Leave Those Orcs Alone: Property Rights in Virtual Worlds
51 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2008
Date Written: 3/26/08
Virtual Worlds are online communities visited by millions of users, most with their own economic and property systems. This article aims to attack a fundamental issue facing these new worlds: whether real-world legal systems should apply to virtual world transactions and activities. I argue that, contrary to prevailing legal scholarship, virtual worlds should stay free of stifling and inapplicable real-world laws and theories of property. My goal is to show how a focus on fitting laws to the actual needs and desires of the parties can lead to a result besides simply bolting on existing property systems. The sociable, game-like "homes" of virtual worlds have little to do with providing shelter, safety, or a store of growing investment value. Property systems protecting the latter are counterproductive. I believe that this focus casts a new light on why and when a legal property system is necessary at all. It showcases a grey area where commonplace rules lose their underlying rationale.
Second, I try to describe the ways in which brand new societies have evolved functioning and efficient quasi-legal systems. Virtual worlds have existed in their modern form for a scant decade. Yet in that short space the users and developers have evolved dispute resolution systems, understandings on what is "acceptable" in the world, and mechanisms to change existing rules. Even in a state of tremendous power disparities, the powerless can negotiate effectively to reach their desired result. When killing sprees are often the very point of the game, creating a shared consensus on legality in such a short span of time is a tremendous accomplishment. I believe that the result illuminates how legal systems evolve from shared community values into codified law, and on how the governed and the governors interact to create a system.
Keywords: Virtual Worlds
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By Wian Erlank