Linden Lab’s Second Life Taking on Too Many Lives

It is important to appreciate that the principal issue in this case
surrounds the notion of a contract to purchase virtual land. The onus was
on Linden Lab to ensure that their online purchasing system was intact and
not penetrable to unfair usages by purchasers. On the other hand, it is
arguable that Bragg was unwarranted in the manner that he obtained the
land and was unjustly enriched because other prospective purchasers were
paying a higher price for similar properties.

With that being said, I now turn to address the validity of virtual
property rights in online universes such as Second Life. Second Life has
taken the concept of online gaming to include real world elements that can
lead to major issues of incompatibility when disputes such as this arise.
For example, by allowing individuals to make a real life profit by the
selling and trading of various virtual properties, Second Life has double
dipped into both the virtual and real worlds without fully realizing the
muddle to be faced when transitioning from one to the other. As such, it
is suggested that the company has gone too far with the development of
this virtual community.

First of all, Second Life serves too many functions. This virtual world
can be used in one sense as a conduit to make personal gain by developing
virtual property and in another sense the world can simply be used as tool
for social gain. With this type of overlapping of functions, Second Life
has morphed into an entity that lacks a genuine identity upon which to
provide resolutions to prospective disputes. As an example of one of the
various features available, one can point to the fact that individuals are
able to trade-in virtual money for real dollars at designated stations. As
a result, when you cross the line into the real world, Second Life must
ensure that its policies clearly point out suitable enforcement and
resolution options in case of disputes. Instead, they have a virtual world
that serves an abundance of functions without any overriding rationale
upon which to have sound legal terms and solutions.

Another important consideration is the fact that jurisdictional issues
will inevitably arise when you exist in the virtual world, particularly
when various individuals from around the globe have a potential claim to
put forward. One can take some consolation in the fact that the issue of
jurisdiction in this case takes place within a single nation, but what do
you do when someone from Japan has a claim? Ultimately, Second Life has
left the door open for cross border conflicts that could amount to vast
amounts of financial losses for all parties involved in litigation due to
its policy to allow people to prosper from their virtual creations. In
addition to the costs of litigation, courtroom battles will put a major
strain on an already heavily backlogged legal system.

It can also be argued that it is very challenging to legitimize
intellectual property rights in a virtual world. The fact that subscribers
are paying a monthly fee makes it difficult to state that creators own the
content that they generate, especially when you take into account the fact
that the owners of Second Life can shutdown the operation at anytime. It
is understood that Linden Lab grants ownership to users of the virtual
world, but it is problematic to justify this when one you consider that
the creations are essentially pre-existing virtual space and data that can
only be accessed when operating with a valid Second Life account. As a
corollary to this virtual existence, it is tricky to describe any virtual
creation as fixed since the land that is created is a computer generated
phenomenon that does not necessarily have an enduring and permanent
format.

Linden Lab has to adopt an internal structure of regulation that can
sensibly account for all potential conflicts if they continue to allow
users to cash in on their subscriptions. Denying Bragg his virtual
property by shutting down his account based on the purchase of the land in
question is an unjust regulatory policy and even more so when that account
consists of valuable property. Second Life may be better off adopting a
framework that is more akin to online gaming formats that function solely
in the virtual world. If this is not done, the company may end up losing
more money than they earn if they continue to allow the virtual to enter
the real.

One Comment
  1. Although I completely endorse Saeed’s views on the immediate requirement of Linden Lab to put in place an effective system of legal laws and regulations governing Second Life, more so due to its fusion with the real world in more than one way, I feel that he has gone too far in his fears of the possible and successful existence of the very concept of a ‘Second Life’ itself.

    Also, the legal suit filed by Bragg, relating to the land allegedly confiscated by the Lab for his unethical and ‘illegal’ behaviour in acquiring them, seems to throw more light into the issue of control which the Lindens have on the SL residents and the latter’s corollary rights in the property they own in terms of the TOS that subsists between them, as opposed to the existing relationship between a virtual and the real world.

    Though the question has been left unresolved, due to the confidential settlement entered into between Linden and Bragg, one could safely presume that the absolute and arbitrary power which the TOS conferred on the former, in controlling the latter’s user accounts would not stand before any court of law. The subsequent amendment of the jurisdiction clause in the TOS brought in by Linden further reiterates this point.

    What is needed now is not reducing Second Life to yet another online game, but positive measures to effectively regulate the system, which seems to me, as a very promising project with over 11 million residents across the globe.

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