Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Greg Lastowka's "Virtual Justice"

Greg Lastowka is a Professor of Law at Rutgers University. He teaches and researches the laws of intellectual property and new technology.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds, and reported the following:
Virtual Justice is a book written for the general reader who is interested in learning about the novel questions raised by the intersection of law and virtual reality. Given my intended audience, I devote a large introductory section to stories designed to bring readers up to speed on the history, technology, culture, and business models of virtual worlds.

By page 99, though, I'm hitting my stride and I am well into the main theme of my book: how new laws and rules are being created and enforced in virtual worlds.

In the real world, if your property is stolen or you are physically assaulted, you might call the police. In virtual worlds, when your property is stolen or your avatar is victimized, you look instead to the rules and remedies provided by the owners of these platforms.

The middle of page 99 describes how this works:
In Second Life, users can submit “abuse reports,” which are the designated channel for complaints about violations of the community standards. The Second Life Knowledge Base states:

Abuse happens when anyone violates the Terms of Service (TOS) or the Community Standards (CS). Every Resident when they register an account for Second Life agrees to abide by these rules....

Whenever you see one of these rules being broken, and you believe it to be intentional or malicious, everyone present at the incident should file an abuse report. The abuse reporting system exists to make the Second Lives of Residents more pleasant and satisfying.
So there we have the basics of the Second Life social contract. I go on to note, however, that virtual world owners generally disclaim any obligations to enforce the community rules that they unilaterally impose. I also discuss the question of whether these private rules
provide users with any legal rights vis-a-vis each other.

So the page 99 test worked well for me. The discussion there is at the heart of what I'm doing in Virtual Justice, explaining how creators of virtual worlds use contract law to govern online societies and create their own virtual jurisdictions. The rest of the book carries that point further, discussing how the laws of computer hacking, property, and intellectual property all serve to augment the legal authority of virtual world owners with respect to online communities.
Learn more about Virtual Justice at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue