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In a surprisingly underreported move of huge significance to the long-term prospects for private legal systems and governments in virtual worlds, Second Life creator Linden Lab announced last Friday that after several months of testing, it would soon be incorporating an “Estate Level Abuse program” which would “allow estate owners to receive and resolve their own abuse reports in the method in which they best see fit.”

The Grid and The Mainland - Choose Your Own GovernmentEstates (which a Linden comment clarifies as consisting of “The Grid,” as opposed to the Linden-run “Mainland”) are privately held areas that are seamlessly accessible to Second Life users from Linden-managed land using the Second Life client.

According to Linden Lab, “Abuse is when anyone violates the Terms of Service (TOS) or the Community Standards (CS).” So once the Estate Level Abuse program is in place, estate owners will essentially get to choose how and when to enforce key provisions of the all-important Terms of Service that protect users (with notoriously mixed results) from stalkers, griefers, and other floatsam of the metaverse.

During the test, estate owners were “no longer subject to Linden’s ideas on how abuse could be handled.” Instead, “estate owners in the test had abuse reports filed on their land sent directly to their email.”


So the big question is: What happens to the abuse reports after they’ve been “sent directly to [the estate owners’] email?” And the big answer is: whatever the estate owner wants. They could be efficiently dealt with by a benevolent king, ignored by an inattentive puppet governor, fairly processed by qualified private judge, “taken care of” for a fee by a corrupt despot, or posted to a blog and ridiculed by a griefer land baron.

‘Chadrick Linden’ confirms: “[R]esidents will have the option of resolving issues their way, or opting-in to the way Linden runs the Second Life grid.”

And believe it or not, Virtually Blind thinks this is all a very good thing.

Why? The system allows for completely different systems of government on private estates. Assuming that remaining a member of a given community is a valuable right (which it will be, if the community is structured correctly) it gives estate owners a death-penalty level enforcement mechanism. And that, in turn, means that an estate owner could, for example, require that a party uphold the terms of a contract under penalty of loss of ownership of land — the holy grail of a private legal system.

Are there reasonable concerns about this? Absolutely. One early comment to the Linden post asked about abusive estate owners. As is traditional, Linden Lab appears to be leaving that essentially up to the free market. “If people are reporting [abuse by] a region owner, it’s up to the region owner to decide what to do,”says ‘Chadrick Linden.’ “If a region owner is being abusive to the point of you having to report him, well he can run his region the way he wants, you should probably not hang out there.”

With open “immigration” from society to society a hallmark of virtual worlds, the masses will abandon abusive landowners and flock to efficient, stable, scalable private “governments.” Smart estate owners will almost certainly outsource this task to a few successful operations, to the betterment of the grid as a whole.

Virtually Blind applauds Linden Lab for taking a big step toward decentralized private government and private judicial systems with this change, and looks forward to seeing what systems private citizens will create given the unfettered opportunity to run their estates as they see fit.

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5 Responses to “Linden Lab Takes Big Step Toward Private Legal Systems and Governments in Second Life”

  1. on 25 Apr 2007 at 12:26 pmAshcroft Burnham

    It is indeed surprising that more have not commented on this important change, nor the even more important reconceptualisation of SecondLife as a whole that underlies it.

    See my commentary here for my views on the matter.

  2. on 26 Apr 2007 at 2:50 amLocutus

    Well, this is a great move from Linden Lab. I think this respects the ownership of land owners and hence promoting different governing methodologies.

    Great post – Virtually blind !


  3. on 01 Aug 2007 at 10:40 pmAdamo Cortes

    On the subject of abusive estate owners: our private estate SIM, Hispaniola, had its plug pulled on July 13. Our objects (minus some high-end items) began pouring into inventory, and none of the residents have since been allowed to return to land we had purchased and paid advanced tier fees on.

    A look at the map shows our island has now been renamed Azqua (yes, Azqua with a Z) and reparceled, apparently to be sold to another bunch of unsuspecting victims.

    I say apparently because we all must speculate as to what is going on. Almost a dozen of us immediately formed a group and filed abuse reports with SL and have continued with follow up inquiries, but to date the Lindens have seen fit not to respond to any of us in any way.

    What makes this particularly ugly is the fact that Hispaniola was marketed to virtual homebuyers as a kind of Gay Paradise. The estate owner TJ Melnik deliberately established himself in the SL gay community, even going on virtual dates with me before I purchased land on his SIM.

    A current glance at TJ Melnik’s profile, under “Picks,” describes Hispaniola. Curiously, at the bottom in the box containing the island’s location coordinates appears the name Giel Writer. Giel Writer’s profile shows him to be the sole member of a resident’s group called “Giel’s Isle.” Is Giel Writer the new owner of the SIM, or an alternative avatar of the original owner?

    We don’t know if we have been the victims of a scam or if our estate owner simply didn’t pay his bills to SL. We don’t know if he is reselling land we paid for, or if SL is doing that without any thought of returning our land to us, or compensating us from the proceeds of its sale.

    What we know for sure is that a community of gay guys had our home taken away and a couple of thousand bucks stolen from us. We know that the company that set up the system making that possible is not talking to us, nor apparently doing anything to prevent what looks like the imminent recurrence of the same situation.

  4. on 01 Aug 2007 at 11:15 pmAdamo Cortes

    addendum to August 1st entry: The SL group “Giel’s Isle” has now been deleted. The original Hispaniola/Azqua estate owner, TJ Melnik, has been completely unresponsive to our inquiries as to why our land has been confiscated and is now, it appears, about to be resold.

  5. on 23 Dec 2007 at 5:57 amAdamo Cortes

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Giving estate owners absolute power over those who buy land on their estates often leads the to inevitable result: estate owners abusing and defrauding those they sell land parcels to.

    Linden Labs knowingly aids and abets these con men and women who find the SL land system easy pickings. Linden Labs knowlingly receives a portion of money stolen from defrauded land buyers in the purchase payments and monthly fees it receives from crooked estate owners.

    Land buyers should be protected, and their land only confiscatable in the event of nonpayment of tier fee.

    The current private estate land parcel system will prevent any deep pocket corporation from acquiring Second Life. As it stands the Second Life business model depends on creating an attractive environment for criminals and then sharing in the proceeds of their crimes.

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