Virtual Law

I have a fascinating job. Given the international scope of our company and the innovation we generate, there’s no shortage of unique issues I encounter every day. But, I think Marty Roberts just may have me beat in this area. He’s the new GC at Linden Lab the company behind Second Life. For those who are unfamiliar with Second Life, here’s a video that explains it.

Many “real world” companies have been using Second Life to open virtual store fronts, for marketing outreach or as an additional form of online education. Sun is one of these. After all, a virtual world is another form of network-enabled community. Helping to build these communities is at the core of what we do.

So far, we’ve had a positive experience with Second Life and have continued to use it as a forum for major announcements. And, last week, I was discussing with someone on my team how we might use Second Life for employee training. While these activities were once novel, they are becoming more accepted as traditional business models transition to the Internet. But, for attorneys, the virtual world remains unexplored. Here are just a few recent examples of what Mr. Robbins has had to deal with in his new job.

A case was recently filed against Second Life in a “real” courtroom in Pennsylvania. The dispute involves ownership of virtual property. While the ultimate issue may turn out to be a routine contract matter, it will still be interesting to watch.

Another litigation has been brought between two members of Second Life. In this case the claim is for copyright infringement in connection with virtual toys for adult entertainment.

And most recently, it appears that IBM employees in Italy held a strike against their employer in Second Life. Trying to determine what, if any, labor laws apply in connection with a virtual protest by employees will doubtlessly keep some attorney very busy.

Marty, I’m sure you have many more fascinating stories. I’d love to hear them. If you ever have time for a beer (a real one), I’m buying.

4 Comments

Filed under Personal

4 responses to “Virtual Law

  1. Sin-Yaw Wang

    I guess it is just a matter of time that virtual world breeds virtual laws.
    Do virtual lawyers must pass virtual bar to practice? I think this is a biz opportunity…

  2. @Sin-Yaw – I actually started an informal voluntary bar association in Second Life last year that now has over 200 members. My advice to everyone (not that they all listen) is that "practicing" in world at all is basically a bad idea right now, for several reasons. First, you don’t know who you’re talking to — there’s no affirmative ID verification in Second Life, so there are huge potential conflict problems. Second, there’s an A-C privilege issue, because Linden Lab keeps chat transcripts for a while. Third, it’s incredibly easy to engage in unauthorized practice, because you have no idea where the people you are talking to are actually located. We’ve got members who practice (at least, solicit and meet with client) in-world, but I encourage people to be extremely careful. It’s an ethical minefield.
    Incidentally, I cover virtual law at my site (which likely will be linked off my name) if you’re curious about the goings on in this field over the last year or so.

  3. This is great to see, art imitating life yet again virtually, but the problems come along as well. My company creates designs for T-shirts & other apparel that is popular with the age group that "plays" (lives?) Second Life, and we’ve been informed that our virtual store is great and they love that we’ve come into the Second Life world, the only problem is, we haven’t.
    Some enterprising person is copying our online site and posting items for "sale" in Second Life, without our consent. We have tried contacting Linden Labs several times over the past few months to resolve this, but have not heard back as of yet.
    I guess we need to hire "local" counsel in Second Life, or have our IP attorneys contact Linden?

  4. I’ve become interested in legal problems associated with the use of autonomous programs in the electronic marketplace. I’d be very interested in your comments on any of the material in here (not exactly the virtual law problem you have in mind in your post but tangentially related nonetheless):
    http://www.sci.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~schopra/isp.html

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