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Novel:
vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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vCity 1.0
Chapter 21

"Every man shuts himself up in his own breast,

and affects from that point to judge the world."

-- Alexis de Tocqueville --

 

Flashback. One day we received a very interesting cease & desist letter in the mail from a corporation based in Great Britain. I think they were called Unlimited Content Ltd, or something like that. Let me check the archives for a second. Right. What this corporation does, essentially, is purchase copyrights on creative content of all kinds. The entire business consists of purchasing, and then reselling, the legal use of content. They negotiate with distributors and repackagers, and otherwise spend their time preparing legal suits.

UC Ltd was very upset that one of our vCitizens had taken the name Elrond HalfElven and had designed a virtual reality castle in the Forest/Woodlands outland called Rivendell. Apparently one of the contracts which UC Ltd had purchased was the right to the use of all characters and ideas created by the Tolkien family, J.R.R. and his son Christopher. Exclusive right, I might add.

Not knowing whom to sue, exactly, they decided to attack us.

Now, legally, this case was about as dense and foggy as Mirkwood itself. The VR world files were not located on our server, and therefore our culpability was limited. To make a case for copyright infringement, UC Ltd would have had to prove, in somebody's court of law, that there was intent to profit without negotiating a settlement or paying royalties for the use of the name "Elrond Half-elven" and the scenes and descriptions from Tolkien's book. A lesser charge might have been easier to prove, namely, that the unauthorized use of the content materially damaged UC Ltd. by lowering the value of the copyright in subsequent negotiations.

Anyway, since I had never seen the site before, I decided to check it out so that I could say in good faith that I had seen it and did not believe it would be harmful, fattening, etcetera.

Rivendell was stunning. It was more than beautiful; it was captivating. Even in PC mode (there is no other for this site), it was a breathtaking, accurate rendition of Imladris as described in various passages in the book. The slopes, the trees, the horses in the valley, the Bruinen river -- all of it was superb VR design.

J.R.R. would have been proud, for he had been something of a painter himself. The old linguistics professor had once written that he hoped that others would flesh out the sketches of Middle Earth, to carry on the tradition. Well, here it was, a dynamic, three dimensional representation of Imladris sometime in the early Fourth Age, before all the Elves had departed to the Sea and before Rivendell vanished into memory.

Rivendell had Elves. Not cute, Keebler corporation elves manufacturing snack food. Not Santa's elves, either. These were tall, elegant, Tolkien-type Elves. I don't know what they were doing there -- manufacturing lembas, maybe.

Those Elves were a big problem. I liked them, I really did. But right away, I realized they were a problem. Because if Elves were allowed to run around Rivendell, then what was to prevent somebody else from throwing a few hobbits into their sites, or dragons? Pretty soon the entire vCity would be overrun by fantasy figurines, and the whole simulation would degenerate into childish lunacy.

So I asked the designer of the site (Registry Protected for legal reasons) to get rid of the Elves. She said no. We agonized over the issue for weeks by e-mail.

"Look," I wrote her, "Tolkien himself said that the Fourth Age would be the Age of Man, right? Okay. So here we are. No more Elves -- they all emigrated to Eldamar."

Finally, she agreed to a little airbrushing, and bulked up the Elves into tall, elegant humans that merely looked like Elves. Or like Elvis, depending upon the resolution of your monitor.

This still left the problem of what humans would be doing running around in medieval garb, armor and footwear. She argued that just because this was not the current style of fashion did not mean that at some future point in time we would not return to it.

As a matter of fact she had a point. With all the weapons available today and the new concealment laws in effect, a little carbon-steel-titanium armor-plating and a cloak big enough to hide a semi-automatic might be just the ticket. Come to think of it, swords -- or at least electric personal defense technology -- might even make a comeback. Certainly crossbows did. But is that a desirable future? It's kind of an aggressive fashion statement.

I was loathe to put the site up for a referendum because I knew that either way I would lose. If the site were banned, the vCity would lose a magnificent, stirring example of the promise of VR art and architecture. And if the site were not banned, the entire vCity concept as we envisioned it would collapse like a shoji in an earthquake.

So I kept at it. After a few more weeks of exhaustive negotiation, we came to the following understanding. First of all, she needed to negotiate a separate agreement with UC Ltd. to use content that belonged to them. UC Ltd. agreed to charge the very minor fee of $50 to maintain its corporate face and because the site and the name "Elrond HalfElven" was not being used for profit, but merely to extol the virtues of the Tolkien world. It was, in effect, a form of advertising for them. Secondly, she needed to explain that what viewers were looking at was not the Rivendell, but merely a virtual reality reproduction of what Rivendell would look like if it were reproduced in its entirety today with modern materials.

Thirdly, she needed to point out that the humans running around looking like Elves were actually virtual representations of actors in period costumes. Why? Well, because the entire site would be sort of like a fantasy theme park or a historical simulation park -- like the Renaissance festivals that sweep across North America, or the annual recreation of Civil War battles popular in Virginia and Tennessee. It would be interesting to see if a market exists for creating theme parks based on fantasy novels. Etcetera.

So there it is. Everybody's happy, and the Rivendell site still exists.

Soon after that, we got another letter from UC Ltd. complaining about the use of the name Minas Ithil.

Sheesh. The things a First Citizen has to put up with. I punted that one to Stan.

next chapter

 

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