This note considers 'virtual states' and supposed 'data
It covers -
overview, with an introduction to such states and major
- questions about their legal basis, practical considerations
- notes on selected past and contemporary virtual states
in Australia, such as Avram, Hutt, the United Federation
of Koronis and Atlantium
elsewhere - virtual
states elsewhere, including the Dominion of Melchizedek,
Talossa, Holy Empire of Reunion and Insulo de la Rozoj
havens - fantasies about censorship-free and copyright-free
'cyberhavens' in putative microstates such as Sealand
supplements discussion elsewhere on this site regarding
governance of the global information infrastructure, intellectual
property, taxation, politics and currency.
So-called 'virtual states' (also characterised as
'stealth states', 'ephemeral political entities' or members
of the 'Fifth World') are of interest because they pose
questions about political legitimacy, international governance
and the way that some online communities conceptualise
law and citizenship.
They are also of interest as a basis for scams, as a subject
of media attention and of problematical claims about the
feasibility of establishing anarchical cyberhavens that
are free of censorship, copyright, taxes, soap and other
supposed embodiments of a repressive 'new world order'.
They are virtual because they are weak simulations of
real countries. They typically involve only a handful
of people - most virtual states claim a membership of
less than 50 people and the only active person is typically
the state's founder (its king, duke, emperor, president
or arch-wizard). Contrary to their pretensions, virtual
states have no basis in international law and no recognition
by real countries. As the following page notes, they do
not meet accepted criteria for nationhood and are in essence
either an embodiment of the founder's eccentricity or
a commercial exercise that may or may not breach law in
their country of domicile.
Virtual states can be distinguished from online diasporas
(with political and economic refugees maintaining a global
community through the internet) and from governments-in-exile.
They can also be distinguished from virtual
world entities - those in massive multiplayer online
roleplaying games (MMPORGs), although such games often
have a 'population' that is larger and more committed
than that of pseudo-states such as Minerva.
how many states?
There is no comprehensive list of virtual states and figures
That is unsurprising given the nature of many of the states,
which are often started by schoolboys at the age of 15
or 16 and expire as the adolescent moves beyond a 'dungeons
& dragons' mindset, or that were announced as a protest
against a tax agency, bank or globalisation and disappear
once grievance has been expressed.
It is also unsurprising because virtual states are not
acknowledged by the ITU, ISO, UN General Assembly and
other international entities. They do not for example
gain ccTLDs, are not
recognised by the ISO
3166 Maintenance Agency and are not members of the
Universal Postal Union (UPU).
Those bodies typically encounter virtual states when dealing
with communiques from self-declared monarchs or with scams
affecting consumers in several jurisdictions. One contact
in Geneva thus refers to his 'kooks, cons & coronets'
It is conceivable that there are well over 200 virtual
states asserting their existence at any one time. Some
disappear quickly. Others in practice do not appear, because
they fail to get attention beyond the founder's family
or two best friends. The main evidence for the rise and
fall of the prominent virtual states is their artifacts
- coins and notes that have a curiosity value and appear
in independent numismatic catalogues - and collisions
with law enforcement bodies.
micronations and fictions
Enthusiasts for virtual states have appropriated the term
'micronation'. That term more appropriately used to characterise
countries in the Pacific, Europe and elsewhere that have
a small geographical territory and/or population.
As noted in the following page, size is not all and legitimacy
is not necessarily a function of population size, hectares
claimed or military spending. From the perspective of
China, with over a billion citizens, Australia may appear
as a microstate – albeit one in possession of substantial
real estate and with a substantial GDP.
Microstates are more commonly held to include entities
such as San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra in Europe
and Niue, Kiribati, Nauru and Tokelau in the Pacific.
They typically command only a small land area; some of
Pacific states have a correspondingly small population
(much of it resident offshore) and economy. It has been
less common to characterise the Gulf States as micronations
(an instance of petro-exceptionalism?), although by one
account there are more lawyers in the US than there are
citizens of Qatar, more hairdressers in Europe than citizens
of Abu Dhabi.
International recognition of some of those states is longstanding.
Their regalia and Burgundian-style court costume, much
copied by pretenders among virtual duchies and principalities,
predates the Congress of Vienna. Others date from Britain's
departure from the Pacific in the 1960s. Some, such as
Monaco, are so closely aligned with a larger neighbour
as to be protectorates. Some are dependent on international
welfare and may indeed disappear due to rising sea levels.
They may however have economic clout.
What is involved in establishing a virtual state?
The answer to that question is, of course, very little.
Establishment typically appears to involve the founder
awarding his or herself a suitably resonant title. (As
time goes by a process of title inflation is usually apparent.
People often start by characterising themselves as dukes
and later upgrade the title to king or emperor. Others
add ecclesiastical to civil titles. The self-proclaimed
Duke of Avram in Australia is thus a Prince and Cardinal
with a plethora of honorifics, few recognised by an independent
The next step is to announce establishment of the state.
Establishment is sometimes pitched as a secession
from a nation such as Australia on the basis of refusal
to pay that nation's taxes (or merely repay a bank loan).
It may instead be described as assertion of hitherto unrecognised
rights. In the past few people would have become aware
of the establishment, which generally came to attention
through media coverage of legal action by tax or other
agencies or by a 'slow news day' item on a colourful eccentric.
The web now allows announcement to a global audience.
Whether that audience is listening is another matter.
Some virtual state proprietors restrict themselves to
being photographed in ruritanian regalia and costumes
and bestowing honorifics on friends and associates.
Others move on to commercialise the project. That commercialisation
may be benign, through sale of collectible banknotes and
coinage or through chivalric orders that are only recognised
by recipients. It may instead extend to sale of academic
certificates and passports,
and a range of money laundering
or investment scams. Passports are often sold on the basis
that the putative state has international recognition
and that the passport can accordingly be used for international
What is the outcome of establishing a virtual state?
Consistent with the ease of establishing a virtual state
its impact is often barely discernable. Abandonment may
involve nothing more a decision to cease payment for hosting
the supposed state's site.
Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities: Reflections
on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London:
Verso 1983) and Ernest Gellner's Nations & Nationalism
(Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 1983) consider what we mean
by 'nation'. Other works are highlighted here.
For questions of recognition see in particular the lucid
The Creation of States in International Law (Oxford:
Clarendon Press 2006) by James Crawford, complemented
by Stefan Talmon's Recognition of Governments in International
Law, With Particular Reference to Governments in Exile
(Oxford: Clarendon Press 1998), Thomas Grant's The
Recognition of States: Law and Practice in Debate and
Evolution (Westport: Praeger 1999), Christian Hillgruber's
'The Admission of New States to the International Community'
in 9 European Journal of International Law (1998)
491 and Linda Bishai's Forgetting Ourselves: Secession
and the (Im)possibility of Territorial Identity (Lanham:
Points of entry to literature about the disappearance
or non-disappearance of the state include Jerry Everard's
Virtual States: The Internet & the Boundaries
of the Nation State (London: Routledge 1999),
Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, & Pirate Utopias
(Cambridge: MIT Press 1999) edited by Peter Ludlow, The
Myth of the Powerless State (Ithaca: Cornell Uni
Press 1998) by Linda Weiss, The Retreat of the State:
The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 1996) by Susan Strange and other works
highlighted here. Essays
in The State of Play: Law, Games & Virtual Worlds
(New York: New York Uni Press 2006) edited by Jack Balkin
& Beth Noveck will stimulate thought about clickocracy
and the blurring of traditional demarcations.
Works on international public law include Malcolm Shaw's
International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press
2002), Antonio Cassesse's International Law (Oxford:
Oxford Uni Press 2005), Nikos Papadakis' The International
Legal Regime of Artificial Islands (Leiden: Sijthoff
1977), Anthony Aust's Handbook of International Law
(Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2005) and The New
Sovereignty: Compliance With International Regulatory
Agreements (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1995) by
Abram & Antonia Chayes. Questions about the legitimacy
of governments (and of nations) are highlighted in the
discussion of human rights
and the Australian Constitution,
with pointers to salient works such as Hans Kelsen's provocative
General Theory of Law & State (New Brunswick:
Material on territorial and international waters, such
as Ram Anand's Origin & Development of the Law
of the Sea: History of International Law Revisited
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1983), The Law Of The
Sea (Manchester: Manchester Uni Press 1999) by Robin
Churchill & Vaughan Lowe and The exclusive economic
zone in international law (Oxford: Clarendon Press
1987) by David Attard is noted here.
For evanescent tax havens see Noel Cox's 2003 Tax
and Regulatory Avoidance Through NonTraditional Alternatives
to Tax Havens. Other works include Tax Havens
of the World (New York: Matthew Bender 1998) by Walter
& Dorothy Diamond. Other works on tax regimes are
noted in the Taxation Guide elsewhere
on this site.
For Australian microstates and the politics of resentment
see DIY Sovereignty and the Popular Right in Australia
by Judy Lattas.
Poyais, a protype for contemporary scams, features in
David Sinclair's Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land
That Never Was (London: Review 2003). Pirate radio
is discussed in Paul Harris's Broadcasting from the
High Seas (Edinburgh: Paul Harris Publishing 1976)
and in 'Legal Aspects of Pirate Broadcasting: A Dutch
Approach' in 60 American Journal of International
Law (1967) 303 by HF van Panhuys & Menno van
The evanescent nature of virtual states - proclaimed today,
gone tomorrows (or when the tide comes in) - means that
there is not a substantial literature on individual projects.
A 2006 NLA and LoC literature search for example revealed
that there are more books on the art of the sandcastle
than monographs on virtual states. Coverage in the mass
media has been uneven, ranging from items that take pseudo-imperial
communiques at face value to pieces that are gently derisive.
For the Republic of Minerva see Lawrence Horn's 1973 'To
Be or Not to Be: The Republic of Minerva: Nation-founding
by Individuals' in 12 Columbia Journal of Transnational
Law 520 and Samuel Menefee's 'Republics of the Reefs:
Nation-building on the Continental Shelf and in the World's
Oceans' in 25 California Western International Law
A perspective is provided in Michael Oliver's A New
Constitution for a New Country (Reno: Fine Arts Press
1967), one of those tracts that makes Ayn Rand seem readable,
and even zanier How to Start Your Own Country: how
you can profit from the coming decline of the nation state
(Port Townsend: Loompanics 1984) by Erwin Strauss. The
latter recommends acquisition and willingness to use weapons
of mass destruction.
For Ray and the Grand Capri Republic see Sherry Eckhardt's
1969 'Proprietary Interest of United States in Continental
Shelf Precludes Claims of Acquisition by Private Entrepreneurs
- United States v. Ray' in 6 San Diego Law Review
487. Rose Island features in Pasquale Paone's 1968 'Il
Caso Dell' 'Isola Delle Rose' in 51 Rivista di Diritto
Internazionale 505. Writing about Sealand includes
Simson Garfinkel's 2000 article
Welcome to Sealand. Now Bugger Off, replete with
claims that "freedom is the next killer app"
(ie commercial freedom "to store and move data without
answering to anybody, including competitors, regulators,
Histories of secession, or would-be secession, include
Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry
Rebels, and their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America's
Political Map (New York: Chelsea Green 2010) by Bill