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Reputation As Property

Is reputation the new form of property in virutal economies? This question is examined in an interesting article in the Yale Law Journal.

According to Joseph Blocher, sites like Facebook have a reputational economy; social status and the respect of others is a form of property.

Virtual reputational economies show that reputation can be gained, lost, traded, protected, and shared, all in property-like fashion, without regard to whether it has independent economic value. In other words, reputation is not merely valuable; it is the new New Property.

He notes that the law has long been concerned with reputation in the real world - the protection of reputation from unjust harm; an example would be the development of defamation law. But in the virtual world, reputation is like property even when there is no real-world market value.

Facebookers are engaged in a sometimes-competitive enterprise of acquiring, possessing, and protecting reputation. Through their efforts, they gain reputation, which they then feel entitled to protect (from gossip or insults, for example), to share or give (for example by including friends in a high-status clique or otherwise endorsing them), and otherwise to treat as they see fit. They own their reputations, whether or not those reputations ever interact with the real-world economy.

Science fiction writers have already spent time exploring the idea of a reputation-based economy. In his excellent 1976 short story The Moon Moth, Jack Vance uses the concept of strakh:

Prestige, face, mana, repute, glory: the Sirenese word is strakh. Every man has his characteristic strakh, which determines, when he needs a houseboat, whether he will be urged to avail himself of a floating palace... or grudgingly permitted an abandoned shack on a raft. There is no medium of exchange on Sirene; the single and sole currency is strakh.
(Read more about Jack Vance's strakh)

The current generation of sf fans may be more familiar with whuffie from Cory Doctorow's 2003 novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

Take a look at Blocher's article in the Yale Law Journal.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/3/2009)

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