Philip Rosedale To Testify Before Congress On Virtual Worlds

The time was bound to come eventually, I suppose. With the growth and acceptance of virtual worlds, and the many predictions that some kind of virtual reality like Second Life will be Net 3.0, Congress was bound to take an interest in it. Reported in New World Notes:

Mr. Linden Goes To Washington: Philip Rosedale To Appear At First US Congress Hearing On Virtual Worlds

What I am curious about is what kind of questions they will ask Philip, and what will result from this hearing. While I see the need for some kind of legal standard in world, the very international — or even trans-national — nature of a globally accessible virtual world, along with the peculiar way that things work in world, makes writing good laws a delicate, tricky operation. While it’s all too easy to write law, good law is another creature altogether.

(I’m not sure if I can express this in a way that is clear and unambiguous; so I’ll just plow ahead, and hope that I can clarify in comments as necessary.)

I fear any plan to actually enact a binding tax on SL income — one thing that is likely to come whether we will or no, Neal Stephenson’s dreams of the First Distributed Republic notwithstanding. But what I fear most is an attempt to restrict the in-world environment and culture to some narrow, politically driven standard of morality. Mistake me not; I wouldn’t mind seeing what porn palaces and dangling dildos exist in world to make a noise like a hoop and roll away, to borrow from Dorothy L. Sayers. At the same time, in the privacy of one’s virtual home, between adults, what goes on is their business.

If any kind of community standard is to be set, it is best to restrict it to no more than the set of internationally agreed-upon standards of social behavior with the broadest amount of personal latitude. When lawmakers get hold of something like this, though, it becomes a political football; witness the ongoing battles in America over polarizing concepts of “morality” in RL, such as abortion or the ever-popular “family values.” And any laws made in America concerning an internationally accessible virtual world will have some sort of international effect as well, the example being our restrictions on Net gambling that resulted in the Grid gambling ban. At the risk of invoking a much abused argument, I would contend that much of the law already in existence is sufficient to the cause as it is, and does not need to be amplified except to adapt it to the peculiar situation of in world.

I don’t say that we need to be paranoid and start worrying about what will come from these hearings. What I do say is that we need to pay attention, as any good citizen should, to the legislative process, and make our voices heard should the need arise.

Rosedale’s testimony will be streamed, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time (6:30 SLT). Open the stream from the Committee’s schedule page. (Windows Media required; an archive will be posted of the hearing as well.)

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