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Reader Comments (55)

Posted: Jan 29th 2008 2:59AM (Unverified) said

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The concept of an "avatar's bill of rights" is laughable and from what I've seen only people with "separation of RL and SL" issues even seriously entertain such a notion.

The issue isn't a matter of an avatar and what it can be defined as. It's a matter of the space it inhabits and the terms of service that the user has agreed to follow while in that area.

It's just like a mall. You're allowed to ride a bike or skate, but not in the mall. You're allowed to sit on the ground all day without doing anything, but not at the mall. You're allowed to take your clothes off or have sex...but not in a mall.

Why? The mall isn't public property. It's private property that is open to the public IF the public follows a certain set of rules.

You're on another company's time and dime when you're in SL or any other "virtual world". It's not oppression when you're not allowed to build or upload textures like in WoW. It's not oppression when you have to get to a certain point in order to be allowed to get new gear. It's all part of the layout of the virtual world you chose to enter and that is usually spelled out for you in the terms of service which you have to agree to in order to continue playing.

The argument given in this article is one of those restrictive traps set so that the author can be right whenever you veer outside of the narrow confines of it. It bases the whole argument on the premise that the avatar is a tool and separate from the user which is irrelevant.

WORD

Posted: Mar 24th 2008 1:49PM (Unverified) said

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Doesn't this apply equally well to RL, though?

However much you identify with your body, and however much people react to it as if it were you, the fact remains that objectively your body is a representation, a vehicle and a tool. A useful tool definitely, and sometimes a wonderful tool, yes, but ultimately a device without intention.

Laws do not apply to tools (no, not even guns). Laws apply to people, and what people do (whether or not tools are involved). Sometimes there are special laws about what people may or may not do with particular and specific tools, but it is still about what a person does. A body isn't a person. A body is the expression and representation of a person.

Myself, I see my body as my RL representation and my avatar as my SL representation, and they both represent the same person. Although I think it'll take the law a LONG time to acknowledge it, I think there are also cases where a single RL brain contains two *different* people, one of whom has an RL body as representation, and the other of whom has an SL avatar as representation.

I'm not certain that this is something that you'd disagree with, even, :) but I thought it was worth at least throwing out for consideration...

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 11:18AM (Unverified) said

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While this article certainly presents its case straightforwardly, I think it would have been a bit more compelling if it had linked to some articles making the opposite case, since I find it hard to believe that anyone seriously thinks avatars have rights above and beyond those of their users.

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 11:38AM (Unverified) said

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@Agauntpanda : I second that :).

@ Tateru : your findings are so eminently true I don’t think anybody is going to challenge you, at least on the superficial level you address. On another level, however, one just might want to explore a bit more how « you » and « your avatar » (your incarnation in another world, and not only etymologically so) relate to each other. But then things get veeeeery complicated ~claps hands on ears to stop head spinning, a bit uncomfortable at the steady stream of smoke coming out between her fingers~.

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 11:42AM (Unverified) said

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Here's one such example: http://people.oii.ox.ac.uk/escher/2007/03/14/second-life-political-movements/

Or this, more recent one:
http://www.rikomatic.com/blog/2008/01/robin-linden-an.html
Or this: http://www.virtualcitizenship.org/

Though frankly, I've seen most of them actually agitating in-world.

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 2:14PM (Unverified) said

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The concept of avatar-rights is about as meaningful as the concept of a Second Life passport.

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 2:59PM (Unverified) said

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I can't quite agree with you Tateru, mainly because while I get the concept, there are other tools that have very large rights protections such as e-mail. I feel, though, while certain rights are well out of the question, some rights for avatars - especially when owner created content is applied has to be set into place.

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 8:16PM (Unverified) said

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That's not really the case, Nexeus. With mail only the rights of the sender or receiver are essentially being protected (privacy, copyright and so forth). The mail itself? No.
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Posted: Jan 15th 2008 8:32PM (Unverified) said

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I don't think this question can be so easily dismissed, Tateru. You're brushing right past this - is your real body "you" either? Is your hand "you"? Is your tongue "you"? You can point to any part of the body and realize that it is also just a tool.

The real question, and why avatar rights may become more and more important, is to what extent is this tool an essential part of your self-expression in the world. I think they will be really important into the next decade and beyond as a part of who we are. So, just like we have laws that assume that protection of the body is a part of "your" rights, it will be more and more important to people that their avatars can't just be canceled without some sort of legal recourse.

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 8:41PM (Unverified) said

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Already thought of that. As yet there is no way to separate the intentional part of the person from the unintentional part - the mind from the body, if you prefer to think of it that way.

Today, the body enjoys special legal protection because it has inseparability from the person. As far as the law is concerned today, it *is* the person. When or if that inseparability is overcome, then that changes the fundamental nature of personhood, and probably almost all our laws will become inappropriate to some degree.
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Posted: Jan 15th 2008 11:20PM (Unverified) said

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You're all wrong on this, Tateru, because you are merely speaking from the Platformistas' point of view, a reductionist idea that is basically "the abolition of avatars".

My avatar is an extention of myself. It's a part of my being. I don't see why a part of my being has to lose its rights just because it's online, in a realm of some kind.

Online spaces are simulations of real life but because they are immersive, and people do spend time, treasure, and talent on them, they acquire all the features of a world. And there is no reason why the beings of this world, merely because they are pixels, should be stripped of rights and made slaves to game gods.

Raph Koster has made a Bill of Avatar Rights; Eric Bethke of Go Pets is working on a charter of rights; Desmond Shang has rights in Caledon; I have them in Ravenglass even in this modest sphere of a rental. No, there's no reason we have to shed our humanity just becaue it's digitalized.

The reason you make this argumentation is that you want humans to be reduced to digital form so that they can be controlled better -- by you coders. Sorry, that doesn't fly.

It's important given the kind of aspirations these companies like Linden have for these spaces that we start the rights struggle very early. Their default is to take corporativist stances, according rights and privileges to elites, stepping on the second-class citizens who aren't "creative" or who aren't programmers.

It's easy to tell how avatars have rights: they are constantly violated. That's how you know : )

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 11:26PM (Unverified) said

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"My avatar is an extention of myself. It's a part of my being."

Totally agree.

"The reason you make this argumentation.."

Incorrect. I'd recommend complaining to your psychic hotline.
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Posted: Jan 15th 2008 11:21PM (Unverified) said

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My God, Nexeus has a point. If I can have a Bottle Bill of Rights about the narrow transaction of returning my 5 cent bottle to be recycled, and there can be a set of rights in the use of websites and email, why should a 3-D virtual world do less???

Posted: Jan 15th 2008 11:57PM (Unverified) said

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I think you're making a distinction without a difference. Free expression does not change if I write with a pen instead of a finger. Some areas of law impose significantly different duties when you are using particular tools.

When you're driving a car your rights and duties are much more strictly defined when when you're on foot, but I'm not aware anyone's ever suggested the law stop regulating driving because a car is only a tool and cannot be the bearer of rights or duties.

'avatar rights' may be an unfortunate label, but the meaning is actually quite clear. Yes an avatar is a mere tool, but that does not mean that the person behind the avatar has only those rights granted by the corporation operating the service.

Posted: Jan 16th 2008 12:18AM (Unverified) said

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You are quite right. You are almost *exactly* right, in fact.

No agreement between a user and a service provider can grant a user rights viz-a-viz her fellow man that she does not already possess under the laws of her nation, nor can any such agreement take them away.

And yes. When you are driving a car, your duties, rights and obligations are different. Yours. Not the car's. It's all about you. The car has no obligation to stay within the speed limit or on the proper side of the carriageway. It is the driver's obligation to choose to do so.
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Posted: Jan 16th 2008 12:29AM (Unverified) said

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Actually, I'll clarify that slightly. There are specific limitations on rights - as they are enacted by constitutional law and precedent.

That is your rights may be freely exercised so long as they do not diminish the rights of others. For example, Freedom of Speech does not extend to the private property of others. You may exercise that right on your own property or on property owned by the body politic - but may not exercise it on the property of another without their consent.

The owner of a medium or a service (whether it's a farmer's field, a web-forum, an MMO or a virtual world) may, therefore, restrict your rights in that space without unlawfully infringing on them - they have rights too.

Of course actually *doing* so can cause the loss of protections, such as Common Carrier status and so forth. As I understand it, the Common Carrier can make no such restrictions while retaining that status.
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Posted: Jan 16th 2008 3:30AM (Unverified) said

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Exactly, which is why your argument that the 'tool exception' somehow works a gap in the law or that tool-users do not have rights. Where we disagree in your most recent post is about the nature of rights. There are fundamental rights which derive from constitutions, there are also several other sources of rights including legislative acts and contracts.

Bodies-corporate are only mere tools, but they explicitly bear rights and duties, they can sue and be prosecuted and convicted. Make a contact for the purchase of a car from me and you acquire a number of rights against me in terms of that contract. You will, for example, have a reasonable expectation that any car I sell you does not crash on 4 out of every 5 occasions that you drive it.

Premium account holders acquire certain contractual rights, and Linden Lab's more than mildly extravagant contract of adhesion does not necessarily extinguish those rights in favour of the Linden version of them. The courts have a practice of reading the terms of a contract adhesion strictly against the offeror and in favour of the offeree. Cf the preliminary rulings in Bragg's case.

The exercise of those rights is entirely contingent on having an avatar. Declaring an avatar a tool and therefore incapable of holding rights actually only questions the terminology. It says nothing about what the law is or should be.


Posted: Jan 16th 2008 12:34AM (Unverified) said

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Aha, one of my main points here is that the tool-user *does* have the rights - not the tool itself.
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Posted: Jan 16th 2008 12:40AM (Unverified) said

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Tateru, you're still failing to see it, however, even conceding that Alberik is right. Basically, you're saying "real life law applies, avatars are mere appendages, call your lawyer or call the police" -- and completely letting off the hook the game gods and software designers who make these constrictive, unjust spaces where people are cramped into playing by their rules simply to be in 3-D worlds. That's not fair. As Alberik explained, there are different rules for driving versus being on foot, but they aren't so far off as to be worlds apart -- as real-life rights are from avatars' rights as they exist in the space of VWs.

Here are some clear examples:

I don't see why just because I'm online in a pixelated universe, I can't copy a notecard with chat and send it somewhere else because game gods have decreed it, and lose access to the space if I disobey this inworld, when in real life, on the Internet, if I get an email from someone, or a Yahoo Messenger chat, I can cut and paste it to someone else or send it to a group. That may not be cricket; it may not be very professional, but it's not outlawed, it's considered actually a right that must be respected, or you would not have the free flow of information and ideas. I'm not barred from the use of Yahoo if I cut and paste a chat somebody doesn't want publicized. Again: I face moral opprobrium for doing this, but not loss of access.

And I don't see why, just because I'm in a proprietary game or VW space, that I must contort to a completely different set of speech rules. On Yahoo news articles, on the New York Times blogs, on various forums all over the place, on people's blogs, I can criticize the companies themselves for bias; I can criticize their journalists by name; I can engage in the kind of sharp commentary that gets you a screech of "personal attack" and "troll" in the MMORPG universe. That's all wrong. There's no justification for it. The fears that EA or Linden Lab have had about criticism of themselves and their business just don't hold up as a business decision when they ban people, because the real-life mainstream press or satirical publications like Valleywag are far, far more harsh about these companies than anything we, their loyal subjects, could come up with!

Or let's take disclosure. When I chat on a newspaper's forum, or my blog where I have a pen name, or whatever, I don't face a slew of nasty fanboyz digging and digging to try to prove I have "no life" and that I'm not what I seem or have the other gender in real life or whatever. There's none of that. But something about the in-the-round quality of SL makes people think they can engage in this blood sport, even against the TOS, and they engage in the most outrageous nasty behaviour, shoving your RL picture at you; satirizing you in fake profiles, avatars, cut-up particles strewn across your crashing sim. None of that happens, or is indeed possible on blogs and news sites with commentary open that is far more open than anything the scrupulous Lindens allow with Strife or Torley in charge. And yet that's somehow "allowed to stand" even in a world in which it's a crime to "disclose" (and "disclosure"is falsely policed and copying chatlogs, which it shouldn't be.

Or let's give one more example! When I take part in blogs, news sites, groups, etc. I don't see reams of racist and anti-Semitic speech allowed to stand. It's erased off the site. It's condemned. It's understood that despite free speech values, each site owner is enabled to take a stand against hate speech (and some ISPs requier it). Yet in Second Life, when the "Patriotic Nigras" strike with racist, obscene, anti-Semitic speech, no Linden ever condemns it. It's just dismissed as "griefing" and "prim litter" and not tackled more robustly.

So we live in a strange twilight without real civil rights or political liberties, but we also don't have the kind of civil rights that have built up as practices by institutions in free societies (like condemning hate speech publicly).

Posted: Jan 17th 2008 7:50PM (Unverified) said

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Well said - I agree with you completely.
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