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Fantasy Life, Real Law

Publication Date: 
March 08, 2007
Stephanie Francis Ward

Stephanie Francis Ward writes about a virtual Law Community, and quotes Professor Lessig in this article:

Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law School professor and technology scholar, says it's important to distinguish between MMORPGs and the Internet, in part because Second Life participants have more inter­action with people from different countries.

"As virtual places like Second Life mature and people spend more time there, the places really aren't arbitrarily related to any legal jurisdiction," says Lessig, founder of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. He also founded Creative Commons, a nonprofit group based at the law school that encourages sharing of copyrighted works. Lessig is one of Posner's former law clerks, and Creative Commons—which has a significant Second Life presence—sponsored Posner's appearance there.

"It really becomes effectively, if not legally or technically, like a new jurisdiction," Lessig says of the virtual world. "The question of how the law deals with that—I don’t think anyone has a clear sense."


It may be time to start looking for answers. Lessig mentions early trespass laws, which defined property from the "grounds to the heavens." When airplanes became common, the law no longer worked, Lessig says, and the Supreme Court adjusted it. Likewise, if Second Life allows better access to legal services, Lessig wonders, why shouldn't lawyers use it without fearing reprimands from attorney regulatory agencies?

"We ought to welcome new ways to deal with legal problems," he says. "The thing to be suspicious of is a response that is designed not so much to solve a true legal problem but to protect particular interests in the legal system."