Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I plugged sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six

So, of course, being that it's Stupid Week on the JIRA, Solar Legion had to comment back--because in the end, he's just as stubborn as the rest of us.
I hate to break it to you - but a marketing ploy isn't a factual data bit and I am rather sick and tired of people using data points which are either utter opinion or marketing ploys meant to catch as many as possible and lull them into thinking that Second Life is something it is not.

Many a debate has been made on the premise that Second Life is a world, a country, a town ... virtual or otherwise. Each and every debate has done nothing but perpetuate a view which crosses lines that should never be crossed (as in, people who take Second Life FAR too seriously).

I'm sick of it.

In short? Don't presume to tell me that sticking to base facts is "wrong".
All right, let's break this down.

Names have power. Even silly little things like naming the structure of a thing--that has power. Even if it's only the power of categorization. In Second Life's case, is it a computer program? Of course. It's software just like any other software out there, it's code, it has rules (mostly, though because it's also a complex program, it has insane levels of overcoding and even worse glitches on occasion). In general, these rules make sense. That's what software does, after all--clothe the coding, make the hardware make sense to our inherent software, with the meat code we can't generally see. So that's fair to say.

BUT--and boy, is this a big one--Second Life is also what the Lindens say it is. It's not a marketing ploy, it's the structure of the game, really--because yes, Second Life is also a game, too, albeit one with very, very insubstantial rules.

Since Solar so mislikes people putting words in his mouth, I want to single out this statement of his for special consideration:
Many a debate has been made on the premise that Second Life is a world, a country, a town ... virtual or otherwise.
I want it clearly stated, and I want this understood: I never said, not once, at any point in the long journey this JIRA has taken, that Second Life was
  • a world
  • a country
  • a town
  • a virtual life
What I did say--and I believe, said with a fair amount of precision--is that Second Life is a virtual world service. And why did I say it in those precise terms? Because the Lindens use those precise terms.

Why?

SJ Tubrazy said, back in February of this year,
According to commentators advocating independent property rights in virtual property, an e-mail account is a form of virtual property. By extension, another type of unique user account is also virtual property. A domain name, too, is virtual property. The example of an item existing in the context of a virtual world, such as an online game, is also virtual property. Even a bank account is a form of virtual property. One commentator has also suggested that, notwithstanding their substantial removal from the technological medium in which other types of virtual property inhere, the "screen names" assigned by the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) are a form of virtual property. If this is true, then, other unique identifiers, such as a phone number or a street address, are virtual property, as well. The putative scope of virtual property’s legal definition is therefore expansive—broader than its lay definition by far.
What does that mean? It's a small but growing collection of legal documents, rulings, court transcripts, and arguments that separate "virtual property" (see Second Life) from "software", and it's an important legal difference. It's part of what allows the Lindens to operate as a (mostly) safe harbor. It's what allows them to stand up in court and defend their actions when seizing a resident's virtual property--because if their product was just software, just legally software, the courts could order it to change, and the Lindens would have to comply. As holders of virtual property, and a virtual world service (that's the vital part there, that end word, service)--they are not responsible for everything that goes on in that service, but they are responsible for the service itself.

Or let's use Bettina Chin's words in her 2007 Brooklyn Law Review extract:
Because non-virtual harms often arise in cyberspace and in the exploitation of the Web, service providers must take steps in order to legally protect themselves and, to an unfortunately lesser extent, Internet users. One step that service providers customarily take is to employ governing documents, such as end-user license agreements ("EULAs"), terms of service agreements, and rules of conduct, that dictate the appropriate behavior and rights of users and the service providers themselves. These governing systems of regulation constitute the initial crossover between cyberspace and the real world. Therefore, although governing documents are ultimately inadequate to protect Second Life users, residents interested in commencing a legal action should first refer to these documents to determine what rights they retain at the outset and what actions they may take when they sustain injury in the virtual space.
Second Life has to be what the Lindens term it, not only because naming claims a thing, but because legally they would forfeit certain protections were it not a virtual world service. Solar can rant all he wants in his bitter little corner about how it's just software, and sure, physically (and to a certain extent logically), software is what it is--in the most general sense. The more specific definition, though, is what Linden Labs themselves use in their legally binding Terms of Service, which is: virtual world service. That, at the end of the day, is what Second Life is, legally, as an entity; and no amount of whining on Solar's part is going to change it.

In brief? Stop yer bitchin', kid, this one's out of your league.

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