While it is completely free to enter and participate in the world (also known as the grid) of Second Life, if one wants a place of one’s own, land must be paid for. At the time I joined Second Life, and indeed to the present day, Linden Lab advertising consistently exclaims that one can “Buy your own island”. Land can be either rented or ‘purchased’, with 32.6% of residents having done so1. Land may be ‘owned’ or rented by either individuals or a group. There are two basic types of land: mainland and private estate. Mainland forms a large contiguous block while private estates are islands. Both types can be obtained directly from Linden Lab2. Landowners may then resell or rent their land to other residents. Once land has been obtained a land use fee, known as tier, is payable on a continuing basis.
Despite its use by Linden Lab, ‘purchasing’ is a misnomer for the transaction of acquiring land in Second Life. Land ‘ownership’ is in fact a type of web hosting. One is paying for a server, not rights in any property, and the ‘purchase price’ is a set up fee. While the normal usage of ‘buy’ implies a transfer of ownership between parties in return for some kind of consideration, this is not what Linden Lab means at all. “Buy your own island” in fact means ‘rent a server’. A block of land in Second Life is a graphical representation of the product of executing code on a server. When one pays money to Linden Lab to “Buy your own island” what actually happens is that one subscribes to a service which allows one access to and control of the sim running on the server. There is no transfer of ownership. Linden Lab make this quite clear in their Terms Of Service and also depended on this in a court case where they filed papers stating that ‘land’ was a service and not something users actually owned3. Despite this they continue to advertise land “for sale”.
“Second Life” is the multi-user online service offered by Linden Lab, including the software provided to you by Linden Lab (collectively, the “Linden Software”) and the online environments that support the service, including without limitation: the server computation, software access, messaging and protocols that simulate the Second Life environment (the “Servers”), the software that is provided by Linden Lab and installed on the local computer or other device you use to access the Servers and thereby view or otherwise access the Second Life environment (the “Viewer”), application program interfaces provided by Linden Lab to you for use with Second Life (the “APIs”), and access to the websites and services available from the domain and subdomains of http://secondlife.com (the “Websites”). The Servers, Viewer, APIs, Websites and any other Linden Software collectively constitute the “Service” as used in this Agreement.4
If a resident fails to pay their tier the land will be removed by Linden Lab. Inter-resident purchases of private estates are complicated by the fact that ownership of the estate is not transferable to the subsequent party, as far as Linden Lab is concerned the estate always belongs to the original resident. Any subsequent transfer of land requires that the resident pay their tier to the original landowner who in turn remits payment to Linden Lab. If they should fail to do so the new ‘owner’ has no recourse to anyone. Linden Lab steadfastly refused to mediate in these kinds of disputes. In fact Linden Lab will not take any part in disputes between residents of any nature whatsoever5, preferring to let residents utilise the mechanisms of nation state laws, such as initiating legal action or by means of the procedures laid out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). Because such mechanisms are either too expensive, as in the case of the former, or not available to all residents (as is the case for non US citizens with the latter option) or easily abused6 residents have no choice but to make their own remedies.
If one obtains land from Linden Lab one will have full rights to landscape that land. Landscaping means that it is possible to texture, subdivide and raise or lower the land in relation to the surrounding land or ocean with a great deal of control. One can create mountains and rivers, can flatten, smooth, roughen or change the surface texture of the land, e.g. make it desert or meadows. There is a permissions system that allows the landowner to control who can effect landscaping.
Each portion of land has a set number of prims it can support, which is normally 15,000 prims for each 256m x 256m block. This is an arbitrary limit set by Linden Lab. Many OpenSimulator regions support many more prims.
- Bell, M. W., Castronova, E., Wagner, G. G., (2009), Surveying the Virtual World: A Large Scale Survey in Second Life Using the Virtual Data Collection Interface (VDCI), http://ssrn.com/abstract=1418562, Accessed 01/02/2011. ↩︎
- Linden Lab, Buying Land, http://secondlife.com/land/, Accessed 01/02/2011. ↩︎
- Lastowka, G., (2010), Virtual Justice, Yale University Press, New Haven, p. 17. ↩︎
- Second Life Wiki, Linden Lab Official:Terms of Service Archive/Through 29 April 2010, http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Linden_Lab_Official:Terms_of_Service_Archive/Through_29_April_2010, Accessed 02/04/2014. ↩︎
- Second Life Knowledge Base, Transactions and disputes between Residents, http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Transactions-and-disputes-between-Residents/ta-p/799395, Accessed 02/04/2014. ↩︎
- Electronic Frontier Foundation, (2013), Unintended Consequences: Fifteen Years under the DMCA, https://www.eff.org/pages/unintended-consequences-fifteen-years-under-dmca, Accessed 02/04/2014. ↩︎