June 11, 2006

BBC gets into a Virtual World (updated)

Posted in contracts, copyright, internet law, law reform, virtual worlds at 4:36 am by thelawthoughts

I am going out on a limb and will say that the law of virtual worlds is going to be one of the most important legal discussions we, as a society, need to have.

The BBC has rented space on a virtual island, to broadcast a concert to people who are 'visiting' the virtual world. Here are some critical questions the law needs to answer:

Should virtual world creators be allowed to set the rules? Does this mean we have 'private States' rather than our current public government? In other words, should game or virtual world creators be allowed to 'legislate' so that their rules apply over 'real world' legislation? What happens when real money is exchanged for 'virtual goods'? Do real world contract laws apply? Who owns the copyright in the BBC's concert? Do property laws apply to virtual worlds? What happens if a gifted coder hacks the virtual world and destroys parts of it? Should owners of virtual property get compensation?

This is effectively a rambling list off the top of my head. There are even more important issues to discuss than these and it is a fascinating development.

UPDATED: To follow this up, I found an interesting piece by the Counterfeit Chic on counterfeiting in virtual worlds. See? I told you this was important!



  1. Dash Brannigan said,

    Go to ebay and look up “Diablo II”, virtual goods being traded in the real world.

    You’ll find that the opperators of these virtual worlds already do have their own legisaltions. They have a level of behaviour that they require from all their virtual citizens.

    They are absolutley shocking when it comes to free speech. I mean banishment / death from the world for having a funny all be it sexual name.

    Well at least until the virtual civil rights movement starts and the virtial revolution begins.

  2. This is what I mean. My argument is that virtual world ‘owners’ are acting on the same basis as do sovereign nations. That is fine, but it means that people effectively execute a contract under which they submit to ‘legislation by the sovereign nation’.

    I find this incredible, especially given the real world connection you point out over eBay. IP protection is a huge issue, but who do you sue to enforce your rights? The world owner? The person doing the infringing? How do you discover who they are?

    All incredibly interesting in my opinion.

  3. Dash Brannigan said,

    While I like where you are thinking with this you have to remeber that it is a game. A really really good one but a game none the less.

    The thing with the ebaying of “items” is that you actually don’t pay for the item, you pay for the time it took for the item to be found / won. All items or remain the property of the game owners. They can be traded and the like but they are always the owners.

    I like where your thinking is going but I think it is a few years ahead. At the moment it’s like calling the rules of monopoly legislation and those little houses, that sweet car and silly thimble property.

    Although I’m not a lawyer, I would think that treating it like a game would be the way to go. The game has rules which you sign up to but the game itself exists in the real world and abides by real laws.

  4. I think that’s about right. I’m thinking specifically of damage to property in the virtual world, which really should be enforced by real world law.

    I’m thinking about people owning virtual property in the world, such as houses. What if somebody damages the house? How can they recover the cost of the item, whatever it is, in the real world?

    My other big interest is the IP issue involved. I mean, usually when you do a broadcast, you have the exclusive right to rebroadcast. If somebody records the BBC’s concert, that is copyright infringement. I think real world law needs to apply there, rather than some appeal being made to the game owner.

    However, the fact that the game owner has a contract with the gamer or even concertgoer adds another layer of complexity.

    I think the counterfeit issue is important also. Should a real world Gucci-type company be worried about ripoffs in the virtual world? I think they should, simply because the brand is as intangible as the real world, and brand damage can occur just as much in the virtual world, by being associated with particular situations or behaviours, as can a bag in the Victoria market.

    Again, I think IP owners should be able to protect their brands in the real world.

    Great comments!

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