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virtual law

What conflict resolution laws apply to us when we are connected to the "Matrix"?

A virtual character in Linden Lab's Second Life
A virtual character in Linden Lab's Second Life

By Michael Tansen

What legal weight should be given, in the real world, to actions that take place in the virtual world? For most people, the answer may be "no weight," but as online communities carry out actual financial transactions and attract more and more participants, some legal experts believe it may be time to expand tangible jurisdiction into the virtual realms.

According to some estimates, around one hundred million users worldwide inhabit online communities. The virtual world Second Life ("second life") of the Linden Lab company from San Francisco provides a real-time experience to one million regular and active users through their personal computers.

Participants use digital characters called "avatars" to roam castles, isolated islands, and other imaginary XNUMXD environments. Through the avatars, they are able to meet and talk to thousands of other online participants, and even cuddle with them on couches and have virtual sex.
Such all-encompassing experiences have resulted in several reports of online actions causing real-world conflicts. In November 2008, a woman filed for divorce because she caught her husband's avatar showing excessive affection for someone else (he claimed, in response, that his wife pushed him into virtual infidelity due to her addiction to the game World of Warcraft). In courts dealing with divorce cases, based on proof of infidelity, such a claim would be completely legitimate, says Greg Lestowka, a law professor at Rutgers University who is currently writing a book called "Virtual Law". However, he compares this claim to complaints such as "my husband plays golf all the time and has no free time for me", actions that are not considered infidelity.

But with the average gamer spending 20 hours a week in such environments, players often place more emphasis on virtual matters than legislators do. After Chinese gamer Qiu Shengwei obtained a virtual sword in the online game Legend of Mir 3, and his friend borrowed it and then sold it for $800, Qiu contacted the police. And when he was told that there were no laws to protect virtual property, Q murdered the thief in real life. "If someone is going to die, and someone else is going to spend the rest of their days in prison because of a virtual crime, we should take it seriously," Lestoka points out.
Less unambiguous behavior is that which occurs between avatars, and would be considered criminal in the real world. Benjamin Doransky, a lawyer from San Francisco and founder of the "Second Life Bar Association" that meets once a month in the world of the game, tells about one such case, which involved "virtual rape", on his blog. Doransky wrote about the Brussels Prosecutor General demanding an investigation into allegations of rape involving a Second Life avatar from Belgium. The case was later closed, apparently, Doransky believes, because "most laws prohibiting violence only apply to real people, not computer characters."

This case is reminiscent of another virtual rape incident that occurred in the previous decade, as described by Julian Dibble in the Village Voice newspaper in 1993. The incident happened in the text-based virtual community LamdaMOO. A hacker known as "Mr. Bangle" took over other avatars and made them depict violent and rude acts on the screen. Following the article, a conference was held at New York University in 1994 where the participants discussed the possibility of self-control on the Internet, which may involve limiting or canceling the account of a certain player by the virtual community (as the account of the creator of "Mr. Bangle" was canceled).

Indeed, the members of today's virtual communities are obliged to agree to a "terms of service" contract that allows the companies that operate the games to resolve disputes by, for example, suspending the offending account. But creating a new account of another offensive character is very easy. And as he says to Stowka, "virtual worlds are not interested in monitoring their users, but only in making profits from them" (the company Linden Lab collects a commission from transactions that users make in Second Life). In online communities, he notes, there will always be "bullies" and "groups of thugs" waiting in game entry areas with the goal of killing new avatars or sexually exploiting someone who hasn't yet learned how to hit the "no" button.

When such cases from the virtual world emerge and arise, the courts can set precedents. South Korean courts, for example, have done this several times in virtual property matters. In the United States, however, the courts avoided the issue. The scope of the virtual world suggests that legislation may be desirable. The virtual trade turns in about a billion dollars a year, and it is expected to grow with the maturation of the six to twelve year olds who currently spend time in virtual games such as Club Penguin. Lestowka and Doransky think society is moving into a virtual Internet world "that is going to revolutionize the way we communicate with each other," says Doransky. All that remains is to wait and see if the law will succeed in catching up with the revolution.

Michael Tensen leads his early life as a science reporter in the Los Angeles area.

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5 תגובות

  1. Since the virtual world is infinite - endless environments can be created and each has its own set of rules - some of them can be defined - no rules at all!!!

  2. I don't agree, I'm ready to kill, steal, burn - (GTA... great game) in the virtual world... even when I play against friends I kill them in cold blood...
    And now that I think about it, you're right, it has nothing to do with a virtual world or not, when I was little we played cops and thieves and I always loved being the thief...

    You have to differentiate when it's real and when it's not (game/simulation) only in real life should there be punishment

  3. The distinction between good and bad does not include the sense of touch or any other sense.
    The distinction between good and bad is the ability to cause the most serious crimes in our society.
    And there is no difference whether it is in a virtual world or not!

  4. There are some senses that this virtual reality does not cover...
    For example, the sense of touch...

    But she does have the most important sense - the sense of feeling (mental)

  5. The feelings and perceptions that those "worlds" evoke in man are real, so what is virtual in this world. Why is the "normal" world where we see colors not virtual? After all, there really are photons and not colors.

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