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“The first thing we do, let’s gank all the lawyers.”

Sources:

Ren Reynolds at Terra Nova looks at Linden Labs buying back the “devauled property” of some Second Life residents.

Julian Dibbell, in pole position for the “What the Hell Is Wrong With You” 2006 award, lets the IRS know MMOs exist.

David Edery analyzes possible legal pitfalls awaiting MMOs.

My view is that we’re all breathing just a *bit* too heavily. In my I-am-so-not-a-lawyer opinion, virtual worlds are roughly analogous to my living room. To wit, using Edery’s list:

* You have no constitutionally protected rights of free expression in my living room. If I tell you to get the hell out, you have to. If you don’t, I’m within my rights to call the police. Or alternately, if I live in Texas, just shoot you. (This tends to be a sore spot with me. I am more than a little tired of people demanding “civil rights” to be asshats in MMOs.)

* If someone else sexually harasses you in my living room at a party, it’s not really my fault, honest. I’m sorry I invited the schlub, but it is pretty much his or her fault here. Just because I own the living room doesn’t mean I’m legally responsible for every crime that happens (although I am for some – you can’t do drugs, and if you get drunk, and go driving, I could get sued. The legal parallels here are somewhat unclear.)

* It’s as legal for you to gamble in my living room as it is anywhere else.

* If you’re crashing in my living room, you don’t own it. No matter how long you stay there. Really.

* If a 10 year old is operating a brothel in my living room, there’s all sorts of laws that apply here.

See, this metaphor really works!

Yes, I played a lot of the above for laughs, but honestly, here’s what I think. Our (American) legal system is broken in a great many ways. Punitive lawsuits, legal effectiveness based on who can afford the best lawyers, etc. Our tax code is broken in similar ways. Pardon me if I’d prefer to postpone the day where we have to deal with both as long as possible. And once we do, I suspect you won’t like the results – because crushing legal and tax burdens will stifle any possible innovation deader than it already is.