Real world law enforcement for "crimes" in a virtual world?

Via a story on Lambda the Ultimate programming blog comes this tale of G-Men Called on W-Hats for WMVD and the (unintended?) consequences of letting players program their own objects within the virtual world.

One of the cool things about Second Life is that players can create new kinds of objects, by writing small programs in a special scripting language to describe how the objects should behave, and then launching objects into the world.

Things got really out of hand when the W-Hats created a doomsday device. It looked like a harmless little orb, but it was programmed to make copies of itself, repeatedly. The single object split into two. Then each of those split, and there were four. Then eight, and sixteen, and so on to infinity.

Apparently the creators of Second Life have reported the Denial of Service attack to the FBI. My first reaction was "oh, please." Ed Felten (and others in the ensuing comments) make the case that doing so is an appropriate response. I'm not entirely convinced, but it does seem that there is a good argument that can be made. I think civil action (think violations of the game's acceptable use policies or terms of service) is a more appropriate response than a criminal one considering that only in-game tools were used.

—Michael A. Cleverly


  1. Anonymous wrote (at Tue, 20 Dec 2005, 12:17):

But not an original idea - at least one claim at

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