In a recent post I reported on the crime problems that have plagued the virtual world of Second Life, and the reluctance of Linden Lab (the game's makers) to act the role of law-enforcer. So who exactly should rule virtual worlds like Second Life? That's one of the questions which academics were attempting to answer at today's Terra Nova State of Play conference.
Larry Dignan reporting live from the event, writes:
For now the virtual world–characterized by Second Life, World of Warcraft and other games–is governed by game creators, the player community and end user license agreements. The future may look different.
What will it take before real world law is applied to the virtual world?
Virtual worlds are virgin territory for law. It's not clear how local community standards will be taken into account, how common law will evolve and what happens when someone is defrauded out of assets.
Dignan is right to raise the potential for fraud. Second Life residents trade goods and services using the game's own currency (Linden dollars) which has a real world value. Like with any transaction (online or off-line) there exists the possibly of dishonesty.
However, it might be not be fraud that brings about the first intersection of virtual-world crime and real world law. During the recent CopyBot saga where a piece of computer code was created to make it possible for virtual objects to be 'pirated', Linden Lab's initial response was to call on players whose IP rights had been violated to invoke the DMCA. And what about libel? How long before somebody feels that their virtual reputation has been unfairly tarnished enough to warrant litigation?
Taxation is of course another whole area where virtual worlds may see real world interference, and that's exactly what the academics at the Terra Nova State of Play conference will be grappling with tomorrow.