Virtual Rule of Law
52 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2009 Last revised: 29 Oct 2009
Date Written: August 28, 2009
This article, which follows a presentation at the West Virginia Law Review Digital Entrepreneurship Symposium, is the first to consider whether virtual worlds provide a rule of law that sets expectations for virtual business. Many consider the rule of law a catalyst for economic development, and there is reason to believe that it will be equally important in virtual economies, despite differences from the real world. As more people turn to virtual worlds to earn a livelihood, the rule of law will become prominent in encouraging investments in virtual business. The article finds – unsurprisingly – that virtual worlds now lack many of the elements of the rule of law. Which aspects fail is more surprising, however. Provider agreements and computer software, the sources of regulation that are most often criticized as “anti-user,” provide the best theoretical hope for achieving the rule of law, even if they currently fail in practice. On the contrary, widely proposed “reforms,” such as community norms, self-regulation, and importation of real-world law face both theoretical and practical barriers to implementation of the rule of law in virtual worlds. Part I of the article describes virtual worlds and their connection to business. Part II defines a framework to measure the rule of law in virtual worlds. Part III discusses the various types of regulation in virtual worlds, and Part IV critically analyzes how these regulations measure up against rule of law requirements. The article concludes with some suggestions about how providers might enhance legal rule in virtual worlds.
Keywords: virtual worlds, rule of law, legal theory
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