Friday, April 25, 2008

vBusiness Expo day 2: Virtual worlds and the law

This second session I was able to follow, featured a panel discussion on 'Virtual worlds and the law', hosted by noted blogger and lawyer Benjamin Duranske of Virtually Blind. Again I had to tend to family business during the session, so I didn't get all of this.

Second Life, and games in general, bring issues of trademarks, counterfeiting brands or goods in world and related issues. A brand may want to enforce a trademark in world, even when there's no direct risk or damage involved, purely to maintain control over their own brand. For small entrepeneurs in Second Life this may prove difficult to do however, because of the cost of litigation. But, there are however examples of successful litigation in trademark cases, even though the two most clear examples were settled out of court, before the merits of the case were clear.

There were some very interesting discussions concerning what law and jurisdictions apply in employment situations. People in Second Life come from all over the planet; if someone pays an avatar to work with him on, say, building a sim, what jurisdiction does apply? You might not even know where that other avatar is coming from in real world, so how are you going to be compliant with employment law? These are, as was said, "highly complex legal relationships".

Another area of discussion is the enforceability of contract in a virtual world. Again, it is not always clear what law applies and what jurisprudence is valid. In some cases, a contract might only be enforceable if both parties want to comply.

This was really a very interesting discussion, and it's too bad I didn't get all of this. But sometimes, RL family has to take precedence over SL discussions - that's the legal precedent in our family ;-)

For those interested in this subject, I refer you to Virtually Blind, Benjamin's blog on virtual law.

A question I'd like to see discussed sometimes, is wether there's a difference between SL and an OpenSim grid. Linden Labs banned certain behaviours and busineses in order to comply with US law. But what happens when a grid consists of simulators hosted by different companies and individuals, all over the planet? Plus, the owner of a sim may reside in a different country than where his sim is actually hosted. In situations like these, what law apply? Could you possibly end up with a grid where you can't gamble in region x, but are fully free to do so in region y? Could that be feasible, or even enforceable? Maybe jurisprudence from the internet could apply there, where servers are also hosted all over the planet?

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