Law Professor Joshua Fairfield Gives Lecture within Second Life Virtual World

Lexington, VA Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Prof. Joshua Fairfield inside Second Life. Click to enlarge.

Presentation Video: Part 1 | Part 2
On Monday, September 24, Joshua Fairfield, visiting professor of law at Washington and Lee University, delivered a lecture titled "Anti-Social Contracts in Virtual Worlds," and he didn't even have to leave his office to do it. Fairfield delivered the lecture from within the Second Life virtual world to an audience of Second Life users.

Fairfield's talk, which is part of the Metanomics Series sponsored by Cornell University's Johnson School of Management, focused on the uses and limits of contracts in governing interactions in virtual worlds. "Metanomics" refers to the study of the business and policy aspects of the "metaverse" of virtual worlds. This includes the study of how real-world businesses can use virtual worlds as part of their strategy, and how real-world law and regulation might apply to virtual-world activities.

Second Life is the most popular of several online virtual worlds. Second Life users, known as residents, interact with other users via online chat and physical representations of themselves, called avatars. Though sometimes referred to as a game, Second Life has its own economy and a currency. Residents can create new goods and services to buy and sell, and there are even currency exchanges where residents can exchange U.S. dollars or other real world currencies for Second Life dollars.

Fairfield's lecture discusses how private-law contracts (known as End User License Agreements, Terms of Use, or Terms of Service) became the new public law of virtual worlds.  Such contracts govern the day-to-day lives of millions of virtual world residents, and have grown so powerful that they may completely eclipse other cherished legal rights, including ownership of private property or freedom of expression.    

Joshua Fairfield is an expert in eCommerce, video game regulation, and virtual worlds. He is visiting the School of Law this year from Indiana University. Click here for Professor Fairfield's faculty web page.

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