Article: On the (partially-)inalienable rights of participants in virtual communities

My most recent article has now been published. Unfortunately, MIA's policy is set to change to allow online access as of the next issue. For now, here's the post-print:

Nicolas Suzor, "On the (partially-)inalienable rights of participants in virtual communities" (2009) 130 Media International Australia.

Abstract:

As virtual communities become more central to the everyday activities of connected individuals, we face increasingly pressing questions about the proper allocation of power, rights, and responsibilities. This paper argues that our current legal discourse is ill-equipped to provide answers that will safeguard the legitimate interests of participants and simultaneously refrain from limiting the future innovative development of these spaces. From social networking sites like Facebook to virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life, participants who are banned from these communities stand to lose their virtual property, their connections to their friends and family, and their personal expression.

Because our legal system views the proprietor's interests as absolute private property rights, however, participants who are arbitrarily, capriciously, or maliciously ejected have little recourse under law. This paper argues that rather than assuming that a private property and freedom of contract model will provide the most desirable outcomes, a more critical approach is warranted. By rejecting the false dichotomy between 'public' and 'private' spaces and recognising some of the absolutist and necessitarian trends in the current property debate, we may be able to craft legal rules that respect the social bonds between participants whilst simultaneously protecting the interests of developers.


Many thanks to Sal Humphreys for putting together this special edition of MIA. I highly recommend the other articles in this issue.