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Can Avatars Make Contracts?

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the +1-tax-ledger-of-smiting dept.

The Courts 134

edadams sends in a story about the legal questions that are starting to crop up over property disputes in virtual worlds. A lawsuit in March 2008 that stopped one Second Life user from selling a virtual product created by another user marked the beginning of a significant amount of casework for several law firms, in large part due to the way Second Life's currency interacts closely with real money. (And yes, apparently the product in that particular case was for cybersex — did you have to ask?) "As transactions grow in volume, it's inevitable that disagreements will crop up. Linden says that although it will enforce its terms of service, including its ban on violating other users' intellectual property, it can't settle most disputes for users." A lawyer for one intellectual property firm handled a case in which the co-ownership of virtual real estate had to be determined, ending with a financial settlement given to two users who helped a virtual land developer run a group of Second Life islands. As virtual worlds get more popular and their business models more directly affect real-life finances, we can expect these legal issues to become more common as well.

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Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (5, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773419)

... (And yes, apparently the product in that particular case was for cybersex -- did you have to ask?) ...

Wow! They've productized cybersex? I thought it was a service! Is it over-the-counter yet? Does it come in a gel or powder that I apply to my genitals? I have so many questions on how it works. Can I get it delivered to my house discretely? Brilliant move but the physics are still a little confusing to me.

Re:Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773711)

Brilliant move but the physics are still a little confusing to me.

Me too. Cybersex is easier to get than money. Apparenty retards stay that way, no matter how many lives you give them.

Re:Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (1)

ouimetch (1433125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773781)

I guess this is one way to think outside of the box in tough economic times...

Re:Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (2, Informative)

ThomConspicuous (1004135) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773947)

"product in that particular case was for cybersex"
I thought the same thing at first...but the case was in regards to a product used for cybersex.

Re:Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (3, Interesting)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774389)

>Wow! They've productized cybersex?

It was a product line with a variety of custom made animations, each of which represents dozens or hundreds of hours of work, and is by all means a tangible medium of expression and as such is subject to copyright law.

Re:Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774417)

Can't those avatar contracts be called "avatracts"? It seems silly to regulate virtual contracts if there is no hidden real-world contracting going on inside these avatracts.

Re:Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (2, Funny)

bob.appleyard (1030756) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774421)

Can I get it delivered to my house discretely?

What, as in one at a time?

I'll get my coat...

Re:Product? I Thought It Was a Service! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27775431)

It is over a crafted & scripted object USED for that act, not the act itself.

Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (4, Insightful)

Lordfly (590616) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773467)

If you signed your name on an actual contract, you're liable for the contract. If, on the other hand, you're an idiot and sign it with your Second Life avatar (or Slashdot ID for that matter), I would imagine the contract is at least called into heavy question.

I did contract work in SL for 3 years. I always signed my name on real, mailed-over contracts. I had to do work with other contractors, though, who in a fit of privacy histrionics, refused to divulge any part of their private life to these real-world companies they were working for, and thus "signed" a "contract" inside the virtual world.

Not surprisingly, they either didn't last long doing contract work or got so heavily ostracized for their insanity they never got another call again.

In short, don't be a moron. Get a real contract, in real paper, and sign it with your real name (and make sure they do too!)

Anything else is just roleplay.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1, Offtopic)

Reason58 (775044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773563)

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure a contract isn't valid, if it is for an illegal activity (e.g. you can't uphold a contract to be a slave, you can't uphold a contract for prostitution [cybersex], etc).

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

Lordfly (590616) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773703)

What does that have to do with anything? The summary is stupid; the lawsuit is over a product that enhances cybersex, not the cybersex itself.

In short, virtual dildos. Yes, it's big money. Well, it was. Now the poor guy is fighting a ton of copyright infringement lawsuits as well.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

Reason58 (775044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773785)

Of course I didn't RTFA! Anyway, it seems like their just might be some prior art on this.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774961)

I don't think they tried to patent it, just sell it.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (0)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773953)

Are there THAT many people that use this thing, and actually spend REAL money on it???

Whew...get a life in meatspace why don't ya?

Seriously, while I've not every been to or used Second Life, as I understand it, it isn't even a game like the WoW type things, right? So, what do people do, just mull around in a virtual world, and spend real money to do it?

I guess I don't see the appeal.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27774257)

Lots of people don't see the appeal of driving Porsches, but you don't hear them ostracizing YOU over it, right?

Why are you so judgemental?

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774639)

"Lots of people don't see the appeal of driving Porsches, but you don't hear them ostracizing YOU over it, right?"

Actually I'd say that most people DO see the appeal of driving a Porsche. I can only guess you are assuming I had one due to my name? Actually I had the moniker way before Porsche started making fscking SUV's....I was going for the chile pepper.

I did have one pre-Katrina....911 Turbo...it was sweet, but, R.I.P.

But it just caught me off guard that something like a virtual world where you just wonder around, could get to the point to where you'd spend and even earn real money in meatspace.

I guess while I could see it as something as a passing fancy, or to kill some free time, I have a hard time seeing stuff like that as being something that would take so much time and energy from the real world with real people and real things to do that it would come to costing lawyer fees.

And spending money on cybersex with cyber dildos? Heck, take that same money, and I'd dare say you could find willing people to do whatever you want in the REAL world, with human contact other than your own.

Re: "What to do with a Cyberworld" (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775021)

You're not creative enough, my friend.

You are assuming hanging in Cyberworlds "trashes your FirstLife" because *currently* it requires staying moderately still staring at a computer.

Watch what happens when you can visit SecondLife hands-free with monitor glasses while stuck in a meatspace queue waiting for something.

"Without enhancements" that's less than 5 years away. (But without-enhancements means a TRULY atrocious interface.)

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (2, Informative)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775179)

Most MMO's involve walking around doing stupid stuff without much real point.

In WoW and such, it's gaining levels. There's no end game, so there isn't really a "point" to it other than entertainment and distraction.

In Second Life, there are actually I'd say a lot more ways to entertain yourself, and a "point" that is a lot closer to reality than other MMO's. CAD type folks would enjoy the modeling aspect of it - SL started as just flat land boarderd by water, Avatars, and the basis for an economy, i.e. Lindens which were based on the US dollar. Everything else (outside the tutorial area) was built by SL players.

This was the basis for litterally, a "second life" with its own economy, only it was primarily design and modeling skills that allowed one to become "rich" in SL. The cool thing was, making millions a year in SL meant making hundreds of thousands a year in the real world. Not a bad gig really. That is until the Second Life Banking Crisis of 2007.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

GigG (887839) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774757)

Apparently they have cybersex and need to enhance it.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

tonyreadsnews (1134939) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776479)

So, what do people do, just mull around on the internet, and spend real money to do it?

There fixed that for ya.
And yes, lots of people spend lots of money on websites, consulting, webpage making and such, which all takes place within a browser (or skype, whatever). Why would an extension of internet into a 3D space be any different?

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27777349)

Because it's not an extension of the internet into 3D space, it's the fucking Sims with strapons and fursuits.

Just because you can make it SOUND reasonable doesn't mean you're not blowing a load of bullshit.

SL isn't anything more than a perverted little playground that wouldn't amount to shit had there not been many closet furfags writing for business rags about how oh-cool and next-gen and revenue-generating-for-your-company SL is -- anyone with any sense can see through the bullshit, but seeing the bullshit past the buzzwords is not how marketing operates.

I'm so fucking sick of hearing about this piece of shit. The graphics weren't even modern when the game first came out. It's like an MMO circa 1998, just with more giant flying cocks and suspiciously young human-looking sex pets.. even if I was making 6 figures IRL in SL there is not a chance in hell I'd let anyone know I was in any way involved with that sick fuckfest of a game.

This article is about people arguing over selling VIRTUAL DILDOS? Here's a tip, there is no such thing as a virtual dildo. There's only pictures of dildos. That's all. Maybe it's a moving picture. It's still going to have about a whole 7 fucking polygons, nothing beats a picture of a dildo that's all boxy and sharp and barely recognizable. People are spending REAL MONEY on bad pictures of dildos? Look, here's a really important thing you need to know, Slashdot. If you or anyone you know is spending their actual, real money buying pictures of dildos and they think somehow that makes them happy, there is some serious mental problems going down and professional help is required. Or hell, buy them some smack! It's a healthier habit, at least smackheads get outside and have sex with real (dirty) people!

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (3, Interesting)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773721)

a contract isn't valid, if it is for an illegal activity...you can't uphold a contract for prostitution

Prostitution isn't illegal everywhere. Just try to renege on your obligation to pay for personal services in Amsterdam and see who the cops throw in jail.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775755)

a contract isn't valid, if it is for an illegal activity...you can't uphold a contract for prostitution

Prostitution isn't illegal everywhere. Just try to renege on your obligation to pay for personal services in Amsterdam and see who the cops throw in jail.

Good luck getting as far as the cops.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (4, Insightful)

Gorm the DBA (581373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773739)

Be very careful about that assumption...

Many (most?) state's laws regarding prostitution require actual physical contact (or the promise of same), so, since a digital being can't perform physical contact, an agreement to "I'll let you enter commands on Second life that will show animations where your avatar appears to be fucking mine and use poseballs to enhance the animation for 30 minutes for 1000 Linden" actually *might be* valid. (assuming all the other requirements for a contract are met)

Regardless, though...the contract in question here wasn't actually *for* cybersex, it was for the creation and ownership of a digital thing *used in* Cybersex...and that sort of contract would almost certainly be enforceable, assuming all the other requirements were met.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773889)

True but its not real sex, its really no different than phone sex which is legal.

Unless there is some things that the operator isn't allowed to say that skirts the law, but as far as I know its legal

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (3, Interesting)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775051)

"Cybersex" is not prostitution. It's more like writing erotic poetry (sans skill).

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (3, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773631)

Ultimately for a contract to be valid, both sides have to agree to it. The signing a piece of paper isn't required. "Paint my house and I'll give you $100" is a contract (assuming it's a genuine offer). The only problem is it's hard to prove that I agreed.

So, you can agree to a contract via your avatar, but considering the nature of Second Life, there's a decent argument that nobody believed it was a genuine agreement.

In short, don't be a moron. Get a real contract, in real paper, and sign it with your real name (and make sure they do too!)

Yes!

IAAL but not a SL expert... (5, Informative)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773807)

Ultimately for a contract to be valid, both sides have to agree to it.

Exactly. Plus, the Statute of Frauds requires certain transactions to be documented in a signed "writing." But what is a "writing" under the law? Does this mean hard copy? Will the courts really enforce the Statute of Frauds strictly enough to avoid liability under electronic contracts as the Internet proliferates? Now that handwriting software and peripherals are an alternative to keyboard input, the signature requirement of the Statute of Frauds may no longer be an issue.

And what about the three-day right of rescission afforded consumers in certain transactions in California? For example, home solicitation contracts may be rescinded within three days of formation of the contract. These agreements are the result of solicitations by vendors at the consumer's home. The consumer must be provided with a hard-copy form that simply requires his or her signature and mailing within the three day period to void the contract. This "change of mind" provision may or may not apply to solicitations on the Internet if received on a PC at home. But perhaps they should. Likewise, seminar sales solicitations also allow a three-day right of rescission under different provisions of the California Civil Code.

And what about the Mailbox Rule? If contracts are accepted upon dispatch, does the sending of email cut off the right of an offeror to withdraw his or her offer notwithstanding the fact that the emailed acceptance has not yet been received? And what if the offeror sends his or her withdrawal of the offer before the acceptance is emailed, but the withdrawal is not received until after dispatch of the acceptance? Issues such as these must be addressed within the context of a technology that causes email delivery to be unpredictable and delivery records to be easily manipulated. The solution to these issues may be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as the specific fact patterns surface in the courts. However, a more efficient approach would be legislative committee research and formulation of a set of commercial statutes that will accommodate virtual contracts before litigation proliferates. Legislatures need not be visionaries to anticipate and resolve the inadequacy of present-day commercial law. The "Internet Commercial Code" would facilitate the free flow of commerce in the new medium and avoid the unnecessary burden of what is now foreseeable litigation. Indeed, an organization called the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws is already working on a revised Uniform Commercial Code that will accommodate the new legal issues created by virtual contracts.

=Smidge=

Re:IAAL but not a SL expert... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27775273)

http://west.thomson.com/productdetail/13491/40072367/productdetail.aspx answers all these questions, and more! Or just find your local 1st year law student and get some mostly correct answers to these questions. :)

One quick note: you state "does the sending of email cut off the right of an offeror to withdraw his or her offer notwithstanding the fact that the emailed acceptance has not yet been received? And what if the offeror sends his or her withdrawal of the offer before the acceptance is emailed, but the withdrawal is not received until after dispatch of the acceptance? Issues such as these must be addressed within the context of a technology that causes email delivery to be unpredictable and delivery records to be easily manipulated."

Reply: Do you think the unpredictable delivery of email is less predictable than snail mail (upon which these rules are based)? Clearly not. Courts use the same framework for email and snail mail (generally).

No chance of getting a revised UCC in place across many states IMHO. The most recent revised UCC article 2 has hardly been adopted (I think something like 4 states). Existing contract law adequately handles most of these disputes.

Remember - most "contract law" relates to the construction/interpretation of a contract. Most "rules" can be modified by the contract or offer itself (few mandatory rules exist). The solution is to draft your contract, and RTFC.

Efficiency: economics and law folks have a lot to say on this. Should our default rules be so harsh that the drafter is forced to specifically address these issues in the contract? Or should the default rules attempt to effectuate a reasonable intent of the parties? Should we even bother to guess at what the parties intended? Should we encourage "efficient breach"?

One quick answer, the Statute of Frauds (Restatement 2d section 110 & UCC 2-201) has 3 requirements for the writing: 1) it must evidence a contract for the sale of goods 2) it must be "signed" (any authentication will do) 3)it MUST SPECIFY A QUANTITY (the key element).

You seem to think a signature is required, read the comments to UCC 2-201. No offense, but if you are a member of the bar, you could use some CLE on this I think.

Remember, the Statute of Frauds applies ONLY to SALES OF GOODS, not to contracts for services.

Note there are exceptions to the SoF - contracts between merchants, specially manufactured goods, acceptance of goods etc.

Re:IAAL but not a SL expert... (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775387)

Right of rescission applies only to physical products, not services. I suspect cybersex would be regarded as a service, even if software is transferred in order to perform that service. You can't rescind your contract with your housekeeper after he has already cleaned your house! I'm not sure about the enforcability of a contract to perform a service that was illegal in the first place.

Re:IAAL but not a SL expert... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775441)

They weren't selling [virtual] sex, but software to assist with the act of virtual sex, so who cares? In any case, I can't wait until cyberprostitution is made illegal. Won't someone think of the cyberhookers?

IANAL and not a SL person either (2, Insightful)

Cro Magnon (467622) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773875)

But as I see it, there should be no problem signing contracts as $AVATAR - for strictly SL (or other virtual world) activity. As soon as RL enters the picture (including RL money), I agree, use your real identity.

Re:IANAL and not a SL person either (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775841)

I think the point here is that now SL and RL currencies are linked by a transaction rate, blurring that distinction, and thus creating the legal squabble.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773949)

In some cases, a digital signature (of the cryptographic kind, not the Slashdot ID kind) can be used as a legally-recognized signature. In some places. Not all places recognize such signatures, and not all places that do will recognize it for all types of contract. Your mileage WILL vary whether you like it or not.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

jdoverholt (1229898) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776245)

U.S. Federal law actually provides a great deal of protection for digital signatures and authentication methods in a variety of contexts. See the Digital Signature and Electronic Authentication Law (SEAL) of 1998 [wikipedia.org] (Fulltext [loc.gov] ) for financial institutions, or more broadly the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act [wikipedia.org] (Fulltext [loc.gov] ).

(Not a lawyer, just an interested citizen)

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27774007)

The elements of a contract are mutual assent (offer, acceptance and meeting of the minds) consideration and absence of defects (such as lack of capacity or fraud). A signature is only one way of showing acceptance. Actions can also show acceptance. When you press "I accept" or something similar on an econtract, you accepted (though if someone who was not you accepted for you you could use a fraud defense assuming you can prove it was more likely than not someone else acted without your consent).

The medium through which a contract is formed does not matter. EULAS and TOS stand regardless of the electronic format. Having an avatar act as an online electronic agent for your RL self is still binding, assuming you are in control of the avatar. It is unclear what happens if you get hacked. Personally, I disagree with the trend to try to make one liable for all misuses of ones accounts, and i think if the defendant can show fraud and unauthorized use, the contract should not stand.

If avatars work in a virtual economy tied to real money, the contracts formed through avatar interaction are valid, whether you have a paper contract and real signature or not. However, given the logic of protecting yourself from a fraud defense of some sort, I can understand refusing to do business where significant amounts of money are involved unless you get confirmation of the other parties real identity. The contract can only be pure RP if no lindens are exchanged, because lindens are tied to real money. Think about the legal problems of gambling with lindens. It was arguably RP but if people won something that turned into money, various legal issues are triggered.

Not legal advice, just a few definitions and general conversation. IAMYL.

Please mod parent up. (0, Offtopic)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774191)

Mod AC up please.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

averner (1341263) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775475)

When you press "I accept" or something similar on an econtract, you accepted (though if someone who was not you accepted for you you could use a fraud defense assuming you can prove it was more likely than not someone else acted without your consent).

So then you're going to sue my cat for walking on my keyboard?

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775563)

It was arguably RP but if people won something that turned into money, various legal issues are triggered.

Almost anything can be monetized. Almost any MMOG currency has a reasonably stable market value, and you can operate with it without any tax hit, or any records being kept. I'm sure somewhere out there, people are using MMOG currency to evade taxes too.

I think making a distinction between "virtual" anything and "real" anything is foolish. The concern I'd have with a virtual contract is how to hold the party to the contract. I'm not sure how to sue "Sephir0z!!!@LOL!". Linden Labs, in this case, may have a name and address for this person, but it'd be really hard to know if he himself actually entered into the contract.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774391)

Can Avatars Make Contracts?

No, and the unborn should not be given the right to vote or own handguns.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27776005)

But without handguns, how are the unborn going to protect themselves from zombies?

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27774493)

Anything else is just roleplay.

Or in this case, foreplay.

Re:Cue the Second Life expert (but not a lawyer) (1)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775455)

Interesting. So if I change my wireless service via the internet using an avatar (account) I created with them.. I'm not reall liable for the charges?

Cyberlaw (4, Funny)

Reason58 (775044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773489)

Trying to get the long arm of the law around cybersex cases could be a really sticky situation.

You've got to hand it to them though.

Re:Cyberlaw (2, Funny)

ouimetch (1433125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773605)

What exactly am I sticking to my hands?

Re:Cyberlaw (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27775695)

What exactly am I sticking to my hands?

Yep, that's the joke, all right. Good job, your autism seems to be clearing up a little.

Re:Cyberlaw (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773789)

Cybersex is really just interactive pornography. I think this is how the law would see it anyway.

Re:Cyberlaw (3, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774239)

A legal reacharound?

Ewwwwwww...

Can Avatars Make Contracts? (1)

ubrgeek (679399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773537)

Hey, if androids can dream of electric sheep, why shouldn't avatars get into the fun? ;)

Re:Can Avatars Make Contracts? (0)

Reason58 (775044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773601)

Hey, if androids can dream of electric sheep, why shouldn't avatars get into the fun? ;)

Perhaps you are an avatar and you don't even know it.

Re:Perhaps you are an avatar (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775067)

+1 Android Sisters from Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe.

Now we need virtual lawyers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27773673)

Too ban lawyers aren't virtual people.

is this really all that important? (5, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773707)

I'm not the biggest geek in the world but I consider myself to still be very geeky and I find this to be the most pointless waste of time and effort I've heard about since Twitter. Virtual lawsuits? Only if I can DM the lawyers.

I don't think us geeks are going to be complaining about the music kids listen to these days or getting off the lawn, we'll just bitch about how the impractical and useless the latest techno-geek fad is. "Twitter? What, blogs with RSS updates aren't good enough for you, son? Back in my day--"

"Back in your day your CPU only had one core and you liked it, right? Your polygons didn't even have textures, you had to customize your config.sys and autoexec.bat just to play--"

"Aw, shut up. And get off my lawn."

Re:is this really all that important? (1)

CHK6 (583097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773849)

If I had the mod points I would give them to you. What you said is not only funny, but insightful. And the metatag "getafirstlife" is so true to.

Re:is this really all that important? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773969)

I dunno. It would be kind of handy to be able to @toad lawyer.

Re:is this really all that important? (2, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774525)

As virtual worlds get more popular and their business models more directly affect real-life finances

I think some people just take it for granted that virtual worlds will become more popular and business will become more and more active in them and even dependent on them. However, I think this remains to be seen.

Anyone seen real numbers on Second Life recently? I always thought the whole thing was a bit silly and poorly thought-out. I know a couple years ago there was a period of months were lots of people were talking about Second Life and it was even in the news, but I don't hear much about it these days. I almost wouldn't be surprised if this lawsuit was being engineered or at least promoted by Linden Lab to try to build up hype and legitimacy.

Can an avatar be held to a contract? Ok, whatever. Prosecute the avatar for fraud and throw him in Second Life prison. Yeah, we're pretending that Second Life is interesting or matters.

Yes, I know people have real money in Second Life. People have real money in online poker, too, but that doesn't make it a valid economy.

Re:is this really all that important? (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777075)

The idea that you could be sued in the real world for something you do while playing a computer game isn't going to appeal to most people.

Re:is this really all that important? (1)

Reapy (688651) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777639)

Yeah I feel like SL really dropped the ball, they are slow to introduce new tech. I think I started looking at it when it hit the news and still think the concept of it is fascinating and a great start to something, but it really just smells of wasted potential when you take a look at it now a days. Sure they put some new shaders in there and physics models, but everything still runs slow as hell, the avatars are primitave as hell (sure the 3d modelers/texture people have gotten WAY WAY better at hiding it) but is still the same old school avatar it always was. Animation implementation is awkward at best, and there are just way too many band aid fixes to things.

Re:is this really all that important? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774853)

> I find this to be the most pointless waste of time and effort I've heard about since Twitter.

Actually Twitter has some valid uses, but spending our courts' time on imaginary problems of imaginary crimes against imaginary property in an imaginary world ought to be forbidden by congress.

What further evidence do you need that there are way too many lawyers in the world?

Its way past time for some people to get a life (a flesh and blood life) and grow the fuck up!

There! I've vented on Slash dot. I feel better now.

Argh . . . I run screaming away! (4, Insightful)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773737)

IAAL and the last thing--the very last thing--that I want to do in a computer game is form legally binding relationships. Today it's contracts and cybersex. Tomorrow its libel and "You wrongfully damaged the value of my avatar!"

If I get in a contract dispute in a computer game, I don't want to end up in court--I want a virtual duel with swords or pistols! I want to be able to cheat somebody in a (virtual) contract and laugh at them down the barrel of a plasma blaster when they complain.

Some MMOGs want to create a game environment that can get people sued in real life--all the while disclaiming ANY liability on their part for the social cost of such wasteful, stupid lawsuits. I'll run, screaming, away from such utter lunacy.

But, hey, its good business for lawyers . . . what the hell!

Re:Argh . . . I run screaming away! (1)

ubrgeek (679399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773925)

I want a virtual duel with swords or pistols!

I'm sure there's a joke somewhere about "prior restraint" :)

Re:Argh . . . I run screaming away! (2, Interesting)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773959)

So, I take it you play EVE Online.

Re:Argh . . . I run screaming away! (1)

Sobrique (543255) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774825)

No, he said 'swords and pistols' not Tachyon Beams and Ion Blasters.

Re:Argh . . . I run screaming away! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27774267)

SL is not a "game", it is a virtual world. Some see it as a predecessor of a 3D Internet. Instead of websites, people have lands or stores or space where they create and display virtual goods and art. SL virtual objects can link to traditional websites where people can sell real world goods. Also, SL objects can give people information in more interesting ways than 2d websites and allow more engaging interaction and collaborations. Educators use SL (and not just for sex ed) and so do librarians. I won't bore you with the spiel on artist, band promotions and the like, but unless you enter a gaming area or create a game on your land, SL is more like a social and commercial networking site, albeit with dragons and furies.

Does seeing it as a 3d network with real commercial potential for it's users make this dispute more reasonable? Can you imagine tell Amazon that your econtract with them was part of a "game" because it took place on the computer and there cartoon like graphics and virtual pictures of goods on their website? I would like to see you challenge Amazon to some sort of virtual game duel instead of paying them cash, but somehow I don't think they will accept that.

Re:Argh . . . I run screaming away! (1)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777379)

SL is not a "game", it is a virtual world.

While Linden Labs would like us to believe that, it's just more crap to sort through to get the information I want. You say the "virtual objects" link to a traditional website? Why wouldn't I just head right to the website and skip the middleman?

Also, SL objects can give people information in more interesting ways than 2d websites and allow more engaging interaction and collaborations.

I'd love an example of how information is somehow "enhanced" by presenting it in a 3D format. Do you believe that applies to music? Even Duran Duran tried to get a concert going on SL and gave up. Works of art? Will seeing the Mona Lisa in a 3D representation somehow make it more informative or entertaining?

I'm not telling people they shouldn't enjoy SL. I'm just not buying the Linden Labs spiel that it's the "wave of the future". It sure sounds good to the investors, though...

Re:Argh . . . I run screaming away! (2, Funny)

dcollins (135727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776453)

IAAL... I want to be able to cheat somebody in a (virtual) contract and laugh at them down the barrel of a plasma blaster when they complain.

Confirmed: That's definitely a lawyer.

What? (1, Insightful)

greyhueofdoubt (1159527) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773841)

>>As virtual worlds get more popular and their business models more directly affect
>>real-life finances, we can expect these legal issues to become more common as well.

These things are becoming *more* popular? Have I been getting out *too* much?

God save us all. Pretty soon the English language will consist only of the letters l,o, R, U, s, t, and f.

-b

Re:What? (2, Funny)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774193)

Pretty soon the English language will consist only of the letters l,o, R, U, s, t, and f.

-b

I can solves puzzle?

Re:What? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775533)

Sure, that covers ROFL and STFU, but you also need "B" and "W" for BFF, BRB, and WTF.
'K bye.

Avatar Contract (2, Insightful)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 5 years ago | (#27773865)

This is such a dumb question and here is the scenario: say I play a businesswoman online. Now say my little brother gets ahold of my account while I'm in the bathroom and decides that I'm going to prostitute myself and gets into a binding contract. Did my avatar make the contract or my little brother THROUGH the avatar? When I get back to the keyboard is my avatar to be punished because they were 'possessed' by the spirit of my little brother?

Impossible to enforce. If there were an in game judicial system, it would be treated as temporary insanity. To which you would also NEED a judicial system for arbitration. This introduces lawyers. And now the game becomes a PVP free for all.

Re:Avatar Contract (1)

debrain (29228) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774801)

As a general rule you are not bound to contracts to which you did not agree. In this case, you likely wouldn't be bound to the contract because you didn't give your little brother authority to make the contract. Contracts are simply enforceable promises, a meeting of the mind, a quid-pro-quo as between two capable individuals.

However, even if there is no contrat there are extra-contractual remedies available through the law in certain cases. For example, if the person on the other side was under the impression that the avatar was being run by you, and it was reasonable for them to believe that you were entering into the contract in good faith, and he relied upon it, he may have an equitable claim for some form of restitution. This would be especially true if you benefited from the contract, but then you decided to renege on the basis that your agent didn't have authority-- the other person may make a claim to get back the benefit you received.

As a general rule, the law will not force you to compensate for damages (or worse, "specifically enforce" you to complete the contract- a variation on slavery) for something which you or an authorized agent of yours have not entered into an agreement for, and where you have not benefited, and where the other side has not suffered detriment.

This is a mix of first principles of contract law and agency, and in particular the formation of the contract, but there's a flavour of equity in there too (viz. unjust enrichment).

It's not a simple question because balancing the questions of fairness requires a rather erudite consideration of the policy rationale behind the promises we wish to uphold or otherwise provide compensation for when broken.

Re:Avatar Contract (1)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775097)

Precisely, it is for the reasons you listed that the party trying to enforce any contract would find it impossible. I think in terms of a 'contract' for online avatars, the 'quest' is the closest thing to a contract. The QUEST is already an agreement between an NPC and a PC for exchange of goods and services rendered.

Should one be able to do this in game then we are talking not about contracts in game but about playing created content; the PC gets to create QUESTS for other PC's. They then enter into a contract between their two avatars and upon completion of contract, goods or services are exchanged. The contract can be broken easily enough without penalty. But yes, in this sense we are talking about player created content.

Re:Avatar Contract (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777105)

There has also got to be an intention to form a contract. If you are playing a computer game, there probably isn't the expectation that such an intention exists.

Of course avatars can sign contracts (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774069)

Sure. Why not? If you can do work and exchange value there, you're going to need contracts. Avatars are just remote connections of humans. Just as you can commit to a contract via telegram, phone, fax, and web page, you can commit to one through an avatar.

It's possible to create works of art and music in Second Life. All the usual copyright issues apply. This will be more of an issue as the technology improves. We already have "Myspace bands." Bands have already played in Second Life, including a few big names.

In some circumstances, NPCs can create contracts. A vending machine, for example, creates a contract with you when you insert coins. If you don't get the product, you can sue the company operating the vending machine. The vending machine is an agent of the seller, acting within its authority. That's settled law (and a real issue for vending machines that sell things like iPods). The same legal concept applies to NPCs. This all derives from ancient law of master and servant.

Re:Of course avatars can sign contracts (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774411)

Inanimate objects cannot sign anything! It's like asking if a sock-puppet can sign a contract. Try signing a real contract with a puppet on your hand and see if they sue you or the puppet.

An avatar is not a sentient being and cannot sign for anything. It can, however, be your extension and you can sign through it.

Now, as to whether a contract signed in a virtual reality world is a valid, binding contract or not is a different story. Personally, I feel it's as binding as the world's administration makes it. If they refuse to settle disputes at all, the contracts are worthless. (Yes, the admins running the servers are the government in this case.)

Re:Of course avatars can sign contracts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27775267)

If Click through EULAs are legal then so is this, all that's different is the interface, it happens to be 3D.
What's the stupid question about avatars signing contracts? It's the player's behind the avatar who retain the legal liability, it's dead simple. Why should the medium of communication affect anything?

Re:Of course avatars can sign contracts (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776419)

(Yes, the admins running the servers are the government in this case.)

No, they're not. They're just a provider of communications services. Your phone company and ISP have no role in dispute resolution in deals you make with other parties.

IANAL, but IAALS and have a Contracts Final Soon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27774115)

Whether contracts can be formed through avatars is actually a rather subjective question. The critical question is whether the parties objectively manifested an intention to be legally bound. This might be more likely in Second Life than WoW, for instance. My guess would be no, because there's still a fantasy qualify to Second Life. Or, at least, it wouldn't be reasonable to assume that other players were taking it seriously.

Then there's the whole contracts against public policy thing. "Meretricious" contracts (i.e., where sex is part of the consideration exchanged) will not be enforced by the courts.

Analysis of these two issues would be moderately interesting, at least when compared with tomorrow's Civil Procedure final...

(IANAL, this is not legal advice, etc...)

To quoth the late George Carlin: (3, Funny)

mmalove (919245) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774209)

Selling's legal.
Fucking's legal.

Why isn't selling fucking legal?

Thank you internets, for bringing this time old question back in yet a new way.

Ping-Pong Popper (1)

Cazekiel (1417893) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774223)

I played on secondlife for a while. It was the most irritating thing in the universe. My avatar would get in a zone, take three steps and BAM, lag. Nothing. But. Lag. It shocked the heck outta me when I learned how much people would pay to do business there. $1k for an island, when you can barely walk around without crashing your computer? Surely, you jest.

I wonder if the item in question was the ping-pong-ball-in-the-butt popper. Now THAT was funny.

I am incredulous (4, Funny)

Nerdposeur (910128) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774301)

I cannot believe that people are interested in playing a GAME where you have to hire land developers and sort out legal contracts. What's next, Virtual Tax Filing and Online Toilet Sanitation?

Re:I am incredulous (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27774697)

that's because Second Life is not a GAME. It's a virtual world.

What's the difference? How can you "win" in Second Life? there's no goal or objective.

Re:I am incredulous (1)

Auraiken (862386) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777111)

there's no goal or objective.

According to the story itself, it looks like there is one now.

Re:I am incredulous (1)

Cajun Hell (725246) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774957)

I want to go to the yard work simulator!

Re:I am incredulous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27775313)

I cannot believe that people are interested in playing a GAME where you have to hire land developers and sort out legal contracts. What's next, Virtual Tax Filing and Online Toilet Sanitation?

Oh, the old OTS! Of course... I used to play that on the Apple IIe before there was an online version and we just called it TS.

Re:I am incredulous (1)

drewvr6 (1400341) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776505)

Yeah, I have to spend 2 hours a week mowing my virtual lawn around my virutal house. I put a lamp close to my head to get the effect of the sun beating down on me.

Re:I am incredulous (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776629)

How about a game where you just drive a bus through the desert for 8 hours? Oh wait... it's already been done! [torrentfreak.com]

Is this about religion? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774305)

Because Christians are betting that they can :)

Misleading subject line (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774333)

This doesn't have anything to do with 'avatars making contracts' as if some intelligent agents were negotiating deals on their own behalf. This seems to resemble something like an electronic stock exchange. Where there are rules by which the participants (real life people) agree to abide by. And even if some 'intelligent agent' makes a decision to buy or sell, its just like program trading. Its done on behalf of the users standing behind those agents. Many of the transactions on such exchanges exist purely within the realm of that on line world. But if the consequences of one results in a financial obligation in 'the real world', the people behind the programs are obliged to pay up.

I'd like to see a legal discussion about the day when one of these avatars, or agents, becomes sentient and, of its own volition, enters into a contract.

IDANAL (0, Troll)

RawJoe (712281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27774857)

but i wish my wife let me

I'd like to see this happen in Eve Online (1)

jdh3.1415 (800944) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775139)

IMHO, Eve Online is much more commerce oriented than Second Life. The makers, CCP, support a pseudo mechanism for real to virtual currency excahnge. A player can use real money to buy a game card, then sell the game code to another player for virutal money. So, there is market established exchange rate.

CCP actually encourages all manner of double dealing, back stabbing, and fraud. Fruad is part of the game. The game's history is littered with scams where large groups of players will loose months of work because another trusted player rips them off. Unlike many other games, the game masters never intervene in these cases.

So, I wonder what would happen if two parties enter into an agreement. Party A actually expects B to perform. B knows he's going to scam A and sees it as "just part of the game." Then, A sues B. Would the "it's just a game" defense work? What if A says, "In this case I really expected A to perform. Srsly!"

Re:I'd like to see this happen in Eve Online (1)

Olivier Galibert (774) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777107)

IMHO, Eve Online is much more commerce oriented than Second Life. The makers, CCP, support a pseudo mechanism for real to virtual currency excahnge. A player can use real money to buy a game card, then sell the game code to another player for virutal money. So, there is market established exchange rate.

But that only goes from real to virtual. There is no CCP-supported mechanism for virtual to real conversion afaict, which would change things, starting with this little thing called taxes.

    OG.

I've said this every time. (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775511)

it's a game. If you're trying to make a living at it, you're a moron.

it's barely a game.

that being said, Linden labs only smiles on the way to the bank every time one of these lawsuits pops up.

as well, wouldn't anything taking place in the "second life" also be subject to the laws of the "second life"?

Re:I've said this every time. (2, Insightful)

tonyreadsnews (1134939) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776747)

it's a game ... it's barely a game.

usually I let people continue to misunderstand.
Second Life, poorly worded product as it is, is more akin to a web hosting service with a built in 3D interface.

Some people make/play games, some socialize, and some conduct real business (just like they do via webpages, email, skype, webex...).

Don't blame the lawyers (1)

Venik (915777) | more than 5 years ago | (#27775557)

Don't blame the lawyers for this. The fault is entirely with the idiots hiring them. Some people are just too thick to realize that their actions lead to one inevitable outcome: taxes. Sooner or later (and in the current economic circumstances probably sooner) the government will realize that there is a whole lot of "real estate" and other "property" it forgot to tax. There will be an avatar tax, the Web site tax, the blog tax and so on.

Re: (1)

clint999 (1277046) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776495)

In some cases, a digital signature (of the cryptographic kind, not the Slashdot ID kind) can be used as a legally-recognized signature. In some places. Not all places recognize such signatures, and not all places that do will recognize it for all types of contract. Your mileage WILL vary whether you like it or not.

Second Life (2, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#27776523)

Second Life, the online environment that asks the age-old question, "Do androids dream of cybersex with electric sheep?"

Aight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27777003)

I put on my robe and wizard hat

Does anyone actually play Second Life? (1)

ukyoCE (106879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777587)

Seriously, the only place I've ever heard Second Life mentioned is in news articles.

I get the distinct impression that they have a good marketing team, and very very few Actual users.

(Virtual) Reality Check (1)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 5 years ago | (#27777623)

"Can Avatars Make Contracts?" - come on guys, its fine to have an active fantasy life, but turn off the role play when you log out, please. There are perfectly good laws and precedents for dealing with unwritten/informal contracts - whether they are made over the phone or via a chat between avatars sitting on a flying penis should make no difference.

For practical purposes, Second Life, WoW etc. are just chunks of teh interweb offering communications, data storage and application hosting facilities. OK, so the currency issue is a complication, but is it really any differnt from the age-old idea of a "barter network"?

Please, please don't encourage our wonderful lawmakers to get distracted by the pretty 3D graphics and start trying to legislate for "virtual worlds".

If I have a "second life" I want to go to a nice post-scarcity, anarcho-communist* utopia like the Culture or the United Federation of Planets and do what the hell I want provided it stays in the virtual world. I don't want to find that the government has got there first and declared eminent domain because some judge made a batty ruling after being baffled by talk of "virtual real estate".

* For the record, I wouldn't advocate Communism in the real world, but the whole "post-scarcity" thing might just make a difference - as would being able to log out if it all went pear-shaped.

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