By Roger Parloff
December 9, 2006

Supremely influential and frequently controversial, federal appeals court judge Richard Posner has now also become metaversial. Last Thursday evening, Judge Posner left Chicago to spend a couple hours in Second Life, the metaverse simulated by servers operated by Linden Lab.

At a Greek-style amphitheater surrounded by a moat in the neighborhood of “Kula,” Posner’s in-world character (or avatar) spoke and answered questions about Posner’s new book, Not A Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency. Although visitors to Second Life more typically choose for themselves fancifully named and shaped avatars that resemble animals, monsters, or sexually exotic humans, Judge Posner’s avatar was named “Judge Richard Posner” and took the form of a realistically balding and bespectacled older gentleman dressed in a gray suit and rep tie. In a brief e-mail to me, Posner says he thought he “looked kind of weird.”

The forum had “something to do with Creative Commons,” Posner explains, “whose leader, [Stanford law professor and cyberlaw authority] Larry Lessig is a friend and former law clerk, and it was he who arranged for the invitation to me.”

Posner says that he was asked some questions about “intellectual property in cyberspace, such as whether duplicating in [Second Life] a building [that exists] in the real world might infringe the copyright of the building owner.” (For a learned debate about that question in the Patry Copyright Blog, click here.) But Posner chose not to weigh in on that “very difficult” issue, he says. That seems prudent to me, since it’s a question that might eventually come before him on the bench in some universe or other.

Second Life blogger Wagner James Au promises to post a transcript of Judge Posner’s appearance in Second Life on his New World Notes site on Monday (December 11).

Incidentally, Posner, 67, is probably the most prolific writer the federal judiciary has ever known. He has published more than 45 books, more than 300 scholarly articles and book reviews, and more than 2,200 court opinions. Since December 2004 he has also co-written The Becker-Posner Blog with Gary Becker, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. To see a short interview Posner gave Fortune last year about how he manages to accomplish all that within the same 24-hour-day framework that the rest of us operate within, click here.
(You’ll need to scroll down or search for “posner” once you get there, since he’s just one of many people interviewed there.)

You May Like