"Raking muck in the Sims Online" is a fascinating piece on Salon about an online journalist in TSO whose account got terminated by EA. The intersection of law and the virtual is something I studied last semester with Larry Lessig and Julian Dibbell at Stanford, but I'm afraid I'm no closer to deciding what is right, if there is a right.
One factor is that the aims are very different. EA's goal is to make money, with the ancillary goals of protecting the brand, protecting the paying customers, and protecting future earnings. Ludlow, the journalist in the article, has a very different aim: he's a philosopher using the environment of TSO to experiment and gather data. For a time the two can co-exist but it's inevitable that they'll clash at some point. My question though is, capitalism (and, therefore, law) naturally rewards the owner; are there times when we ought not side with the doer, in this case Ludlow? There is no money in what he does, but that doesn't mean there is no value. In fact, there may well be value for EA in this, as well as for society. There is no good financial reward system that rewards the pursuit of knowledge, or art, even when it benefits us all.
These are problems that crop up when people begin to behave in a world as if it were free; when it fact it is paid for and therefore owned by a corporation. It's simulated freedom.
Currently I'm writing about the Simgallery project, curated by Katherine Isbister and Rainey Straus. Although I am not aware of any legal issues surrounding their situation, I wonder how copyright will work. All art created in the environment technically belongs to EA. Which isn't a problem - yet. An installation of Simgallery is slated to open on January 16th at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as part of their Bang The Machine exhibit.
(Incidentally, I think that's not a very good name for the series. Bang the Machine is the title of a documentary about Street Fighter tournaments. It has the aggression and the suggestion of arcade that's entirely appropriate to the content. The Yerba Buena show has no arcades. Hm. I don't really get it.)