Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Seamy Side of Second Life

So today a professor mentioned to me that Germany has been prosecuting people for trafficking in virtual child pornography on Second Life.

I hadn't heard about this before, but I quickly discovered this article from May of 2007 on the issue.
Nick Schader, a reporter with the investigative television programme Report Mainz, and a member of Second Life, said he had been "shocked to see" the virtual child pornography meetings, to which he was invited for 500 Linden dollar - around £1.50. He said the same group of people subsequently put him in touch with traders in real child pornography.

Robin Harper, the deputy president of the San Francisco firm Linden Lab that runs Second Life, said: "We will find out who is behind this, and then inform the police." He said that Linden Lab also planned to introduce an age control system.

While in the United States "virtual" child pornography is not a crime, in Germany it is punishable by three months to five years in prison.

Under 18-year-olds are banned from taking part in Second Life, but critics say in reality it is impossible to check the ages of participants because of the virtual nature of the game.

Some players choose to dress up as child figures, but with no sexual motivation, purchasing "skins" to make them look like minors, but that do not as a rule depict the private parts of the body. There are even adoption agencies that offer lonely "children" the chance to have a virtual family.

But the established Second Life practice of so-called "Age Play", in which players request sex with other players who dress up as child avatars, has encouraged a growth in players posing as children in order to make money.

[So we now have virtual child prostitution in Second Life... but perhaps without any real minors!?!? Could this get any stranger?]

It has already attracted much criticism both from inside and outside the imaginary world. Child protection agencies say it has encouraged people with paedophile tendencies to play out their darkest fantasies and could have a knock-on effect in the real world. Bestiality, or sex with animals, is becoming increasingly popular on the site, which now has over six million players and is growing by an average of 800,000 a month. Germans make up the largest single representation of any country, with 209,000 members. |Germany investigates Second Life child pornography - Guardian|(emphasis added)
I popped over to the newspaper of Second Life, the Second Life Herald and found an article which proposed Uri's Law: There is no Real Life fetish such that a virtual counterpart does not exist in Second Life. |Link - NSFW|

The different approaches by Germany and the US highlights the jurisdictional quandries of Second Life. In the US, if no child is involved in the production of faux child pornography, then no crime has been committed. See Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition 535 U.S. 234 (2002) |Cornell||Wikipedia|

For the moment, let's ignore the merits of the case and just focus on the jurisdictional issue. It's quite possible that two people in Second Life could enter into a consensual sexual relationship in Second Life where one is physically located in the US and the other in Germany. During this tryst one individual might morph into the form of a child. One person has committed a crime and the other one has not.

This is why I love the intersection of civil law and Second Life.


Faithful 2 U said...

Wow! Never heard of second life. That is awful.

Nice blog.

Jason said...

I hate the German's attitude towards freedom of expression. But this is one of those topics strains my absolutism regarding freedom of expression. Even if there are no actual minors involved on the site, the potential links to real crimes give one pause.

benjamin said...

Just found this blog via a Google alert. I cover virtual law, which is pretty much right in the wheelhouse here.


Here's a link to some coverage of this particular issue:


I'll definitely watch this space. It's a pretty small group of us covering this stuff.