January 2, 2007
Archive Repost: Second Life in Fall 2003
[The MUD-DEV archives have been offline for several years and I know some folks have linked to the following post (and now have dead links). Since I re-tell parts of this story often, I thought I’d archive it here for posterity. There is no special meaning to me re-posting it now.]
From : “F. Randall Farmer”
To : “Discussion of MUD system design, development,and implementation”
Subject : RE: [MUD-Dev] The State of Play: On the Second Life Tax Revolt
Date : Tue, 23 Sep 2003 23:12:33 -0700
Monday, September 22, 2003 8:16 AM, J C Lawrence said:
> The State of Play: On the Second Life Tax Revolt Posted by James
> Grimmelmann on Sunday, September 21 @ 19:11:48 EDT Governance
I couldn’t let this one go without comment:
JC quotes a rather lengthy article attempting to tie a “tax revolt” in Second Life to an emergent democracy. As a long-time beta tester of Second Life (and a a User Experience/UI design contractor a few months back), I’d have to say that it is all much ado about nothing. The ‘protest’ was neither widespread, nor was it as ‘intense’ as as it could have been (see below). Virtual Press photos had to be re-enacted for the staff-written newsletter and the vast bulk of users didn’t know it had happened until he wrote about it, days later.
Specifically, Grimmelmann said:
> Other than quitting the game entirely (the threat which lurks
> behind all such protests), a street party is just about the only
> action you can take that will even come to the attention of the
This is an understatement of some scale for all systems, but especially Second Life.
A protest party is pretty much the _easiest_ action you can take in SL.
I personally (along with many others) have generated significant attention and action from ‘the authorities’ (and fellow citizens) using the built-in scripting, object creation mechanisms, and persuasive reasoning on the game Forums.
During beta, I built an invisible teleporting auto-cannon that fired 100 invisible rounds per minute and unleashed it in an area of WWII Online folks who had been at ‘war’ with my clan. It killed hundreds for about an hour before I was asked by the ‘authorities’ to remove it. Changes were made so that invisible objects can be seen in authoring mode.
After release, I created a world-touring, talking airship ALA Blade-Runner. Logs indicate that thousands of people had seen and interacted with over a two month period. It became well known, and the subject of some debate. This airship (along with various user-run air taxi services) often became ‘stuck’ over people’s land because of a mis-tuned property feature. One good rant posted on
their forums stating a rational case and citing Lawrence Lessig citing the Supreme Court’s decision in US V. CAUSBY and the problem was fixed in the next build. [See full post for excerpted discussion thread.]
And I’m not even close the most skilled or prolific scripters/artists/politicos on that system. Though my personal reputation may have helped convince the authorities in the case of the airship right-of-way discussion, that serves to reinforce my point: Well considered and executed individual action often facilitates change more efficiently than any mob-party.
Honestly, the Tea-Party in Second-Life had little in common with the historic event: Destroying ships and tea did real financial harm to the King of England (and loyalist businesses). The tea crates in the SL protest were bought and paid for by the protesters, who were taxed for them anyway. On the other hand, those few who tore down the structures that they knew Linden Labs liked to visit during their press demos (thus removing value from the system) were closer to those great American terrorists of old. :-) They were few and far between.
Most of the tax protesters aren’t all that serious. They aren’t en-mass taking the actions that would cause a change, because it isn’t that important to them. It is a street-party because they’ll keep playing even if the tax structure doesn’t ever change.
So, asserting that a real-time ‘street-party’ protest within a virtual world is the most effective form of facilitating change we can hope-for/expect is a supposition that I think deserves serious challenge. Users can (and will) do so much more.
The so-called Second Life Tax Revolt is a bad example of ’emergent governance’ for the reasons stated above: Taxes don’t matter enough for the users to do anything significant, even though they have the power and the skills.
Randy [September 23, 2003]
[Archival Thread follows]
Rant #3: Privately controlled airspace – ‘Common Sense Revolts at
As background material for this rant, I’m going to cite Lawrence
Lessig’s blog which sites Philip Greenspun:
Lessig: Phil tells this bizarre story about how Disney World has
apparently succeeded in getting the airspace above Disney World
assigned to it.
Greenspun: Ever since the dawn of aviation it has been held that
airspace belongs to the public and is to be regulated for the
benefit of all by the FAA. This is what, for example, prevents the
owner of a farm in Missouri from demanding that Delta Airlines pay
him a tax every time they fly over his farm.
Lessig: (for more than 400 years) in fact, the law was that the
owner of a bit of land owned not just the land, but all the land
to center of the earth, and, as Blackstone put it, ‘to an
indefinite extent, upwards.’
This, of course, created a problem once the history of aviation
was born. For obviously, if I own all the space above my land,
then companies like United are just napsterizing my property as
they fly above my land.
The Supreme Court finally resolved this matter in 1946. The
Causby’s, North Carolina farmers, complained because military
aircraft were causing their chickens to fly in panic to their
death as they smashed into the walls. The Causby’s claimed
‘trespass’ and demanded the military stop flying over their land.
The Supreme Court rejected the argument that airplanes
trespass. As Justice Douglas wrote for the Court,
Supreme Court: ‘[The] doctrine has no place in the modern
world. The air is a public highway, as Congress has
declared. Were that not true, every transcontinental flight
would subject the operator to countless trespass suits. Common
sense revolts at the idea. To recognize such private claims to
the airspace would clog these highways, seriously interfere with
their control and development in the public interest, and
transfer into private ownership that to which only the public
has a just claim. ‘
Just like the ancient code of RL property being obsolete when the
airplane was invented, the SL land option called ‘Outside Scripts’
disabling all objects ‘all the way up to heaven’ is a Byzantine
restriction which will ultimately destroy all air travel and
unfairly restrict creativity for all kinds of objects. As Justice
William O. Douglas said: ‘Common sense revolts at the idea.’
As with all my rants, I’d like to make a concrete
Limit the effect of the Outside Scripts land attribute to a height
of 50 meters above land/sea level.