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  Real-World Lawyer Files Suit Against Virtual-World Maker  
 
 
Posted 2006-05-08 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
A Pennsylvania lawyer named Marc Bragg has filed suit against Linden Lab, maker of the virtual world Second Life, for "a virtual land deal gone sour." According to a press-release issued by Bragg, "The suit seeks financial damages in the thousands, in part for a breach of a virtual land auction contract and for violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. This suit is unique because the land doesn't actually exist." Technically, the land does exist--both as data, and as a user experience--but not as terra firma.

Bragg claims he "learned of a way" to purchase virtual land at a U.S. Dollar price significantly below market value, invested thousands of dollars in this method of purchase, and then tried to resell the land at a profit. Linden Lab, claims Bragg, then terminated his account "without explanation, without citing any violation of community policy, and have since refused offer a credit or a refund." After the company allegedly refused to answer calls from Bragg, he resorted to filing suit. In a prepared statement, Bragg said that "These games are like the virtual Wild West, but Linden Lab is still obligated to honor real-world contract law and consumer law, even if their world doesn't really exist."

As far as I know, this is the first lawsuit of its type to be filed against Linden Lab. It seems that Bragg lost thousands of real-world dollars because the company didn't like the way he exploited a glitch in their system. His ejection might be permissable according to the Terms of Service for Second Life, but Bragg seems to think there are real-world rules being broken here. There will be substantial interest in the outcome of this suit from business, legal, academic and virtual-world resident interests. I think that this is part of the reason that Bragg filed suit. He might be the first person in history to sue over a virtual land deal gone sour.
 
     
 
   
 
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  15 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by nimrod yaffle
May 8, 2006 @ 4:46 pm
     
 
Whoa, this should be good! XD
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
May 8, 2006 @ 4:49 pm
     
 
This has been an odd one to follow on the forums for the past week or so. Here's the part that I'd ask about:

"and invested thousands of US dollars purchasing land in an attempt to resell this land at a profit."

The closed auctions I saw had the sims being sold for $2.01, $5.01, aso; certainly not for "thousands" (which is what they were supposed to sell for). So I'm thinking that what we have is someone saying they "invested thousands of US dollars" which really means that a couple of real dollars were spent, and some number of hours (valued at ... say ... $300/hr) were also "invested". I'll be interested in seeing if this is the case.

Yet however the issues are raised, there are some things here worth addressing. I just hope his innovative method to acquire the sims doesn't nullify the legitimate questions raised.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 8, 2006 @ 5:02 pm
     
 
I really question the facts of the case here, but that should come out during the discovery phase, I guess. This fellow used a deliberate exploit, he took auction ID numbers for land inworld that wasn't put up yet, taking advantage of the huge backlog of abandoned parcels that the Lindens manually process, and then plugged that number into his browser to artificially force up an auction bid out of the normal sequence that opened at a dollar instead of the normal $1000 or equivalent value depending on meters. It was essentially an HTML exploit, and just because you can find an exploit and use it doesn't mean you have been harmed if the property is seized back from you-- you've done the harming by essentially stealing property, hijacking it, and reselling it.

It's like finding an electronics item in the store that was mistakenly priced at $1.00 instead of $1000, going and paying for it at the cash-register becaue the bar code seems to match, but then being stopped at the door by the guard who looks at the item, and the sales receipt, and says "hey, this doesn't add up". That's exactly what it's like. You wouldn't be able to then sue Radio Shack if they caught you doing this and say "I wuz robbed" if you gained a sale immediately from your theft and your assets were seized or something in the lawsuit.

This avatar also sold the land very fast and cheap for like $3/meter, so I can't believe he realized "thousands".

I've seen auctions close with the mistake at $0 and a won bid for $0. The Lindens seem overwhelmed by the rapidity of the world's growth and don't have automatic systems in place to handle the release and reuactioning of land or even the placement of whole new sims, apparently. By having an "on demand" auction that supposedly waits for "supply and demand" (a fiction), this problem also became possible.

The tactice of Bragg seems to be to bluster and declare he's in the right and start a lawsuit to detract from the salient fact that he profited from a deliberate exploit that was an accidental loophole of the system which has since been repaired and closed.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Kadre North
May 10, 2006 @ 1:20 am
     
 
I think I speak for the majority of Second Life players when I say... this guy is an idiot. He presented his case on our forums not long ago, and was shouted down by 70% of the community. Most of us are going on the assumption that what support he did get was given by alternate accounts (they all had very low post counts).

We tried to talk him out of going to court, to convince him that he should try to look at this rationally without allowing his anger to interfere with his judgement. But it appears that we failed. As will he in court, since what he did was clearly intended to pull out money from second life in ways that were obviously exploits, and would have hurt the community as a whole.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 10, 2006 @ 8:57 am
     
 
Kadre, you may be right that the majority of SL residents, especially land-owners, find this a completely frivolous and even abusive case launched by a loudmouth with lots of alts, who is also charged with copying (reverse-engineering) various popular house designs. But when somebody gets shouted down by the forums, that's not "70 percent of the community". The forums are not read by more than 5 percent, and not even 2 percent post there, so the "shouting down" happened with a tiny segment. I don't think communities should aquire this hallucinatory power where they can "shout down" someone on a high-visibility forum -- it's wrong.

Actually, if this guy grabbed a sim for free from the Lindens' over-glutted land auction, and sold it for peanuts, he'd be doing the community, which is always looking for cheap, subsidized land, a favour in the short run -- but in fact it would do even more damage to the land market and its ability to hold value in the long run.

I'm betting that no judge in the land will even accept this case. Lawyers will look at it on both sides (is this fellow, a lawyer, going to defend himself? then, as the old saying goes, he has a fool for a client) and they won't even settle -- if anything, Bragg will find himself not only permabanned but slapped with some kind of countersuit as a warning to all who attempt not only frivolous lawsuits, but *any* lawsuits.

This is what infuriates me the most -- for the sake of his own grandstanding and attention grabbing, he hasn't put for a case in the public interest that could benefit a class larger than himself and his alts -- and he's likely made it impossible for a long time for even the most legitimate lawsuit to get started in this totalitarian country.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Robin Raffke
May 10, 2006 @ 12:15 pm
     
 
I too can't imagine this would go anywhere. Maybe they should take the case to one of those daytime court shows ("People's Court" or "Judge Judy"). Bragg would get some money, and they both would get some publicity (good for Bragg's ego, and good for SL otherwise).

I conceived this idea as a joke, but now that it's written, I wonder whether it might just work. :)
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by nimrod yaffle
May 10, 2006 @ 1:20 pm
     
 
Interesting quote from Anshe:

"I think it would not help us if we underestimated one person like Bragg.

From my dealings, observations and conversations with his avatar I received impression that he approach Second Life very systematic. While he quickly invested thousands of US$ into land and other ventures in SL, it still all seemed like the systematic exploration. He did not seem to act like normal SL business person or somebody who seriously try to build the career in SL land, malls or rental. It more was like somebody who was willing to invest (and loose) huge US$ amounts just to learn how the business and the economy works.

What's more, he seemed to be looking for some law case for some longer while now. There have been legal threats from him towards Linden Lab about really small and far fetched things in the past already. Personally, I really get impression that he has come to SL to study this new economy with the intend to find the method to further his legal career.

We should be seriously worry now. Of course the case he bring up here is weak and I don't see how he could win it, even by pull the strangest legal trick in the complicated law system in America. But this may just be the door opening for bring SL to attention of courts and regulators. And no matter what the outcome, he may position himself as the lawyer who challenge Linden Lab and bring "legal clarification" to what he call the "wild west".

Imagine what this could do to the dynamic and innovation speed of the SL economy and the culture of freedom and creativity, if every feature, every transaction and whatever Lindens or residents do must constantly be defend against some "interested" lawyers.

Don't estimate Bragg, it may be that he is one very rational and carefully calculating individual. He may not need to win this case or receive compensation to achieve what he is actually seeking. Take note of the press release and prominent featuring on his law firm's website. You don't need press release if you just seek the justice in court."
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 10, 2006 @ 1:35 pm
     
 
nimrod, where does this Anshe quote come from? Your own conversation? Did you get permission to post it? Just curious.

I realize your prurient interest in the topic of this guy's lawsuit is so intense, that you were willing to try to set me up to break 3 TOS rules to get info about it (giving me your password to log on to your account to view the forums "General" from which I'm banned from even reading; showing me information about how I, too, could try to exploit the auction; passing me another resident's cut-and-paste convo -- and those were just the 3 I noticed). What is YOUR interest in this case really about? Just general fascinationg with crime stories and how to commit crime in SL and get away with it for a time at least? Now that your own media coverage for your own stint in the cornfield has died down.

I think Anshe has nothing to fear. This is America. That means while lawyers have too much power and cause havoc -- there are other lawyers who can overpower them and cause equal and opposite havoc. The Lindens and their backers have way more access and clout to bring to bear on their defense than Bragg has to brag with and launch nuisance suits with.

Of course it's very calculated to have the maximum nuisance value. Maybe there is even something really conspiratorial like him being the front for some other dark and mysterious force that is a competitor, trying to shake SL so hard the seams will start to burst or something, to see where it is vulnerable and can crack.

So somebody has a cunning and annoying lawsuit? An equally cunning and annoying defense *and* countersuit will be engineered to step up to the challenge. All the lawyers will get paid. Everyone can go on happily cybering.

We had to expect that when the East Coast or Left-Brain Coast began to meet the West Coast or Right-Brain Coast, these kinds of clashes would occur. It's all part of developing the platform.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by nimrod yaffle
May 10, 2006 @ 1:49 pm
     
 
Nope, from the Land and Economy forum. :-)

And yes, I would be willing to give you, and probably a few other's my alt's info. That part, said by LL, is in the TOS so that people cannot complain if something happens and they gave someone their password. Also, you cannot break any rules by looking at the page that they guy used to bid, about 20 other's did it too so they can understand how he did this. And copying and pasting the convo was from Weedy, and I told you she gave me permission to do that,*which she did.*
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by nimrod yaffle
May 10, 2006 @ 1:50 pm
     
 
(And yes, I understand why you're being cautious about what I did. I know people are after you, even though I have nothing to gain (nor lose) from you being banned.)
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by nimrod yaffle
May 10, 2006 @ 1:58 pm
     
 
And the thing about the cornfield. I never contacted anyone, they all contacted me. I didn't mind them asking me questions or whatever. Yes, what I did was wrong with the JEVN thing, but I'm not going to break any rules anytime soon.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by DBathke
July 27, 2006 @ 5:30 pm
     
 
This "lawyer" is nothing more than a [DELETED] who gives the profession a bad name, obviously he isnt doing to well to have to resort to becoming a thief, everyone I have spoken with about this case feels that he received his just rewards from Linden Labs and he is fortunate they do not resort to having HIM arrested.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Urizenus
December 7, 2006 @ 1:11 am
     
 
I just posted an interview with Bragg's lawyer on the SL Herald, for those who are still interested in this:

http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2006/12/bragg_vs_linen_.html
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
December 7, 2006 @ 2:48 pm
     
 
That is a great interview, Uri, I'd have commented at the Herald but my access is intermittent.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Urizenus
December 7, 2006 @ 3:05 pm
     
 
Complain to Mark about that.
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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