Teenager Steals virtual furniture, gets jailed

I don't quite know what to make of this. A Dutch teenager has stolen 4,000 euros worth of virtual furniture from the virtual social networking site, Habbo Hotel . . . and he's been arrested for it.


I keep thinking of Baudrillard's claim about how subversion in the simulacrum is more complicit than that in the real . . . where does this fall?

Also, turning back to Zizek (pages 18-19) and his discussion of money as not being real, the logic of why the teenager was deemed arrest-worthy caves in on itself; "it is theft because the furniture is paid for with real money." That, right there, (for me anyhow) illustrates the dangerousness of the precession of the simulacra and demonstrates how we are already living in them. No one would question the logic of someone getting arrested for stealing a BMW, which I believe to be nothing more than a symbol, but now virtual theft seems to be on the rise, which seems to question our distinction between what's real and what's virtual (i.e. why is the stolen virtual furniture being treated in the same way as a stolen BMW? Is it?)


Leave it to BusinessWeek to purge content duplication of any subversive, property-deconstructing possibility. Oh well. The problem space of the article is fascinating, though: users who are ready and willing to sacrifice a modicum of "natural" liberty for sociopolitical cohesion, demanding top-down intervention from Linden Labs? It's like some kind of cyborg-Hobbesian prophecy. I'm particularly interested in how "corporations are less worried about intellectual property issues in Second Life than some smaller vendors, says Verbeck, because they are fashioning their creations more to promote a brand than to make money off actual sales." Whereas I tend to conceive of p-2-p sharing and other forms of "information pirating" as enacting some kind of quixotic David vs. Goliath set-up in which regular-old users take on the patent-based hegemony of large corporations, the article calls attention to the flaws of that narrative. Indeed, it sounds as if the little companies are the ones getting screwed. As usual, ability of the corporate eye to appropriate technological innovation for profitable gain is fascinating and profoundly disquieting. The author does add, however, that "they are concerned that the copying software could be used to replicate a logo or item and then alter it in a disparaging way. It could also have an effect if people begin leaving Second Life for fear that their creations will become valueless," which raises the question, What kind of economy actually exists in Second Life?

An important dimension of this odd conflict is that people don't pay to exist (though "waste away" might be more fitting) in Second Life - should this undermine their "right" to call on Linden Labs for help? What do we make of Philip Rosedale's - head of Linden Labs - contention that it is "not appropriate for Linden Labs to sue copiers itself or get involved in dispute resolution"? If nothing else, it seems chillingly reminiscent of Ed Harris's Baudrillardian God-figure in The Truman Show "refusing" to intervene - that is, until the end, when he tries to subvert Truman's quest with strategically terrible weather. (Luckily, though, the latter's inexorable Human Spirit was not so easily deterred, and he triumphed over the evil-antiquated-pinko determinism of his hyperreal world [!]) Anyway, this exchange between Rosedale and his clients does call into question the contractual - and more importantly, ethical - obligation from "producer" and "consumer." Participating in Second Life is not quite an exchange - but it's also not quite not an exchange, either. If anyone has thoughts about the implications of Second Life's "false" economy / property law system, I'd love to hear it.

To conclude, though, I had an intriguing thought. Considering the general fear that without rigorous intellectual property law (i.e. patent-like control of information analogous to that of material commodities) artists will starve, no more music will get made, and millions of people will be out of jobs, could we imagine utilizing something like Second Life to test potential, emergent outcomes of social landscapes without codified property rights, or at least without stringent intellectual property law? One main impediment to reforming contract law is simpy fear of the unknown; clearly, no one knows what would happen if information were allowed to "be free" (especially since all the technological considerations are so underexplored), and it seems generally impossible to build a model complex enough to exhibit any legitimate predictive power. So, what about Second Life - or another, similarly digital world - as our model? I have no idea how this would be implemented, but phenomena like Second Life seem to present the only veritably anarchic social system we've ever seen - cool analytical possibilities seem to abound. Or maybe it's not anarchic at all? Thoughts?