s. The early creators of these communties faced many of the same problems that face Second Life and Linden Labs today: users who don't follow rules, personality conflicts, control by the founders, etc. It seems even in the virtual world we can't escape the dead hand of history.


This project has been an interesting and unique experience.

However,I had one question through out the project, and it was never answered. That question was not how property law applies to property in Second Life, but why it should apply? Property law is grounded in the past, aspects of its origins stretching as far back as ancient Rome. Why should we assume that laws created around the evolution of society in the real world should apply to a virtual one? One of the aspects that our group examined was regulatory takings. This is a property concept which, in one form or another, has existed throughout human history. We were able to identify certain aspects of Second Life which could be compared to that practice. However, I see no reason why the two should be compared. Second Life is a virtual world. A virtual world that is very different than our own. There is no government, no complicated economy, no war, and land is potentially infinite. Our own reality has none of these luxuries. With two very different forms of reality, why should we believe that laws created in one should apply to the other? The aspects of Second Life that we have compared to real world concepts like regulatory takings, nuisance, and adverse possession are not simply shadows of their real world counterparts, but are unique laws that have different origins and different purposes.

Second Life is defined by contract law. What we are comparing in our projects are aspects of this contract law created world that mimic what we view as property law. I do not see how this benefits the study of virtual property law. What we should be doing is observing where this world is going. We should be writing new rules of property law instead of trying to fit the square pegs of virtual property into the round holes of real property (and defining what doesn’t fit as something that property law doesn’t apply to). I guess the point of this wonderfully cohesive and well organized argument I’ve managed to cough up is that we should be looking at Second Life as a chance to see what sort of property law develops in a vacuum, separate from the centuries of history and tradition that has formed out own.

However, projects like this one, even if it didn’t go in the exact direction I would have liked, are the first necessary steps in examining the budding virtual world. So as President Howard Taft once said, “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you find that you get what you need.” Truer words were never spoken.


Ways of Transferring Property and Marriage, Divorce, and Kids

My job in the group was to look into the property question regarding transfer of property by means of marriage, divorce, and kids. Before doing that, I worked with Mike on modifying Fizzy’s appearance. It was our goal to model Fizzy after a pregnant Britney Spears, and Fizzy ended up looking quite pretty. Additionally, since our group focused on marriage, we felt it was important to dress Fizzy in a wedding dress.
I began my research on the property question by looking on the Linden Lab website as well as doing broad internet searches. As we all came to find out, Linden Labs provides very little guidance as to any property questions. Instead of marriage, the only official recognition of a relationship between two avatars is a “partnership”. By each partner paying a small fee, two avatars can enter into a partnership. No rights are associated with the partnership; its only purpose is to make other avatars in Second Life aware of the relationship. The person instituting the dissolution can pay another small fee to later dissolve a partnership. Other internet search engines did not have any relevant information to the property question.
I then went into Second Life to ask avatars what they knew about the transfer of property and marriage. In order to do this, I went to a bridal village to ask my questions. I talked to a few avatars and they didn’t provide too much information. The common answer was “yes” you can get married in the various chapels in Second Life. However, they vehemently told me not to give my password to anyone, not even my “partner” so we can share property.
The final thing that I did was go with Mike to a few wedding chapels and go through two marriage ceremonies. After that, we went to an adoption agency in the hopes of adopting a child. When we got there, we realized that our dream of being parents was not going to pan out. The adoption manager took his job EXTREMELY seriously. As Mike and I talked to one “child” about taking her with us, the manager told us we had to immediately fill out paperwork or we would be ejected from the agency’s grounds. When we did not comply with his request, we were ejected and permanently banned from ever going back.
In conclusion, my Second Life experience was…interesting. I don’t really feel like it helped or added to my knowledge of property because none of the real world’s laws really apply. Additionally, the whole experience made me a little distressed, especially the adoption agency. As other people have mentioned, the majority of Second Life is related to sex and other fantasies, so the adoption agency was creepy. I do feel like doing this expanded my mind about what people do in their spare time while on the computer, and I have to say it scares me


I approached this Second Life project with my feet firmly planted in the real world of mountains, rivers, oceans, islands, grass, trees, rabbits, raccoons, and deer. This is the world I am native to; I will always be an immigrant in the digital world of the 21st century. I have freely chosen to enter the virtual world of Sullivan Hall, where the physical environment is all constructed by human hands, and all creative activity takes place within the minds of the occupants. I am very resistant to take the level of abstraction a step further into the virtual world of Second Life.
I can understand the conceptual rationalization underlying this group project and its relationship to our 1L property class. If these types of cyber-endeavors continue to grow in popularity, there will indeed be ample opportunity in the future to explore the appropriate application of real world law to the orderly array of electrons which we have come to know as the internet.
However, I believe a strong argument can be made for the validity of my feeling that this is not the reason I came to law school. When I read chapter two in Second Life: the official guide, it was apparent that a digital native, one who has grown up playing video games, instant messaging his friends, and never experiencing a pre- Microsoft world, could comfortably leap right into Second Life and competently explore what that virtual world has to offer.
For me, just developing a functional understanding of all the preference tabs, button menus and means of manipulation would take more time than suggested for the entire project. When I skimmed the introduction to the chapter on scripting which is the assigned reading for my group, I knew for damn sure that these are not the skills I came to law school to develop – writing code which will simulate a 3-d depiction of mundane real world objects on a computer screen, or going further and writing the codes that will make said items writhe seductively or loom ominously on command!!!
I understand that the world moves on and my resistance to the inexorably increasing pervasiveness of cyber reality will be little noted nor long remembered. My main concern is that this exciting new technology, with the potential to facilitate meaningful exchange of ideas and direct participatory democracy, is instead being shaped into yet another placating and mind-numbing distraction from the very real problems facing us as a democracy and as a world.
Edward R. Murrow, in a speech in 1953, addressed the use of radio and television in language that could very easily apply to the internet today. “… our history will be what we make of it, and a historian from the future, viewing the television broadcasts of today will see evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. We are currently wealthy, comfortable, fat and complacent with a built-in allergy to unpleasant and disturbing information. Radio and television are being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, and unless we get up off our fat surpluses, we may see a totally different picture too late.”
In a world where the shining beacon of democracy has been dimmed by the shadow of corporate domination and the rule of law has taken a backseat to the age old principle of might makes right, 90% of the world’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1% of the population and 30% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Faced with the intertwining problems of oil addiction, population explosion, and climate change, I firmly believe that we have our hands full here without wasting our time attempting to create brave new worlds in cyberspace.


Our class’ SL experience was an interesting addition to the traditional 1L curriculum. Although I believe that the experience should have been shortened to occupy a smaller percentage of our course time, it was great to take a step away from outdated property laws and investigate a very modern application of what we’ve been learning. As a non-gamer, dipping into SL was an eye-opening glimpse into what hundreds of thousands of people are doing and creating in a virtual reality space on a daily basis.

The hours I spent with our Avatar, Fizzy, were predominantly devoted to changing her appearance. By the time Fizzy came under my control, she’d been molded and dressed as a female by my classmates for two full weeks, so I decided to give her a sex change. Surprisingly, even after I’d changed the “female” setting to “male,” there was a lot of gender shaping left to be done: despite the switch, the newly-male Fizzy remained distinctly feminine in face, body shape, and apparel. So I used the facial options to thicken his eyebrows, widen his forehead, nose and jaw, and lengthen his chin. I made his body taller, wider, and stronger, and significantly decreased his chest size (which still carried the previous group’s setting for very large breasts). Also of interest was the ability to adjust your male avatar’s anatomical package.

Clothes pose a serious problem for an avatar with no cash. I ended up using the “create” function to design an outfit for Fizzy, but the results were decidedly less polished than what the stores had to offer. The high-end apparel stores in SL offer intricately detailed clothing, making Fizzy’s “home-spun” outfit seem even more primitive. The other avatar shoppers were also significantly more sophisticated in facial appearance as a result of having purchased finely detailed, life-like skins. (Apparently, you can buy complete “looks,” like “the Johnny Depp look,” which came complete w/ Johnny’s scruffy chin, chiseled body, and beanie cap. Hot!)

After a day of sex changes and window shopping, I was beat, so I was thrilled to find a beach where Fizzy could relax and watch the sun set into the water. Turns out that looking good in Second Life, much like in real life, takes time, money, and hard work.


In group 1, my task was the Power Point organizer. We decided it would be easiest to have only one person working on the presentation. However, to make sure everyone had input on the final product, we made it the responsibility of each group member to forward pictures and outlines for their segments.

My goal was to make our presentation an overview of our class project, the rules and regulations of Second Life, and the relevant property questions we would be exploring. Understanding that our presentations will most likely be viewed by members of the Seattle University faculty, as well as by other institutions and future employers, I strove to set a very high bar for all subsequent Second Life presentations. I wanted the presentation to flow, and show the hard work we had put into this assignment.

I tried to put the template, along with the headings and backgrounds, together before the end of the week. It involved a lot of work on my part, probably more than was necessary, as I chose to format each slide from tinting pictures of Second Life. As each member forwarded me their synopsis, I was able to craft the presentation to make sure that members were not repeating each others information. I was also on alert to make sure that each topic had been fully covered, and that all topics had similar length.

Making the presentation uniform, and creating background slides, required a lot of investigation into Second Life on my own. I spent about three days collecting pictures, screenshots and details about second life, to make sure we presented a well rounded introduction of the game. I also searched for a video clip that would help introduce everyone to Second Life in a comprehensive way. It took some time to find a clip, convert it to a usable file, and embed it into our presintation; however, I felt it was important for our audience to have a proper introduction to Second Life. Although the audio did not quite format correctly on the in-class presentation, the final product online should be a success!

We did not have the opportunity to practice our presentation before we recorded. None of the group members had seen the final product before our Friday recording session. As such, our final product was a free flow of all the information we learned on our own and together. I believe our presentation shows how well we all worked with each other, and how hard we each worked on our own.

Personally, from doing the Power Point presentation, I was able to learn about all the areas our group was set to cover. In my searches online, if I came across something which was relevant to a group member, I would contact them and let them know what I found to see if they had a use for it. I was able to be exposed to each area, and feel like I was able to learn from each group member as I was putting their slides together. It was a rewarding experience, and I am looking forward to the future presentations.


When first exposed to Second Life, I did not perceive this futuristic society through virtual rose-colored glasses. In fact, I shunned it as another corporate ploy seeking to profit from exploiting the alleged American sedentary lifestyle. As with most first impressions, my take on Second Life soon changed once I experienced it firsthand.

My role within our group was to collaboratively explore news inside and outside of Second Life with my fellow group member, Kristen Puckett. Kristen and I took a more holistic approach to our research once we discovered that this online society did not devote much news coverage to our topic, "Gifts and Finders." We did, however, come across a few things on point including multiple junkyards filled with abandoned property as well as charitable organizations that sponsored events such as a "Second Life Relay for Life." These philanthropies would then donate monetary gifts for a variety of good causes.

Beyond the scope of "Gifts and Finders," the fashion and music industries within Second Life showed an appreciation for popular culture and the visual arts. The fashion magazine, "Second Style," featured advertisements that were a spin-off of contemporary trends. For example, much like the modern shoes, "croks," "groks" are a hot commodity on the virtual market. In addition, news on health and medicine, such as a depression support group led by one of the avatars, also made headlines. The launch of the Grid Review grants avatars access to animated nightly newscasts. Members of Second Life are, therefore, always kept up to speed on the activities within their community.

All in all, I found this assignment to exceed my expectations. Our group's chemistry helped us maintain a positive attitude throughout our experience with technical difficulties and minor setbacks. Each group member was receptive to constructive criticism, which helped to keep the lines of communication open at all times.

Once I was in character and began navigating through Second Life as Fizzy Sodoberg, I could see the rhyme and reason to this technological revolution. I soon realized that this program is more than a game where fantasy meets reality. As an article in the Boston Globe phrased it, it "allows alter-egos to lead a double-life" when individuals find the need to take a time-out from their real lives.


Personally, as a student participating in this project, I wanted very much for everyone to enter into exploring virtual property and the virtual space with an open mind. There was much talk about the usefulness, validity, and execution of this project prior to its commencement. Significantly, each new group came in with a similar wary eye as to what was going to happen. Though not proficient in MMORPG’s, I felt that exploring a virtual world that espouses to gives players IP rights would mirror the notion that ownership of property is the foundation to society.
I believe that student’s skepticism about this learning tool was absolved once they realized that property law can stretch as far as technology will let it. Even though SL is fundamentally contracts based, assessing for over and undertones of property law made us evaluate the policies behind each doctrine. Significantly, as a practice pointer, our class should be very aware of the danger and consequences of applying property laws traditionally based in real property to the on-line world. Rachel Godah has raised this issue on several occasions with the groups, namely that judges and legislatures currently have little grounding or conceptualization into what the long term result would be of applying traditional property notions to a space like Second Life, or even the internet for that matter. The result of a ruling that lacks the foresight brought by having explored virtual rules could hinder not only online gamming, but internet commerce and the entire use of the net as a mode of exchange. ~ Thus, if anything, the Second Life project has made us aware of the potential problems with trying to fit old law to a new medium; old wine into new wine-skins if you will… and this thought process will serve us in all areas of practice, whether or not we go into IP.

Finally, we did not directly assess whether Linden’s reasoning to grant IP rights rested in a “civic republican” view of players not being full players without significant ownership of their Avatar and all subsequent creations. However, I think there is a strong argument for some sort of property rights making the game more “whole”, and inducing people to play. That being said… serious MMO players probably don’t have a tie to whether they actually own the equipment their avatar is using. Gaming probably feels equally real whether or not you have IP rights to what you use. I wonder if this assumption is true or if players feel more attached to SL’s avatar created property (something they make in a sandbox) versus items they acquire in other games? Surely this was Linden’s idea in soliciting players ~ giving them an incentive to play. But I wonder how strong the incentive of IP rights really is? Or is the draw of Second Life stemming from the limitless possibilities of creation/ user created world/ and media attention? Would SL be as popular regardless of IP rights? (MMO experts ~ insert your opinions here!)

In the end~ a wonderful and stereo-type shattering experience.


I just wanted to follow up with you personally about an announcement you may have received about IFAW's upcoming public briefing in "Second Life", today at 2 PM and 9 PM EST. You may attend either briefing, depending on which one best fits your schedule. The briefing will be held on Progressive Island at the IFAW facility.

We will be presenting the findings of our new report on this year’s baby harp seal hunt in Canada as well as unveiling a new video.

I hope you will be able to attend despite the short notice. If you'd like to mention the event to your readers, that would be wonderful.


My group covered the issue of prostitution and the sex industry in Second Life. As part of the group, my responsibility was to research the community standards and general rules provided by Linden Lab governing sexually explicit content in Second Life.

The community standards provided by Linden Lab attempted to mimic zoning, stating that the goal is for everyone to have a rewarding experience; consequently, mature content may exist in the world but it is restricted to private land areas rated mature. However, this is as far as Linden Lab attempts to define the uses permitted. Once an owner has designated their private land as mature, they are free to use the land in any manner they deem appropriate, with no oversight from others in the virtual community. Yet, Linden Lab’s terms of service provide that regardless of the rules set out in the community standards, they may still restrict the use of either private or public land if they determine that the content is vulgar, obscene, or otherwise offensive. Despite this broad ability to police content, Linden Lab has taken a passive role, only intervening when a violation of community/global standards is reported by another resident of Second Life.

I feel that Linden Lab’s confusing attempt to define the relationship between themselves and Second Life users reflects the inherent uncertainty found in this new form of online interaction. Specifically, there appears to be no definitive answer as to where the laws of the virtual world intersect with those of the real world. This is perhaps most apparent when exploring the topic of sex in Second Life, where many people use their avatar to live out sexual fantasies, many of which are morally repugnant and illegal in the real world. The controversial issues regarding sex in Second Life (e.g., virtual child prostitution) seem to evoke in many people the response that an avatar is not merely a grouping of pixels provided by Linden Lab, but an extension of the self that should carry with it real world rights and responsibilities.


My experience of SL was surprisingly fulfilling. Initially I didn't get why we had this project. Especially being in the Prostitution and Sex Industry group, it was difficult for me to not condemn the project from the outset. I chose this particular group because I thought the topic was going to be provocative and interesting, which it did turn out to be, but the snuff film that is SL was more than I had initially bargained for.

So after the first couple hours of reading articles on age-play child rape fantasies, instances of borderline real life prostitution, and people actively murdering one another for the right to own a sex slave, I decided to stop looking at pictures and reading blogs from guys I'm sure sit naked in front of thier computers with wizard hats on and do some actual research.

What I found was that these virtual worlds, while at least to me are a haven for the socially unimportant, are more than likely a glimpse of what promises to move from being a counter-culture, to a pop-culture. As such, learning the legal issues surrounding this movement from a virtual world to a not-so-virtual reality was...kind of cool. I started to notice that it wasn't a sick cultural experiment I was watching so much as a real evolution of the law.

Is it prostitution when a woman offers real sex for virtual money? Do you actually own your identity? Do the game designers have more power than the federal government? I don't know. But that I got to ask these questions and step out of the traditional legal box for a moment ended up being a worthwhile venture. For anybody that is interested in this stuff, I bought this book that really kind of centered me on the happenings of this virtual reality that is going on, its called "The State of Play: Law, Games, and Virtual Worlds." Its a very recent collection of scholoarly essays on the subject. I recommend you get after it.


Obviously, Second Life has grown into something that has captivated the imaginations of millions of people worldwide. But what exactly is it? And just as importantly, what can we get out of it?

These were the basic questions I set out to answer as I began investigating the relationship between Second Life and the real world. I had a working hypothesis that those who were likely to get involved with Second Life did so as a means of escapism and nothing more. While I wasn’t able to disprove that assumption, I did find that Second Life is not just for the lonely souls desiring an alternate reality – a different body…a different lifestyle…indeed, a different, “second” life.

I began by looking at how the real-world news media covered Second Life. Not surprisingly, those newspapers and magazines that reported on Second Life tended to focus not on the theoretical aspects of the interplay between IP and contract law, but rather on the more tangible (and significant?) aspect of potential money making.

Once I began to think about Second Life as a means of capital gain – not just for Linden Labs, but for those choosing to “play the game” as well – I began to understand why so many of the world’s largest corporations (and their trademarked brands) would decide to enter Second Life. Moreover, the potential for exposure to authors, musicians and politicians lent credibility to the decisions of Judge Posner, Fmr. Gov. Mark Warner, and many others, who chose to use Second Life as a forum to discuss their latest ventures.

At the very least, this project enlightened me to a phenomenon previously reserved, at least in my mind, for the outcasts and social pariahs among us. While I don’t mean that to be disparaging to anyone in particular, there is certainly a stereotype that goes along with those who engage in MMORPGs. And if nothing else, the interest from the business community, and from artists and politicians interested in reaching out to new audiences, has taught me to think less about stereotypes and more about capitalistic opportunity. Go money!


My experience in Second Life reaffirmed my initial impression of it. I was surprised at how many people have chosen to participate in this virtual world, but I do not necessarily think that it will become the craze of the future. Honestly, I think that it is a sad world that we live in where people don't even interact in "Real" life. We use our computers, cell phones, and text messaging to communicate. Meeting people in a virtual world is nothing like meeting people in the real world. You can't read a persons body language, voice fluctuations, etc. in typed message.

While I realize that many corporations, businesses, and political campaigns are advertising in this virtual world, I do not think that the majority of people who regularly use their computers even know what Second Life is. I didn't. Neither did my dad or my brothers, all who are "computer geeks."

While I was in Second Life, I was also surprised at how much of it revolves around sex. Perhaps this is why I had never heard of it before. I found it disgusting and, while I'm not a prude, I didn't think that it was necessary to have to go into Second Life to research most of the topic. As tour guide, I did find some interesting events such as a Saint Patrick's Day fundraiser for cancer awareness and an art gallery. The art was really bad. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it really was bad. I hate tie dyed cliché stuff. Additionally, I was surprised how bad the graphics were. I was expecting better.


What is property?  

This is a question that my first-year property law class has been excogitating for almost nine months now. Although a complete immersion into the intricacies of Second Life® would ostensibly demystify this question, it primarily seemed to magnify the disparity between real life and the virtual one created by Linden Labs. 

For example, my task was to explore Second Life® from the lens of first possession. As a result, I actively sought examples of acquisition of property by discovery, conquest, and capture. But, my search left much to be desired … 

Similar to property law, in Second Life®, ownership of a “thing” may be asserted by an individual, a particular group, or held in common by second lifers at large. But, even though users may “discover” items in the virtual matrix around them, Linden Lab has the final say over whether that use is appropriate. This concept seems reminiscent of Johnson v. M’Intosh, whereby the person who “discovers” a thing does not necessarily own it.  

True, any avatar can place their flag in the virtual soil of what is not yet conquered. But, keep in mind that this ability to take whatever virtual land tickles your fancy has a cost—a cost that can empty your virtual and real-world pockets, depending on how grandiose you intend to make the virtual world around you.  

So, what happened to the notion that “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too”? This historically-created legal fiction no longer seems to hold true … at least not in the sense that whoever is first to lay claim to a virtual item has the sole right to retain it. As a result, discovery does not give title to anything other than what you are financially able to purchase. And the only “authority” in the virtual matrices is the one that you bring in with you when you enter. In this way, Second Life has limits that are prescribed by business models from the real world. However, as my other colleagues have already mentioned in previous posts, most “boundaries” in Second Life® are largely invisible ones. Meaning that avatars have virtual free reign in terms of what they can do and how they can behave.  

Next, similar to the rule of capture, which allows the first person to capture a resource to be entitled to it, in Second Life®, avatars can “capture” 3-D versions of so-called “wild animals.” However, this is mostly based on consumerism and commercialist profit models. For instance, for a listed fee, users can purchase or adopt mythical beings, exotic creatures, or pets. Prior to purchase, some users allow residents to touch or ride their 3-D animals. Unlike property law, though, the first avatar to capture a virtual animal does not preclude later avatars from doing the same.  

So, the methodology from Pierson v. Post seems inapplicable to the virtual world of Second Life®. In fact, as I perused Second Life®, I was surprised that there were no virtual hunters, especially since the hunter and gatherer phenomenon seems to have played a role in basically every culture known to humankind. So, what does it mean exactly that this basis property concept is missing? I’m not sure. But, why obsess about who owns a fox when and under what conditions when there is no “fox” to be had?  

This is particularly true given that avatars don’t seem to be interested in pursuing this virtual profession. Because Second Life® seems to be ignoring this vocation, there is no local custom or trade usage policy that a virtual person can look to as a guide for determining what constitutes physical possession. 

So, what property rights should Second Lifers truly have? According to Richard A. Posner, a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, virtual possessions must have a counterpart to a physical property right if Linden Lab wants to motivate people to enter their virtual world and transact in it.  

But, adjusting our individual liberties in a digital space may prove daunting, to say the least. Clearly how ownership rights are initially acquired and how an individual claims common resources in a virtual world are concepts that are still evolving. 



Group 6

Prior to completing this project I had set up my own avatar and had explored Second Life. Using both Fizzy and my avatar, I visited quite a few sites that I found to be interesting and entertaining. However, I happened upon a few sites that reminded me just how intrusive immoral and depraved images have intruded into our usage of the internet.

It seems these days that the internet, and in this case Second Life, has two separate worlds. One world seems to offer the ease and flexibility of communication and commerce at your finger tips. The other world seems to offer a gateway into areas attempting to undermine society’s morality. In either location, as long as you can stand the occasional sex-referenced pop-up or avoid visiting a sex-themed location in Second Life, you can partake of the benefits offered in this modern technological age.

While this may seem to be a cynical view, I wish to express that I feel this project was important for two reasons. One, we were required to research a new area and the impact modern legal concepts will have on it. As a first year student, oftentimes we get lost in the past, looking at old cases and older theories of law. This project allowed us to look ahead and “flex” our ability to analyze a current issue. Two, it broke the monotony of traditional law school teaching patterns and let us research what possible issues might arise in a modern technological age with legal concepts learned to address the issues faced in this new world.

Disregarding the benefits of the exercise, it only rekindled a belief that law can only solve a limited number of problems. Society must solve the rest of its problems for itself, and in doing so, it is our responsibility as law students, and legal professionals, to serve the public to protect itself from its own degradation.

Second Life was created to be a fantasy world where participants were free to be another person; however, the rules created for this new world allow participants to face the same problems presented before there was a set standard in law. A free internet world, without the same rules as the real life world, lead people to exploit the same weaknesses the law has sought to do away with.

Our endeavor should be to bring real life legal concepts into the world of internet reality so that real people utilizing the benefits of the internet are knowledgeable about their rights and obligations in any forum they choose to include themselves.

Second life has shown it could be the next evolution of the internet and we, as legal professionals, have a responsibility to help protect society from the pitfalls and tribulations, answered in real life, but created in this new world.


My initial foray into Second Life was a bit haphazard. I couldn’t really figure out where I should go, let alone figure out how to build or create something. I initially logged on thinking that there would be people everywhere to interact with, but was actually disappointed at how unpopulated SL was; with the exception of course of some clubs and tourist attractions. I guess I was also expecting more in terms of graphics and just the general technological advancements of the entire experience. After hearing/reading so much about how virtual life is the way of the future, I had expected it to already look the part, and in general was just really disappointed with the overall experience.

My assignment for group nine was to explore zoning in Second Life.

The first thing I noticed was that as we know it, there is no zoning in SL. In order for there to be zoning there has to be government, which doesn’t exist in SL. The closest I could find to government was Linden Labs, and they would like to keep as far away from that title as possible.

So the next closest besides Linden Labs, were private land owners. Because of the strange property ownership system in SL, people who buy large islands of land and then resell parcels maintain ownership of the island as a whole, and therefore control over the people that they resell to as well. Because of these the island owners can create something similar to zoning, in that they can put in place a lot of restrictions for their land. But these are more similar to covenants than to actual zoning.

Even though there isn’t actually any zoning, the biggest problem I found was a lack of either dispute resolution or enforcement pertaining to property issues. So if someone built something they technically aren’t allowed to, there is no real way to make them stop or take it down. Linden Labs can revoke an account, but are very hesitant to do so, and it doesn’t seem as if they have taken such action as of yet in a property dispute case.

So overall, there is no zoning in Second Life, but what those within SL call zoning is much more reminiscent of covenants in real life. But it is possible, in theory, that Linden Labs could choose to take a different route regarding their role in the development of land in Second Life and enact regulations which would better resemble zoning.


>The other world seems to offer a gateway into areas attempting to >undermine society’s morality.

a) is there only one?

b) if there is, I think that is probably a very, very good thing to undermine constantly and repeatedly.


I am also a student at SU working on this Second Life project.

Just a little background: My group was responsible for discussing the “First in Time” question. Unlike most other groups, we were allotted no money during our time with Fizzy. No problem – Fizzy’s transformation into a man cost nothing at all! What I'd really like to talk about in this blog, however, are my feelings in regards to Second Life, my initial perceptions of it, and my take on it's usefulness in the real world.

Going into this semester with the Second Life project, I was quite skeptical. I have never enjoyed computer or video games and, to be honest, I considered Second Life to be a mindless, time-consuming game with little to no relevance to my life. Despite these initial feelings, after viewing the first Second Life PowerPoint presentation in class, I started becoming more interested. I went into my first Second Life meeting with an open mind.

After completing the project and viewing other PowerPoint presentations, my view on Second Life has changed. I now see that it is not a mere game irrelevant to life in general as I originally believed. Now, I think that, especially as it relates to our understanding of property issues, Second Life is a valuable tool in which we can study real-life legal concepts in a unique forum.


I'm a student in Townsend-Gard's property class at Seattle U. This past semester, I had the opportunity to work on the Second Life Presentation. In fact, I was even the second group to get my hands on our avatar, Fizzy. My group was responsible for Gifts and Finders, but I was specifically in charge of changing Fizzy's appearance and wardrobe.

I decided that I didn't really like the way that Fizzy looked and realized how important it is, both in Second Life and in real life, to look your best. So...I changed her clothes to make her more appealing to other avatars and gave her a stylish new hair do.

I had a lot of fun working on this presentation. I definitely find it valuable to my experience in this class this year.


I, like a lot of my peers, was unaware of Second Life before undertaking this project. I initially was reluctant to delve into SL, but once forced to jump in I enjoyed my experience. My group was in charge of looking into nuisance, land use, and zoning issues in Second Life. What we found was interesting. Unlike the real world, most of these issues are not a problem in Second Life because of the technology. However, other problems that are foreign to the real world crop up in Second Life. "Do not enter" banners prevent avatars from entering private property in Second Life whereas such banners only operate in the real world around crime scenes.

Despite the inconsistencies between real and Second life, this experience was fun. It was a hands on way to experience property law. I think it was the closest thing we (as first year law students) will get to "real world" experience. Seeing how the avatars coexist in Second Life was a good indicator of how property issues (at least some of them) are handled in the real world. Anyway, while I am not going to run out and create my own avatar, I am thankful for the opportunity to have dealt with these issues in a fun and safe environment.


My thoughts about the project:

When I first learned of SL I was intrigued. The fact that people were making money in-world caught my attention more than anything. How was this money being made? What could possibly be supplied by a virtual world that would be equally matched in demand? We learned of the famous real estate baron who made thousands of dollars. Why would someone want to buy virtual land? Obviously in the case of the Ailin Graef, it was speculation, but what supported this speculation? What value in and of itself does virtual land have...especially when it is ulimited in supply?

My problem was convincing myself that SL must provide something that the real world provides in a novel or unique way. The answer to these questions is that the demand is simply created by the virtual experience itself. The reason SL is successful, is because people want to interact with each other through a virtual medium, whether it be opposed to, or in addition to real world experiences.

In my estimation, SL will never reach the astounding levels of growth that many predict. My guess is that only a small portion of society derives a significant amount of utility from virtual world experience when compared to the opportunities that the real world provides. It is fun and entertaining for some, but what does SL have to provide (other than the virtual experience itself) that the real world can't offer?
Example: Our group went to H&R Block, hearing that they advertised services in-world. Their office simply provided us with a hyperlink to their website. Nothing about a virtual world makes filing taxes any easier or more efficient...it is simply being used as a mode of advertising for the company.

Second life was a great example of how property law, as well as contract law, may apply in a variety of complex and unique situations that we might never have thought existed. For for purposes of a first year property class the utility and usefulness of the projected was limited to just that. It was great for the class to understand that there are legal issues in internet games and virtual worlds and perhaps that we may encounter such an issue in the future, but the amount of time and effort put into studying the gameplay, business opportunities, and virtual sex in SL was at the sacrafice of time spent on other legal issues or the law itself. The very informative meeting we had with plaintiff's attorney in the Bragg v. Linden case demonstrated that the legal issues related to virtual worlds will be solved using the knowledge of the law applied in the real world every day.


Just wanted to say how impressed I was that you did this with your property class. I would love to have more professors do this sort of thing and allow postings in this forum. Even if the depth of legal discussions is not yet there (although often, I'm sure it will be) it's just nice to see some new people posting and some new takes on old questions. (even if, to the old people on TN it's all repetitive of things they've talked about before, to some of us, it's not...)


I am a student in Professor Townsend-Gard's class, and my group was assigned to research issues around the sex industry in Second Life. For my part, I looked into the sale of bodies and body parts in Second Life.

I began by researching the levels of property rights that exist in Second Life. The terms and conditions granted certain rights to both Linden Labs and the Resident, but the virtual world itself granted rights to the avatar itself. The avatar had all the same rights to personal integrity as would a person in the real life. I found it most interesting that the avatar was protected by community standards from assault, it could also enter worlds where it gave up its right to exclude and "consented" to being violated and raped.

The heart of my research was around the sale of body parts. At first glance, property rights to body parts in Second Life seem more straight-forward than in real life. Rather than the layer of laws that exist in the real world, preventing individuals from selling their own body parts but allowing subsequent possessors to sell them as property, in Second Life body parts are identical to personal property. This means they can be sold, or traded, without restriction.

But just as I began to think that property rights in SL body parts was simple, I discovered a variety of complex and unresolved issues exist around them. First, not only are body parts personal property, they are also intellectual property. This means copyright protections can apply to body part creations, both inworld and in the real world. While it is clear that copyright protections apply, it is unclear how far they extend (as Anshe Chung's creator's DMCA complaint demonstrated). It is also unclear if real world laws such as right of publicity may be able to limit a creator from developing avatars based on real life persons, or if the right to artistic expression will overcome potential causes of action.

Overall, this project produced a mix of emotions in me. I was a bit careless in selecting a group that was at the end of the semester, so this project came along at the same time as a negotiation exercise, a mock trial, a classroom presentation, and a legal writing assignment. However, I ended up spending over 15 hours on this assignment. Although the timing was bad, I found that this was a great intellectual exercise. It was fascinating to learn about how property law has been recreated in a new world, and how real world and Second Life intersect and create new legal challenges. I was less enthusiastic about Second Life itself. I still can't quite understand what people find so captivating about a virtual life. But then again, being a first year law student gives me little time to have a real life, much less a virtual one :)


Reading the comments from the students makes me wonder why some screencasts were made available to the public and others omitted. Can any of the students, or Professor Gard, shed any light on that? I believe that all would be of interest to readers of VB.


After reading all the comments by students regarding the sex industry in SL, I am left wondering many things. The first is how would prostitution of any type be considered appropriate for a Property Law class. I suppose it could be considered another form of slavery, a prostitute under the thumb of a stereotypical Pimp. However, excluding the SL slavery aspects, of which there are many, anyone involved in the sex industry is there of their own free will. They want to take part in the experience for their own reasons. Prostitution, without the slavery aspects, is not a provision of goods, but rather of services.

Second, going back to Kristy Healings point of an escort refusing to break character, I am currently working in the Sex Industry in Sl and I am writing under my avatar's name. This is not so much a ploy at making my virtual life real, but rather a way to be able to write about my experiences pseudonomynously. I do not want everyone that knows the me on this side of the computer to know about the me in SL. Part of the reason why those escorts may not have given you real world information is that they value the privacy that Second Life provides for them, as opposed to some flaw that does not allow them to break character. Also, some of the female escorts could be men.

Third, so much has been said about sexualized age play that it would be very difficult to add to the argument. Except, that if the proposition that virtual child pornography is not criminal due to the lack of a child participant, then any sexualized ageplay would fall under the same standard.

Fourth, due to the Miller tests of obscenity, and the community standards of SL, there is a lot you can get away with. If SL is about unfettered imagination, then people's sexual imaginations are going to be a part of it. If there are clubs that present dulcette, or eating people, then there is a high barrier to prove obscenity in SL.

Sixth, anyone that looks at an avatar body part the same as a human body part has got to be kidding me. There is no way you can compare lines of code that has intellectual property rights attachable with a human body.

Lastly, based on the text and the animations involved, a sex worker in SL is an eroticist. I use the term Improvisational Eroticist to describe what I do. Looking at the Californaia statutes, which some lawyers in SL argue is the controlling law, prostitution is defined as actual or simulated sexual conduct for money or other valuable consideration. But without a physical prescense, how can there be conduct? Alternatively, how can typing on a keyboard be considered sexual conduct?


Second Life, like many virtual life models, attempts to mimic real life concepts. The real-life concepts that our group looked at were based on finders, applying to lost, mislaid, or abandoned property. Since the virtual and technical medium of Second Life is based in intellectual property, the most common overlap with real world concepts primarily regards intellectual property.

When a user creates a virtual object, it is a tangible expression of an idea, where it can be duplicated many times over without diminishing another's use of the "same" object. Of course, the creator of the object has a property interest in that they can control the number of copies, the price of those copies, the use, etc. In this manner, virtual personal property exists truly as intellectual property, and not personal property.

It is theoretically possible to create a virtual object that can never be duplicated by the author, where the author gives up her intellectual property interests purposefully, and where the object even deteriorates over time with use… but this model would only exists for entertainment's sake, and would not be useful. With Second Life's economic model realized in real dollars, the motive to maintain one's intellectual property rights is tremendous. Otherwise, real property in Second Life only exists as a sector on a hard disc in California, and personal property exists additionally on every user's hard drive, backup discs, servers…

It was interesting to look at the virtual world from the perspective of property and law. I have played other virtual reality games, but this is certainly the closest model in real-time interaction, and even based on a real economy. When comparing Second Life to real life concepts, it seemed that the mimicry of real life is misleading to users and distorts the real intellectual property issues, with the exception to the "real" space on the Linden Labs' servers.

I have to say that William Gibson's cyber-fiction, Neuromancer, written in 1984, is closer to becoming reality.


Re: What does prostitution and sex in SL have to do with property?

I actually think that investigating sex in SL has a lot to do with property in that it forces you to think more analytically about what exactly is property, and the property law framework also helps you to frame the investigation fruitfully.

If you accept the maxim that property is relational and fundamentally rights based, then any examination of property has to necessarily revolve around questions of "What rights?" and "What relationships?" are at play here. Looking at a topic that is entirely relational illuminates this concept nicely.

Sex in SL is, also, fundamentally about relationships between yourself and your avatar; your avatar and the SL community; and your avatar and someone else's avatar. Jessica Holyoke implicitly refers to this when she talks about staying in character.

I think that a propery law framework can be very helpful analytically when examining those types of relationships. Is it the only framework? No. But, legally, it is a very good one.


>>“Sixth, anyone that looks at an avatar body part the same as a human body part has got to be kidding me. There is no way you can compare lines of code that has intellectual property rights attachable with a human body.”<<

Actually, and maybe unfortunately, the law does look at human body parts very much the same as avatar body parts. Right now IP law governs body parts based on genetic code, which I find similar to lines of digital code in both the simplicity and intricacy. Anyway, because human body parts are removable, discard-able, patentable and potentially sell-able, they are treated in many ways like avatar body parts and surprisingly IP law governs their use and ownership.

Significant and controversial case law governs who actually owns your own body parts, once those parts are removed from your body. Specifically, as is attested to in the presentation about the sex industry, case law states that once a body part is detached from a human it is treated like a chattel; the question is who owns it. Although current public policy forbids the direct sale of these parts, we are allowed to clone these parts and sell/ profit from the genetically identical specimen. Thus, body parts begin to be analyzed by law based on their genetic make up and not who previously “hosted” them. Very similar to lines of code then, in the law a spleen is not owned by the person whom it was removed from, but by the scientist who genetically mapped it. And this scientist can control all future use of the spleen, can copy and proliferate the spleen, and perhaps one day may sell the spleen. The original owner has no say in what is done with his body part, even if he was the original “creator”. Human hair, eggs, and sperm are treated similarly to SL body parts.

Furthermore, while right now IP law governs body parts based on their genetic code who is to say that a surgeon will not one day patent the “look” of a breast, nose, or body shape? I feel there are explicit comparisons between physical body parts and avatar body parts.


I too was involved in the Second Life Project in Professor Townsend-Gard's class as part of Group 6, whose focus was on Purchasing Real and Personal Property in Second Life.

My initial trepidation:
I must admit that initially I had no idea why we were getting so involved in a project that took place in a virtual world. I failed to see the connection until I got a chance to "get my feet wet" and really explore Second Life. I can honestly say that I am computer illiterate (it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to post to this site!), and Second Life was very challenging for me technically. I still can't really "fly" very well and had the hardest time figuring out how to take personal items out of their boxes once they were in your inventory, but I plodded on. I can see how addictive it can be as on more than one occasion my husband had to pry my fingers off the keyboard. Once I became more comfortable with the technical aspects of it though I found it to be an enjoying and educational experience.

I could not understand how or why people would purchase (with real money!) virtual land or property. What's the point? To be honest, I had never even heard of Second Life until this class. But it is not a place I will soon forget. Before I logged on, I had a "Sims meet the Dragon Slayers" idea in my head and was astounded when I was completely wrong! The complexities of the site and the dedication of its players shocked me.

Within my group I was responsible for avatar maintenance. Our group wanted to make Fizzy look like an animal thinking that would call more attention to her...little did we know that it woudl take much more than that. We bough Fizzy a swanky home, a motorcycle, and a car, as well as some incidentals (a pet cat I named Felix:) I was very interested in knowing how/why certain items were priced the way they were. For instance I wanted to buy her a pair of "cat eyes" and they were over $750 Linden dollars!

Overall, I think the experience was great. I learned a lot about how property laws work/don't work in a virtual world. I also saw the interaction with Contract law and found that very interesting. It was a great experience and I'll miss Fizzy next year!


In response to the body part posting by Chiara Reillo:

Your response is very well thought out, but I feel some of your premises are incorrect.

Body parts, such as organs and limbs, are not patentable. The codons for certain traits are patentable, as well as engineered alterations on other organisms. Diamond v. Chakrabarty. The genetic code is patentable because it was invented or changed. Any product of nature is not patentable.

I will not go into the ethical and public policy concerns about why we do not allow body parts to be sold, simply because I don't have the space or time. However, by comparing a human, unaltered, body part with a man-made section of code, the analysis misses basic human dignity.

Now, that isn't to say that there should be IP rights assigned to a transformed organ. Miller vs. Regents of the University of California does allow for a removed organ to be utilized and the accumulated rights due to the work performed on it to inure to the surgeon.

The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act covers the "who owns the part" issue when a body part is donated post-morteum. Its considered a gift from the deceased for whatever purpose that's considered at the time. So the untransformed body part is still "controlled" by the wishes of the deceased or their agent. Specifically, I remember a time when a liver was donated to the wrong organization and they had to give it to a different organization in order to be in compliance with the decedant's wishes. The transformed portions are not in the control of the deceased.

Your spleen example jumps back and forth. If a patient has his spleen cloned and altered, then no, he doesn't have rights to the altered product. But he's not the original creator either. In your example, it does not sound like the surgeon has possesion of the spleen. Although, if its an issue of cloning, is intellectual law the correct place to start or is it reproductive rights? If you have the right not to reproduce, do you not similarly have the right to not be cloned?

No one will be able to "patent" the look of a nose. A surgeon would be able to patent how that nose was created, but not how it looks. And no one would be able to copyright a look of a nose either. (Although can you imagine a copyright suit based on a barfight?)

The combination of being a product of nature as opposed to a coder, public policy and what is necessary to make any form of human derived product protectable makes a human body part unique and not at all like an avatar body part.


I'm a first year student in Professor Townsend-Gard's
first year property class. From the beginning of the year I felt priveleged to be exposed to so many new ideas in the realm of property. Although our class used a very traditional first year property book by Jesse Dukeminier, a lot of the class content explored new areas of property, such as IP and Second Life. When I first heard of Second Life I didn't have any idea what it was. After Second Life became an assignment for the class I started to get a little nervous because it seemed like a foreign enitity to me. But after creating my own avatar and exploring a little in Second Life it became quite interesting. It was interesting in that it presented a number of interesting property questions regarding Second Life, which is essentially what our projects were about. My group eplored the rules within Second Life and how they were similar and how they were different from the non virtual property rules. The rules in SL are still kind of in the pioneer stages, so it will be interesting to see how they evolve over time, say in another 3 to 5 years. Anyway, my recommendation to anyone who is curious about SL is that it is worth exploring. I think it may evolve into a new area of IP law, which is exiting.


Katherine Bond's responses to my post stated that rights and responsibilities framed through property law was a valid analysis legally. But since all law is relational, meaning that it governs our relations, the question as to why Property law is utilized, as opposed to any other 1L course, is left unanswered. What is significant about Property law being the framework of the analysis?


Briefly, I think that it is within property law that the relational and abstract aspect of law shines through the most clearly and usefully for a analytic framework. YMMV.


Jason, you are correct that body parts aren’t patentable, and thank you for clarifying that someone would not be able to patent a look. Perhaps I miss typed. Would they be able to trade mark a look? Don’t celebrities have some ‘protection of image’ recourse ~ so I was thinking similar to those lines.

You are right; my analysis was a bit unclear. I do understand the difference in property rights vs. IP rights with regards to body parts. Thankfully we reviewed the Chakrabarty case (which I feel blew the lid of the respectable scope of patents), as well as Moore v. UC Reagents. (Unless we are speaking of two different cases, we studied a Moore case, which I believe is the spleen case I was cryptically referring too above)

Hmm… don’t remember mentioning a surgeon in the spleen example, but I hear you with IP rights starting with the creation of the scientist, and not the harvesting of a surgeon.

However, we had several presentations on the controversy surrounding organ donations, sperm donations, posthumous artificial insemination, as well as “abandoned DNA” ~ collectively, these issues were swarming in my mind as I typed a response.

I am not so sure the lines are clear cut… certainly it would be harder to compare an attached humans body part to an avatar body part, but what about all the body parts in the avatar’s inventory? I was thinking these would be comparable to cloned organs. It seems from the discussions we have been having in class, that the law is in flux, and the lines are blurred in places over ownership; or at least could be arguably blurred.

Thank you for clarifying the legal implications of IP law with body parts!

Property, Privacy, and the Human Body Radhika Rao, Boston Law Review (80 BUL 359) (2000)
Reclaiming ‘Abandoned’ DNA: the Fourth Amendment and Genetic Privacy by Elizabeth Joeh, UC Davis, (winter 2006)
Berry, J. Life after Death: Preservation of the immortal seed. 72 Tul. L. Rev. 231, 1997

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