I attended the SLBA meeting last week, and frankly, I remain alarmed about this effort, seemingly benign, of a group of people with legal training from various countries to form an organization that seems so rapidly to move from the theory of what lawyers do well in real life -- protect rights -- to what they do badly in real life -- impose themselves as indispensable to conducting business. Everyone in business in SL -- or even anybody with a non-profit or informal project -- needs to be very wary of what these people mean, and what they are doing in Second Life, and keep a close watch so that they do not inhibit our virtual world.
I realize the presence of these people is inevitable, but that doesn't mean we can't whack really hard at it and try to prevent them from interfering with the freedoms of Second Life. Like baby barons drawn to the real estate business by the presence of Anshe Chung on the cover of Business Week, so some of these baby attorneys are drawn to the legal biz by seeing the ground-breaking cases of Mark Bragg (a sim-rustler who is now suing the Lindens to get his account balance back) and Kevin Alderman (suing an avatar for copying his widely-imitated sex bed). These lawyers sense that they can get in and make history, set precedents -- and most of all, collect fees from people draw to virtuality for all sorts of reasons, but prone to nervousness and even outright fear by the prospect of how they may be bilked and even harmed seriously by anonymous avatars. They have an objective need -- indeed, their bottom line may depend on it -- to portray Second Life as a wild and lawless frontier that is only fixed...by hiring them and letting them refashion the space.
Just as in Shakespeare, the first thing we need to do is mute the lawyers -- that is, to modernize the phrase in SL terms. That is, not listen to their at times shrill and even illegitimate screams about making themselves indispensable, or listening to their judgements about what's illegal or not. That's because the law isn't so formulated yet; their expertise given their own status and motivations as anonymous avatars (even if a RL name is nominally given) is suspect; and the context they operate in -- the grey area between real life and simulated life -- may benefit them, but has no demonstrable benefit to the public.
I've been absolutely appalled to see Benjamin Duranske, as readers know, parading around pronouncing Linden Lab as criminal. He triumphantly claims that the problem with gambling and alleged Ponzi schemes in Second Life isn't that there isn't a law about them; it's that the existing law of the State of California isn't *enforced*.
For this, he blames Linden Lab, -- and "not enough publicity" (!) and claims the Lab should shut down the accounts of avatars suspecting of virtual bank fraud. Of course, as evidently more of a IT guy aspring to control other people through code, than an attorney hoping to protect rights, he hardly thinks of the Lab's actual interests, which are NOT to concede involvement or responsibility for fraud allegations by shutting down accounts. Nor does he think of any of our interests as depositors -- a shut-down Second Life is obviously not a place where we can ever hope to withdraw our cash.
The Lindens do shut down accounts of course and put all kinds of checks and fire lines on the Lindex, and when alerted to large sums of money being passed, they often react by suspending an account transactions until they can take a look. This in fact has caused many false firings and frozen accounts of people merely transferring money to their alts or making legitimate payments. But they are not going to say "how high" just because Duranske said "jump".
I really find it infuriating that someone could subscribe to Second Life, hope to make a career out of it some day, and yet wish that the California Gaming Commission or whatever relevant authority must become involved move against Second Life. Surely he must realize that if enough people shout in the media that "law isn't being enforced" and cast LL to blame, it *will indeed* be shut down. This has never been more of a distinct possibility! And that's what is basically with these untethered legal personalities flying around Second Life. They aren't tethered to a client -- and to reality. There is no demonstrable client Duranske is protecting, as no group of bilked investors has hired him, nor any People of the State of California to uphold the law. He doesn't have Linden Lab's interests in mind, and indeed, we can only conclude, which is often the case with attorneys, that his client is himself, his book, his vanity, his press appearances, and his blog hits. That's not something I wish to have as the engine of our world.
I would advise, instead, that those groups of investors or simple depositors who feel they were defrauded should sue the bank that they believe committed the fraud, and not Linden Lab which they imagine they can get at more easily. And go to a real attorney, not one who is not practicing and is saying now that he's writing a work of fiction; now a book on law in virtual worlds (which of course may be a fiction, too lol).
A phone company isn't guilty for wire fraud. A phone company could be asked to cooperate, and LL shows every indication it will cooperate. But one doesn't make it guilty for shutting down accounts. Phone companies are not supposed to shut down accounts; the FBI, *with a warrant* has that authority. That's what people like Duranske constantly brush aside with irritation and arrogance. In real life, lawyers are brought in within a context called "the rule of law" with hopefully democratic government and a system of due process. Companies don't shut down businesses, confiscate property, or arrest people in real life because a lawyer screams in the media; rather *due process* must be afforded and one must work within a legal system. A judge has to issue a warrant. No judge issued a warrant. Until one does, or until in-house counsel suggests that pre-emptive compliance would be prudent, I suppose, LL should do nothing. I do sincerely hope they remain strong and do nothing.
There's no due process involved in having some arrogant prosecutorial wannabee who needs to get a book out of his SL experience "blowing the whistle" and trying people in the media.
When I went to the SLBA meeting -- it is still an informal and open group that allows people concerned about law who aren't credentialed experts (that will likely change) -- I was truly annoyed to see they were meeting in the Capitol Hill building. It's a building whose legitimacy I've already questioned (it isn't any real extension of that democratic institution; it's a vanity project supported by Sun Microsystems for one favourite congressman and their favourite metaversal development company). That shouldn't be the setting for something that in fact claims it doesn't aspire to government. Of course, the lawyers want all those trappings of the august name of Congress and all that marble and wood panelling which is why they gravitate there. Ugh. Duranske went through the fake motions of saying "he couldn't wait to get out of there when they had another place to meet," but that was utterly suspect. You don't call meetings in the Congress of the United States replica unless you love the vision of yourself strutting up and down the marbled floors "creating history". There are a million places to meet in Second Life. This was done deliberately.
The transcript of the meeting is up on the SLBA website and I'll get to the link soon, but I can't emphasize enough how much this entity bears watching -- and hedging back. Two hugely suspect things went on in this meeting -- a bid to get going an international standard contract and a bid to make even more extreme the already leftist ACLU agenda by claiming that the ACLU -- or some "SLCU that will eventually evolve in SL -- should take on the job of not only creating "international civil rights" (they already exist) but enforcing them over frontiers and defend people from their governments multinational institutions or corporations.
Both of these starry-eyed bids aren't likely to get far, but it is important to whack at them. For one, there already is a very robust system of international law and international *human* rights which actually works quite well.
I often discover in SL as in RL that lawyers like Duranske and Little Gray have no grasp of what human rights are, and how they really are distinguished from civil rights at the national and international levels. Civil rights are granted by sovereign states to their citizens. There are standards for these in instruments like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Those aren't a substitute for a country having civil rights and protecting them at home, where they are protected best. International groups can help and show solidarity and strategize but they can't do it for other people; ultimately, they have to work toward making their own countries work.
As much as there are some people, generally tiny sectarians, who want global government and want to impose it on people they don't like (religious believers, capitalists, etc.), most people want local and national -- not global government to be in charge because it is more accountable when they can participate more locally. When Little Gray made the strange claim that the ACLU should "defend people around the world from their governments," it sounded as if he wasn't invoking the kind of work that Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch does, which indeed defends people whose rights are violated in international terms from opppressive governments. He imagined the ACLU as actually extending its jurisdiction and its amicus curae briefs into other court systems.
But the RL ACLU, as much as it has international programs, for example, to protect someone kidnapped by federal authorities, and as much as it has to increasingly operate in an international environment, doesn't attempt to interfere in another country to such an extent that it doesn't recognize its sovereignty, its courts of law, and in fact, its perfectly good local ACLU-like bodies in many countries that are perfectly fine running defense work without bossy Americans, thank you very much.
The worst thing about Little Gray's meandering and contradictory presentation is that at times he was talking about an ACLU he *might* get started *if* it is approved, and at times he veered off to talk about the "SLCU" which is his fanciful project putting the ideals of say, Noam Chomsky into practice (argh). In fact, his main activity now is trying to get Noam Chomsky into Second Life to speak. He doesn't act on behalf of the ACLU formally, but has the permission of one local California chapter to "explore".
Look, 32 non-profit organizations opened up their representations in Second Life this week on an island donated by Anshe Chung and helped by TechSoup. Organizations don't need to do a real lot of drawn out "exploration" to make what amounts to a 3-D web page. I hope the real ACLU -- that is, the accountable, elected and responsible ACLU -- overrides Little Gray's extremism and puts in their own national and local chapters, without cooking up an "SLCU". The statements he makes don't represent the organization; nor should they be allowed to go on being its "face". The ACLU has enough problems with being maligned in American society as too far to the left. Being the force that celebrates Chomsky in Second Life will only cement that in ways that are not good for the ACLU's far more important agenda of working on urgent issues like Bush's wiretapping project or the mistreatment of asylum-seekers. Knowing the real-life people in the ACLU over the years, I can't imagine they would like to sign up for this extreme a movement that involves uploading brains in the singularity, or installing global government with international standardized contracts. The ACLU works on *America*. That's why it's called the AMERICAN Civil Liberties Union. And trust me, it has enough to do there without forcing global governance and contracts on other people. At least, I hope it does; I can't understand why the southern Californian ACLU chapter has let this kook go on in SL as long as he has.
I spent a number of interventions at the SLBA meeting trying to insist that the SLBA not hold itself up to be a governance body, or a standard-setting body of any kind in SL. This "shaping SL law" stuff that some of Duranske's literature talks about is really something that needs a huge push-back. No one elected these people, and no one should be paralyzed and staring into their mouths as they speak merely due to their meat-world credentials.
Look, people. Are we here to make a Better World and a different and more free and collaborative space or are we???
Here's a cross post of my post to the Herald, which has decided to take a pro-lawyer position, giving a huge amplified sound stage to two of SL's wannabee governors.
Um, yes, nothing like an article on trust from an anonymous avatar, what? Jessica Holyoke, former escort and aspiring Herald reporter waiting to see if she passed the bar in RL, talks about "someone" who said that before lawyers came along, we have had perfectly fine contracts like rental leases and notecarded agreements for doing business in Second Life.
That "someone" was me, although she coyly didn't credit me, but I'm sure I'm not the only one to point out the obvious. Yes, Jessica, long before you got to Second Life with your vast legal knowledge *cough* residents were making contracts: and they do not need you and your class of parasitic lawyers to function in the SL economy. My God, this is a horror.
You fail to recount what you and your little legal beagle friends tried to pull at this SLBA meeting, which the record shows.
The first thing lawyers do is try to make themselves indispensable, when in fact they are not needed. "Oh," they said. "We need standardized international contracts...for things like renting." Not!
No. We. Don't. Piss off. If there are a handful of island thieves, that's not going to be helped by contracts anyway. People who "buy" islands second-hand from other residents need to understand the enormous risk involved and not undertake that risk if they do not trust the avatar involved, and sue them through real-life actions if they are bilked, not become part of what so hobbles Second Life that it becomes a sequestered handmaiden to RL ambitions.
No one asked for standardized contracts from a group of largely American loud-mouthed lawyers. They truly are not needed. Those that do need them go...*gasp*...to real life where they find plenty of them, and sign them there, and btw, arrange their payments and services there, too.
I don't have any lease language in my rental leases such as that indicated as a scare story by Jessica (she cited a contract she had seen where the owner said that he took no responsibility for people not knowing the subsequent updated copies of his contract), but it seems to me that in a virtual world where the parties to the contract are as fickle and even duplicitous as the contract-maker, an insistence that people have to find the updated contracts might be prudent and not at all based in the evilness Jessica implies.
After all, what means is there to exercise due diligence? It's not as if there is an inworld or even third-party site for publishing legal notices in that pro forma way that lawyers do in papers that people ignore anyway. It's not physically possible in a situation with lots of customers with numerous rental boxes to go and make a change to thousands of boxes instantly (unless of course, you use one of those companies like Hippos with networked database, but then you have to trust that company to hand over all your proprietary data, give them your entire sales list, avatar key lists, etc. etc. -- and I don't trust the companies in SL to do that).
So you may put a notice on site in a FAQS, or in a group, but that wipes out every 30 days, or isn't noticed. In real life, you could count on people to have the common sense, if they were renting an apartment, to go to the rentals office at the center of a building and get the contract and sign it. They couldn't open the door without it, they'd be forced to go and sign a document and get a newly updated lease in order to get their key. In SL, they don't think to do that, and fly around aimlessly and cluelessly and refuse to read anything even when you spoonfeed it, and they can just rez a cube and break into a house and pay a self-service box.
In SL, the consequences of breaking a contract that one doesn't like are simple; you refund, you fly away, the losses aren't great, nothing like RL. To be sure, people begin to invest larger and larger amounts of money, and then they wish to surround themselves with lawyers. Ugh.
God *damn* the Herald for artificially pumping up these lawyer creatures from RL by fawning over them in the Herald. It's been really sickening to watch, and there's been none of that famously imbalanced counterpointing whatsoever.
I hold Uri responsible for pumping up Benjamin Duranske, and Pixeleen responsible for pumping up Jessica Holyoke. What, they want lawyers to take over Second Life??? Are they fucking out of their minds??? Again, Jessica should be *virtually slapped* for suggesting that the numerous contracts that people have successfully made and kept and enhanced for YEARS in Second Life are somehow 'suspect' because the "SLBA" (an unrecognized and illegitimate body of its own) wasn't here to "endorse" or "approve" them.
Picking out the clunkers among the many *successful* contracts that people have made, and even used a notary service inworld to authenticate, is truly unfair to the community of businesses in Second Life that got along perfectly fine -- and frankly *will continue to get along perfectly fine* without fucking attorneys in their hair. I hope people will stand up and resist this awful development with all their might.
Resist, resist, resist. Second Life is different; it is better; if you are so nervous -- or retarded -- in taking risks, then stay in first life, or get first life contracts for your SL affairs. Don't inflict unnecessary, costly, and prohibitive contracts on the world globally to satisfy your little fears.
Next thing you know, Ashcroft will be along telling everyone they have to create a magisterial system with him in charge, and put up their land as collateral, or they can't get justice and enforcement of contracts.
>Whether a feeling of being challenged exists with the older residents when newer residents get involved. The early adopters were able to build this world and now people are coming in droves to take advantage of their efforts and now the established residents position is being threatened.
Sigh. This is an age-old tune, but at root, it's bullshit, and I, with my theory of the FIC, have always pointed out its bullshit -- the FIC is a good example of how oldbies can incorporate newbies into their elite ranks without distinguishing age whatsoever, or reject oldbies despite their age.
The world of Second Life is very diverse. Some old people decidedly got an advantage, but not everyone in their class. Some brand-new people, especially those who sucked up to older people (like Jessica sucks up to Pixeleen), get an advantage too, far greater than their cohorts. There's no automatic privilege confirmed by oldness; it's more about connection to the core of content producers and Linden hotline.
There's nothing about "feeling threatened" in pointing out the obvious: a virtual world with a thriving economy *doesn't need half-baked law students and underemployed lawyers* to set it right. It doesn't even need intelligent and thoughtful lawyers to force a contracts system *within* it. This is pretty basic stuff. Those who have deals that are sufficiently large and complex use RL contracts in RL, where they abound. Those who have smaller, less complex deals -- and sometimes these are quite innovative -- don't need a lawyer or contract to function.
The dislike and distrust of lawyers inherent in many people is one I've never shared. In fact, I've come to understand it better in Second Life. I've worked with lawyers all my life. It's never bothered me that they have law firms, collect ridiculously high fees, and seem to be arrogant and insistent on their own role. I just took that as par for the course, as lawyers often can be very helpful and instrumental in achieving things.
Yet, more and more they seem to be required for so many of life's functions like birth and death that before were occupied by other kinds of human roles that were simply less costly and more accountable. And I simply refuse to allow them to invade Second Life. I hope others will join me in this resistance.
I'm not willing to turn Second Life over to the lawyers. Hell, no. For their selfishness and greed in extracting their own profits and interests, I blame Mark Bragg and Kevin Alderman for opening up the Pandora's box of lawyers in Second Life. All it did was put blood in the water for the sharks, who sense they have a new and lucrative area now to ply their trade.
I hope other people, whether in business or non-profits in Second Life, even if they loathe me or the style in which I've written this, think deeply about what they will lose, and what's at stake if they allow lawyers to "make themselves indispensable," especially in a setting where there is no democratic government or rule of law!