Friday, 28 November 2008

A Second Virtual Veil

Virtual Love Affair In keeping with the concept of the ‘virtual veil’ which I propounded in my previous post, I thought this story was worthy of mentioning too, despite the fact it’s been doing the rounds for a while now and is probably best considered ‘old news’.

The virtual veil in question here is the one worn by a virtual bride who married the avatar of her newly married husband in a second wedding after their real-world one in St. Austell, Cornwall in 2005. Having first met in the online game Second Life, they eventually met up in person and subsequently married. However, the happy days weren’t to last:

Amy Pollard, 28, discovered her husband's character having sex with another female player online filed for divorce citing "unreasonable behaviour".

She claimed that David Pollard, 40, committed adultery with the animated woman and said that it is the second time she had caught his character cheating on her.

In February last year, she said that he was having sex with an online call girl character and she even hired an online private detective in the game to investigate his adultery.

Mrs Pollard said that she discovered her husband's most recent online infidelity in April after she had awoken from an afternoon nap and caught Mr Pollard in a compromising position on the game.

She said: "I caught him cuddling a woman on a sofa in the game. It looked really affectionate.

"I went mad - I was so hurt. I just couldn't believe what he'd done," she said. "I looked at the computer screen and could see his character having sex with a female character. It's cheating as far as I'm concerned.

When I first earmarked this story as ‘bloggable’ material over a week ago, I failed to notice that the couple had in fact met and married in St. Austell, an area of Cornwall not a million miles away from where I grew up. For what it’s worth, it’s also an area of Cornwall best avoided if your impression of the county is one of unspoilt scenic bliss. I consider myself lucky to have lived just sufficiently far away from the town so as not to be stifled by its oppressively depressing and ungainly nature. Seriously, it’s a dump.

My second reason for finding this story interesting is the fact that the regulation of virtual worlds is an area of law which I find fascinating and, I hope, remains a potential topic for my dissertation. It’s certainly an area which is wide open as to quite how the law should handle the regulation of virtual events and the inter-relationship between the actions of real-life humans and their online personas. Effectively being a parallel virtual-universe, virtual worlds are potentially plagued from nearly as many issues as are encountered in the real world, ranging from intellectual property infringement to crime.

The virtual veil concept I spoke of in my previous post is applicable here too. Some people, including Mr Pollard (given that he was caught with his virtual trousers down) would (probably subconsciously) argue that there IS a virtual veil in operation which clearly segregates his online persona from that of his real-world one. His wife, no doubt, takes the converse view: for these purposes, the personas are one and the same. By cheating online via his avatar, the husband is just as unfaithful and culpable as if he cheated in real life.

It would be interesting to know whether Mr Pollard thought through the gravity of his actions and the potential consequences that might flow from them as seriously and thoroughly as if he went and embarked on an affair or paid a prostitute for sex, say.

The article points out both Mr and Mrs Pollard’s differing views:

"But he didn't see it [the online sex] as a problem, and couldn't see why I was so upset.

"He said I was just making a big fuss, and tried to make out it was my fault for not giving him enough attention.

Is it right to regard Mr Pollard morally culpable for his avatar’s antics when he, Pollard, didn’t physically do anything to constitute an act of infidelity? Is there any difference between conducting a virtual affair and simply having real-world thoughts of infidelity which are not acted upon? Was he not just victim to the virtual veil which clouded his judgement and left him blind as to the dividing line between reality and the virtual world? Did he not just naively mislead himself into believing, because of this mysterious virtual veil, that his online acts would have no real-world consequences? While I think I know where the consensus of opinion lies in response to these questions, it remains a contentious talking-point.

Sympathisers might, at a push, try and argue that Pollard merely became inescapably immersed in the virtual world and got ‘carried away’ in the (online) atmosphere of it all and he’ll wake up some day soon, suddenly realising it was all just a huge error of judgement on his part? Well, it seems there’s little chance of that:

"[L]ater [Mr Pollard] confessed he'd been talking to this woman player in America for one or two weeks, and said our marriage was over and he didn't love me any more, and we should never have got married." Amy [Pollard] said her estranged husband is now even engaged to the woman he had an 'affair' with on Second Life – even though they have never actually met in real life.

But it gets worse. While Mrs Pollard might have been successful in getting her divorce, it seems as though she hasn’t learnt all of the lessons from this experience that one might have hoped.

[Mrs Pollard has] also found a new partner, who she also met online, while playing the fantasy role-playing game World Of Warcraft.

Oh I give up.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Facebook, Jurors and the 'Virtual Veil'

Royalty-Free Stock Imagery by Rubberball From 18.11.08:

A female juror was dismissed from a trial after posting details of the case on Facebook and asking friends whether they thought the defendants were guilty.

The woman went against strict rules forbidding jurors from discussing cases with family and friends by posting details of the sexual assault and child abduction trial on the social networking site.

After her actions were discovered, she was removed from the case at Burnley crown court, in Lancashire, and the trial continued with a jury of 11 people.

A Courts Service spokesman said today: "A juror was dismissed from a case on November 18 for discussing a case outside the court."

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Facebook related entry so this one seemed an obvious choice. For what it’s worth, I’ve largely given up with my Facebook-bashing, as I got sick with it falling so invariably on ‘deaf ears’. I get it: the world loves Facebook and only I don’t. Oh well.

The story does, though, highlight interesting behavioural patterns when people are online, particularly when engaged in social networking activities. I think it shows up a serious divide in many people’s brains over regulating their actions in the real world and the online one. Did the juror really think she’d get away with it? Did she think that her ‘online persona’ is so divorced from reality that any actions carried out online would not be attributed to her real ‘human’ person? It’s almost as though some people view their online conduct as being separated from reality by a ‘virtual veil’, which their real, human person can hide behind without fear of being troubled by disagreeable repercussions that flow from the actions of their ‘online person’. You know, something analogous to the 'corporate veil' which derives from the twin pillar characteristics that a company is blessed with: separate legal personality and limited liability. No?! Anyone?! No, my girlfriend wasn’t interested either.

Sidenote: I’ve become more than a little bored with studying the majestic intricacies surrounding the corporate veil and its lifting, piercing or otherwise penetrating for what seems like an eternity in my Company law module. It still amuses me that on the LPC in Business Law and Practice it was merely mentioned in passing with perhaps two sentences dedicated to the topic. On the LL.M, though, we’ve dissected it to absolute death and then some, more or less from the start of term. God, I love academia.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Carbolic Smoke Ball

date created: 2007:08:30 | date created: 2008:03:14 My girlfriend, being the organised and meticulous person that she is, broached the subject of Christmas cards with me this morning during a few hours that we actually managed to spend in each other's company.  With her working full time and yours truly trying to juggle an LL.M and a part time job, time spent together has become an ever-increasing rarity to us now.  In addition to her organised and meticulous nature, she's also somewhat on the thrifty side, and was really investigating whether we had enough left-over general cards from last year to send out or whether we needed to purchase more; that girl hates spending money, bless her!

But I digress.  I assume that many blawgers out there have stumbled across or are otherwise aware of the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, a company which takes its name from that famous contract case we all hark back to so fondly.  Oh the joys of studying contract law as an undergrad, eh?!?  If you aren't aware of them - and really, shame on you if that's the case - CSB specialise in gifts and novelty items for lawyers (and now other professionals) with a selection ranging from Christmas cards to bookends and most things in between.  I first discovered CSB back in 2004 and have bought inter alia a couple of different sets of their Christmas cards since.  While they aren't exactly the cheapest cards you will ever send, there's no doubt they do stand out from the crowd and on the couple of occasions that I've used them at Christmas, they've always gone down a storm.  So as much as it pains my girlfriend that I'll probably be buying another bunch of the said cards this year - I'm thinking of the 'Mr Claus, Mrs Claus and all the little sub-Clauses' this time around - I think they're well worth the money.  For the record, I don't send them out to just anyone, instead choosing to reserve them for people that I deem a) worth it, and b) capable of appreciating them - heartless, I know. But seriously, if you haven't visited the site before, and are a budding, seasoned or aspiring lawyer - or know someone that is - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by their selection.  Well worth a look.

For other great gift ideas visit today.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Still About....Just

Man working in a very small office. Yes, despite the dearth of posts that this poor blog has seen in the last week or so, I am still about.  I have to admit, though, the workload for my LL.M and working part time to help stay afloat is taking its toll.  Last week was particularly bad as I had to attend the 3rd day of training on the Thursday which is usually my 'free' day and something I desperately needed to keep free to prepare for the 3 seminars I have every other Tuesday.  Yes, that's tomorrow.  Let's just say that my preparation for Corporate Governance has received rather scant attention so far and I'm not hopeful that that's going to change in time for tomorrow.

Anyway, despite this hectic schedule, I've found the time to go and see Quantum of Solace, a film which pretty much met most of my expectations.  Obviously, I'll be writing up my 'Quantum of Solace Review' at some point (at this rate it'll hopefully be before the end of 2009 ) so I'll save all comments in respect of the film until then.  What I will say, though, is that in one 'screen' in a certain branch of Vue, they've insisted on placing the front bank of seats ridiculously, bizarrely and migraine-inducingly close to the screen itself.  Seriously, I had never seen anything quite like this.  Granted, we were cutting it a bit fine for the viewing we'd planned for so only had ourselves to blame that we had to plumb for the said seats, but nobody seriously could have enjoyably watched a film from them.  So, our tenure in those seats was short-lived: we walked out 30 seconds later to request a re-scheduling.  As my girlfriend and I observed at the time: it was like watching a movie on a widescreen TV with your nose pressed against the glass.  Shame on you Vue.  Shame on you. As if selling crazily priced refreshments wasn't bad enough!!

Alas, all was well and having queued up a good 45 minutes before the next viewing was due to start, we were more or less on pole position for our choice of seats. 

Oh boy: what's that I hear, calling quietly in the background?  Of course, it's my competition law work reminding me that it won't do itself and that seminar (along with the others) is TOMORROW!