Who's in Charge of Who I Am? Identity and Law Online

15 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2005

See all articles by Susan P. Crawford

Susan P. Crawford

Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society


As we enter this new century, identity online seems full of opportunity. Someday virtual world identities will be just as important as real identities - just as ecommerce has become indistinguishable from commerce. Control over online avatar identities will have many real-world consequences, because these clouds of bits may include our credit records, our buddy lists, our job records, personal references and other reputational information, medical histories, certifications, and academic transcripts. As soon as something is valuable and persistent, we seek to associate rights and duties with it. What will be the law of online identity to which those rights apply? And what will those rights be? I suggest a set of preliminary responses to these questions about law, rights, and destruction in this essay. First, online identities are emergent. Second, just as we are getting comfortable with the idea of these contextual, group-shaped, customized online avatar identities, it is disturbing to learn that online intermediaries have ownership of online identities, together with hooks allowing them to remove identities they don't like. Third, it does not look as if traditional sources of law will assist in rationalizing this state of affairs. Groups, or guilds, may provide some help when it comes to deciding what to do about identity questions.

Keywords: Internet, cyberspace, intellectual property

Suggested Citation

Crawford, Susan P., Who's in Charge of Who I Am? Identity and Law Online. New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 49, p. 211, 2004, Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 130, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=796844

Susan P. Crawford (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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