Bragg v. Linden Labs Moot Court in Second Life

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OpenCourseWare: Evidence, Winter 2007, Harvard Law School, Professor Nesson

In our 2007 Evidence class we undertook an experiment. Could we use the Second Life virtual world, and specifically Berkman Island, a classroom/courtroom environment created there, to hold a Moot Court in which the class would learn the rules of evidence through the practice of a virtual trial? This document describes how the experiment was structured and how it went in the hopes that virtual classrooms, and virtual courtrooms in particular might become useful teaching spaces. In fact, the Berkman Island courtroom is just such a pedagogical/rhetorical space, and arrangements can be made to use the space for teaching other law topics. The only proviso is that the teaching be done as opencourseware. That is, that a description like this one be left in the Berkman Library for other students and educators to learn from.

The Case:

The case tried was Bragg v. Linden Labs. The case raises many interesting questions in property and contract law. However, in order to focus on the aspects of evidence, we tackled only a subset of the issues presented by the case. In the case we decided to address the following question as an initial matter.

1) Prior to the exploit, was he the owner of the property that he had purchased?

2) Was his exploit improper, such that Linden was justified in taking his property?

3) If Linden Labs was justified in 2 was it justified for taking the property acquired prior to the exploit?

The Procedure:

The class was divided into 9 groups of approximately 8 or 9 members each. Each class member got an account in Second Life, and used Berkman Island as a place to become familiar with the Second Life environment. Each group also created a "group avatar" that would act in-court to examine witnesses etc. The proceedings where broken into particular tasks so that each group had one specific courtroom task to perform. The breakdown of tasks was as follows:

1) Voir dire by plaintiffs counsel
2) Vior dire by defendant's counsel
3) Plaintiff's opening argument (the theory of the case)
4) Defendants's opening argument (opposing theory)
5) Direct examination of Bragg
6) Cross-examination of Bragg
7) Direct examination of Rosedale
8) Cross-examination of Rosedale
9) Gourp to work with judge (Prof. Nesson).
10) The jury was chosen from the at-large Second Life community.

In this way the proceedings are broken up into manageable pieces. Note that Bragg and Rosedale are played by avatars in the space. We have been told that the avatars are not in fact either Bragg or Rosedale.

There was an orientation session where individual avatars were shown how the interface works, and were inttroduced to Berkman Island.

The Courtroom

The figure below shows the layout of the courtroom, a snapshot taken from the perspective of the judges bench (which in the immediate foreground).

To the right is the court reporter's box, and on the left (connected to the judges bench) is the Witness Box. The jury sits in the rows on the left just past the witness box. Directly opposite the judges bench are two tables for each counsel, with two seats at each table. Beyond that are rows of seats for the gallery.

What follows are the transcripts of the trial as it occured, along with snapshots of the courtroom environment during the trial.

First Courtroom experience: Voir Dire. January 16th 2007, 8:00pm Berkman Island Amphitheater

We had our first courtroom experience. We did the voir dire in "The Ampitheater", and then moved to the more formal "Courtroom" space. The courtroom space is a little too spread-out, which makes it difficult to be "heard" in the virtual world without shouting. It also seems perhaps too formal for our first experience in virtual-world dispute resolution So, we've decided to move back to the amphithater for subsequent sessions.

The proceedings were quite interesting. Different from a normal voir dire in ways you might suspect for people who have come to the jury pool because they are interested, not because they have recieved a notice of jury duty. The Transcript captures the uniqueness of the experience. The transcript also demonstrates the familiar aspects of the voir dire process, even in the virtual world.

The amphitheater is a more intimate space than the courtroom, but still allows seating the witnesses and the judges at one table, and provvides a space where the advocates can address the judge, jury and witness with equal ease. This figure shows the full amphitheater before voir dire had begun.

The judge, seated at the front table, asked all potential jurors to sit on seats to his right, and all observers to take the seats to his left. The counselors then entered the center to address the potential jurors. Hear a juror is answering the question "why did you join second life?"

Second Courtroom Experience: Opening Statement, and Direct Examination January 17th 2007, 8:00pm Berkman Island Amphitheater

We had our second meeting in the amphitheater instead of the courtroom (the "acoustics" are better there). We started with opening statements, and made it through direct examination of the plaintiff, Bragg. The Transcript is here. The result was much more structured than the first night, and the participants dealt with the limitations of the interface well. Here, the Plaintiff, Bragg, as played by avatar GeoffMcGi Xi responds on direct.

After the proceedings, several avatars stayed and described their experiences and suggested several possible improvements to the process. The Transcript of that discussion desribes some of the proposals. Generally, the issues were with the interface, and the speed of the proceedings. The most substantive problem was the lag between counsel's objections, the judges ruling, and the witnesses testimony. Because there was a lag, the witness would continue testifying despite objection. A possible solution for this is for opposing counsel to "stand up" when there is an objection to give a visual signal to judge, jury witness and counsel that an objection is forthcoming. Other suggestions included using audio, at least for opening and closing statements, in order to make the preseentation more efficient and to capture the speaker's emphasis which is difficult through the Chat interface. It was agreed that opening and closing statements were best done by cut and paste to speed the proceedings and that introducing audio would add a complication that was not worth the potential cost in confusion.

Third Courtroom Experience: Direct and Cross Examination, Closing Statements, Jury deliberation. January 18th 2007, 8:00pm Berkman Island Amphitheater

Well we really hit our stride in the third session, completing cross of Bragg, and direct and cross of Rosedale, closing arguments, and even a complete jury deliberation. Transcripts of the proceedings are available.

the jury delivers its verdict

The jury decided:

1) Prior to the exploit, was he the owner of the property that he had purchased? Answer: Yes.

2) Was his exploit improper, such that Linden was justified in taking his property? Answer: Yes.

3) If Linden Labs was justified in 2 was it justified for taking the property acquired prior to the exploit? Answer: No.

However, see the trascript of the jury delivers its verdict for the importance of getting perticular items in evidence and before closing statements. This is hard in the environment.

We also have the unique opportunity to peer inside the jury room, with a transcript of the jury deliberations provided by the Fore-avatar of the jury.