Do Real World Laws Apply In Virtual Worlds?
from the in-most-cases,-no dept
Back in 2003 people began realizing that the growth of various “virtual worlds” was going to raise certain questions about how real world laws applied to virtual worlds. However, there’s been little effort by the legal community to take a serious look at the question. So, we’ve had story after story after story after story after <a href=”https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20050818/1014246_F.shtml after story of upset users within virtual worlds trying to make use of real world laws against those that upset them.
In many cases, this is quite problematic. While it might seem fair to charge someone with “theft” for taking a virtual good in a virtual world (especially if that virtual item can be exchanged for real money), it’s not that easy at all. For example, what if stealing is a part of the game setup in that virtual world? At some point, you almost have to assume that anything allowable in the world is “within the rules,” or you run into some trouble. At the very least, it’s the owners and managers of these virtual worlds who have to act as the government and “law enforcement” within those worlds, using their terms of service and EULAs as de facto “constitutions.”
Fortunately, it appears that legal scholars agree on this. Eric Goldman points us to a paper by Orin Kerr that looks at these questions and concludes that the answers are similar to what we suggested: the law, in most cases, pertains only to physical acts, not virtual ones. Thus, virtual theft, virtual murder and virtual rape are quite different under the law than real theft, murder and rape — no matter how upset it makes the “victim.” In most cases, Kerr concludes, the real world law would not be applicable. Furthermore, he suggests that, despite this, it makes little sense for politicians to create new laws to cover virtual worlds. Instead, he notes that this is part of the responsibility of those who create and manage the game. By the very nature of creating the game, they become the de facto “government” and justice system, and there shouldn’t be a need to get the real world justice system involved at all.