05 February 2007

Virtual World, Real Lawyers

Lawyers thrive on complication and ambiguity. Things don't get more complicated or ambiguous than in cyberspace - it's no coincidence that Larry Lessig rose to prominence as one of the first to wield the machete of his fine legal mind on this thicket.

Things are even more complicated in virtual worlds, because they are inherently richer. Here's a nice round-up of some of the legal issues involved. Two paragraphs in particular caught my eye:

One complicating factor is jurisdiction. Linden currently operates under California and U.S. law. British IP attorney Cooper says that virtual worlds like Second Life need a form of international arbitration. "If I get ... an Australian operating a business in Second Life, asking me, a U.K. attorney, how he can best protect his business within Second Life, how do I answer him?" he says, citing one query that he has received. But Cooper sees a model in the uniform dispute resolution policy (UDRP) for Internet domain names. Created in 1999 by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the UDRP created an international solution to issues like cybersquatting of domain names that were difficult or impossible to resolve in regional courts.

Cooper, Lieberman and other interested avatars, including the Second Life Bar Association and many non-lawyers, are now working together to formalize online arbitration as a required first step to handle Second Life disputes, without resort to real courts and their costs. Together they are lobbying Linden to include arbitration in its terms of service agreement. Meanwhile, Lieberman's group is introducing its proposed arbitration into the virtual world, hoping that other users will try it out and find it fair and useful.

(Via Second Life Herald.)

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