[ISN] Body of Evidence

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Wed Aug 05 1998 - 17:22:40 PDT

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    From: phreak moi <hackereliteat_private>
    Body of Evidence
    by Beverly Hanly
    4:00am  5.Aug.98.PDT
    Real criminals are tried in real courts, so why shouldn't virtual
    criminals be tried in virtual courts? 
    A handful of legal scholars from the Institute on the Arts and Civic
    Dialogue (IACD) are mulling over the question and will convene Wednesday
    to discuss whether virtual courts are the best forum for cybercrime trials
    and if a virtual legal system could lead to new legal processes regarding
    real world crimes. 
    The experts will join multimedia artist Shu Lea Cheang, creator of the
    Brandon project, for a webcast forum from 8 to 11 pm, EDT, at the Harvard
    Law School. 
    The group will play out a fictitious courtroom drama based on several
    disputes involving cyberetiquette, gender identity, and the hazy line
    between fantasy vs. reality as the first public forum in the year-long
    Brandon project commissioned by New York's Guggenheim Museum. Brandon
    explores issues of gender identity and the consequences of experimenting
    with sexuality in real life and in cyberspace. 
    The ongoing media and legal debate regarding hate speech and the
    proliferation of sexual content on the Internet and whether or not these
    are harmful -- and to whom -- is the territory the mock trial will cover. 
    Harvard theater director Liz Diamond will collaborate with Cheang to guide
    the group as they dramatize elements drawn from real-life sexual assault
    cases, including that of the project's namesake Teena Brandon, a
    transsexual who was murdered in Nebraska in 1993. Other cases will involve
    a virtual trial for "cyberrape," a MUD character named Mr.  Bungle, and
    the FBI arrest of Michigan student Jake Baker for his rape-and-murder
    fantasy about a fellow student posted to a Usenet newsgroup in 1994. 
    Actors will play the roles of victims and perpetrators, while professors
    from Harvard, University of Virginia, and Columbia law schools will act as
    "standing jurors" to examine and comment on the legalities. 
    "This is a venue where you can experiment with the process and substance
    of these [cyberlaw] cases,"  said Jennifer Mnookin, professor of law at
    Virginia's School of Law in Charlottesville, who will sit in on the
    session. She feels that virtual worlds like LambdaMOO can provide a new
    and more appropriate arena for dispute resolution. 
    "Part of what's at issue here is how much someone can be hurt with words,"
    said Mnookin. "Someone who commits a violation in cyberspace shouldn't
    necessarily be subject to consequences in real courtrooms. Something like
    the LambdaMOO 'cyberrape' was appropriately settled in a virtual court.
    The perpetrator was expelled from that world, his virtual identity was
    annihilated -- he was 'toaded.' What is a violation in one world might not
    be in another." 
    Virtual penalties can translate from one world to the other as well.
    Cheang, in her virtual court, suggests the idea of "virtual castration" as
    an alternative to "chemical castration" advocated by some as a way of
    dealing with sexual offenders. 
    The August public event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the first time
    since the Brandon project began on 20 June that Cheang will be able to
    interact with both a live and a Net audience. 
    "The test will serve as a base toward constructing a digiarchitextual
    space of a virtual court at the Guggenheim's [proposed] virtual museum,"
    said Cheang, who will collaborate with an architect of physical spaces to
    create a "courtroom"  at the museum. "My work has always fused actual and
    virtual space." 
    Netizens need nothing more than an Internet connection to tune in to the
    mock trial. But Cheang also wants to include a public that has no access
    to Net technology. 
    Anyone in the Harvard area who's interested can physically attend the
    staged trial. In New York, street audiences can visit the Guggenheim
    SoHo's video wall, which is made up of 75 contiguous 40-inch projection
    cubes. The video wall will display images from the Brandon project and
    audiences will be able to interact at scheduled times. 
    "We're not sure how the 'experimentation' with the audience will go," said
    Cheang.  "Maybe we'll fail badly. But it is this uncertainty, this feeling
    that we're exploring new ground in public interaction that is most
    exciting for me and my collaborators here at the Institute." 
    Law professor Mnookin looks at the experiment as a venue that can open up
    the dialog on cyberlaw issues. "What's interesting to me about 'virtual
    law' is that it's much more obvious than in the real world that the rules
    are malleable, that they're created by the participants. 
    "In the real world, it's easy to take the legal processes for granted, to
    assume that [those processes] can't easily be transformed," she continued.
    "If virtual worlds are used as laboratories, it's easier to recognize the
    possibilities for change -- both within a virtual environment, and, just
    maybe, in the real world as well." 
    The Brandon Project is hosted at Harvard in conjunction with the brand-new
    IACD until 14 August. IACD puts artists in various media together with a
    community of scholars, journalists, and civic activists to explore current
    events and controversies. 
    After the test trial, Cheang will move on to Amsterdam, Netherlands, to
    begin setting up the next live installation of the project: "Digi Gender,
    Social Body: Under the Knife, Under the Spell of Anesthesia,"  to be
    webcast in September 1998. "Would the Jurors Please Stand Up? Crime and
    Punishment as Net Spectacle" is scheduled for May 1999. 
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