Classifying Virtual Property in Community Property Regimes: Are My Facebook Friends Considered Earnings, Profits, Increases in Value, or Goodwill?
54 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2010 Last revised: 12 Mar 2011
Date Written: August 25, 2010
Virtual property, or that property which exists only in the intangible world of cyberspace, is of growing importance. Millions of people use some form of virtual property every day, be it an e-mail account, a blog, or a Facebook profile. Billions of dollars are spent to acquire property in the virtual world. And the economic and social impact of virtual property is only likely to increase at light year speed.
As the importance of virtual property continues to rise, laws pertaining to virtual property must similarly develop. Among the emerging legal issues yet unaddressed by scholarship or jurisprudence is how community property regimes will respond to virtual community (or separate) property. Because the acquisition of virtual property such as websites, domain names, e-mail accounts, and even Facebook pages, create a property interest, in the nine community property states, community property laws impact what rights spouses have in such property. Thus, spouses are on the brink of litigating issues such as whether a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is community or separate property, whether a website generates an increase in separate property, whether e-mail contacts are profits, and whether Facebook friends create goodwill. Community property jurisdictions must be prepared to quickly adapt to the reality of virtual property if the regimes wish to avoid being left in the wake of cyberspace. To aid courts in their impending task of considering virtual property in a community setting, this Article examines how different forms of virtual property should be classified in community property regimes. After explaining the classification scheme within community property jurisdictions, the Article details examples of virtual property likely to be present in modern couples’ lives, and considers how the identified examples of virtual property should be classified.
Keywords: community property, virtual property, Internet, separate property, matrimonial regimes, e-mail
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