The importance of regulation,
convention and etiquette in
One definition of online communities that I like is written by Jeremiah Owyang, (using the input from the communities themselves), “Online communities are bodies of people joined together by a common interest”
http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2007/12/28/defining-the-term-community/ (modified 5/11/2012)
There are various online platforms which are communities and host smaller communities (or groups) within them. The main platform has its own governance or terms of service (T.O.S), which all members must agree to on joining and abide by them or face expulsion or in the worst case scenario, legal proceedings. Smaller groups may set their own set of regulations for their members which, if breached, may result in ejection. In this essay, I will focus on the virtual 3d world of Second Life http://secondlife.com/ and discuss the importance of the rules.
End User Licence Agreement (EULA) or Terms of Service http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php ( last updated and effective Date: December 15, 2010) are a contractual agreement between the owners of the virtual world and in the case of Second Life – the resident or user. These rules evolve over time, usually in response to litigation or changes within the ‘world’ that they are intended for. These terms of service work both ways – the obligations from Second Life to residents, and visa versa. A benefit to linden labs in this form of governance, is that resident disputes can be resolved swiftly, if there is evidence of violation of the T.O.S..
Linden labs set the ‘norms’ and the management of every day interactions is led by the community itself. Residents are given the means to file abuse reports, mute and block other residents. Virtual land owners have the power to freeze, eject,, return objects to, or ban other residents as they see fit. They may apply their own rules to the land by using a covenant e.g. http://reachisles.com/sims/covenant this enables a group or the user to define rules that suit the setting. These things all help maintain the etiquette that is acceptable in that area or group.
As residents can ‘buy’ virtual land within Second life, the terms of service have been adjusted to define this as purchase of a limited license to access the space. They now define the purchase as acquiring a virtual land licence and reserve the right to revoke this licence at any time without notice under certain circumstances. This prevents litigation such as the Brag verses Linden case 2007 http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=583434033289222111&q=bragg+versus+linden&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5 (modified 05 November 2012 ).
Linden Labs reserves the right to use content for the purposes of promotion, but the creator retains all intellectual property rights. Action is taken when content has been obtained without purchase, or the creators permission. I have had personal experience of this. When innocently obtaining copied content – it was deleted from my inventory and I was informed by Linden Labs.
In conclusion, good EULA’s are important as they serve as protection for both the owners and the users of virtual worlds . Covenants and group charters give users clear guidelines on etiquette and conventions.
Ross A Dannenberg – Computer games and virtual worlds: a new frontier in intellectual property law /- 1st edition ( American Bar Association – ISBN:13-978-1-60442-750-9) 5
Tom Boellstorff – Coming of age in Second life – (Princeton University Press ISBN 978-0-691-14627-0 – 2008) 234 chap 8