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!

June 9, 2006

You Will be Bound

Posted in contracts, real estate at 6:11 am by thelawthoughts

I noticed that when I made an offer on a flat the other day, the real estate agent told me it had to be in writing for the vendor to accept it. No problems, I thought, send me over your forms and I will write in my offer.

Problem was, I suffered a shock like those detailed here by The Australian Real Estate Blog. Instead of some form with a space for my 'in writing offer', I got the front page of the contract note. Further, it had the subject to finance clause deleted. The agent expected me to sign the contract note, fax it back, and be contractually bound if the Vendor 'accepted' the offer and signed.

Apparently this happens all the time. I was expected to sign a contract, which I was not given the opportunity to read, without the protection of a back out clause should I not like it. Not only that, they would not submit my offer to the vendor unless it was by way of the contract note. In other words, I had no opportunity to buy the flat unless I was willing to sign a contract which I was not allowed to read.

My solicitior said this was common practice and that I couldn't do anything about it. What a ludicrous situation this is, where the Vendor could have any contractual term it wanted in the Special Conditions to the standard form contract note, and my signature would be on the front. If you won't take this chance, you can't buy the property! 

June 8, 2006

eBay Home Sales

Posted in contracts, funny law, internet law, real estate at 8:55 am by thelawthoughts

This story, about Uri Geller (the spoon bending guy) buying Elvis Presley's old house, is intriguing.

After his bid, but before any documentation was signed, the house was sold to another party. Interestingly, an auction is not an offer for the purposes of offer and acceptance forming a binding contract. The bid is the offer. Accepting the bid is at the discretion of the vendor, despite what the auctioneer may tell you.

Whatever the outcome is in terms of contract law, I find eBay's reaction the most fascinating. Here is the money quote:

"The platform we provide in real estate really serves to generate interest," said eBay spokeswoman Catherine England. "It isn't a legally binding contract," she added.

Excuse me? An eBay sale is not a legally binding contract? So, are we just bidding on things in the hope somebody will send the product? At what point does a sale made on eBay become legally binding?

From my 236-odd experiences buying and selling on eBay, I have found that the bidder always transfers the money before the seller posts the item. What would happen if the $1mil odd sale price was deposited, then the vendor said, 'sorry, not a legally binding contract'. Could they sue for their money back?

I know they can in Equity, but what a hassle! Next time you are on eBay, watch what happens to people who renege, who effectively say 'it's not a binding contract'. Not pretty, I can assure you. It seems to me that everybody on eBay thinks it is a binding contract.