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Welcome! I am teaching law at St. Petersburg State University and engaged in legal practice with the international law firm Dentons. Major part of my research is connected to virtual worlds and massive multiplayer online games (a broad field which includes Internet law, video game law, virtual law and game studies). My legal practice is focused on providing support to computer game companies. This interest derives from my passion for computer games which I consider as one of the most important cultural artifacts ever created. Please note that this blog conveys my private opinion which is not necessarily shared by any organisations I am associated with. For more formal and detailed introduction please visit my website arkhipov.info which serves more as a 'business card'.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Definition Of Virtual Law

The term virtual law currently has two main meanings: (1) part of real-life law as applied to virtual worlds (in narrow sense), or (2) law emerging through cooperation of virtual worlds' users/avatars in a virtual social reality.

Let's elaborate on this a bit further.

In each case the reference is given to a virtual world (in narrow sense) concept. Narrow meaning of "virtual worlds" words implies computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use objects. 

1. Virtual law as real law

Virtual law (1)

A typical virtual world implies a lot of legal issues, even before we get to the most fascinating ones (e.g. virtual property as an analogy to real-life property). There is a lot to be done to arrange a business, fix the terms with the relevant parties, run a payment system and so on in order to launch a virtual world. To be on a safe side, all of this requires legal input. 

When a virtual world is launched, a lot of other issues may arise: online and in-game harassment and libel, virtual black market, enforcement of EULAs etc. This, again, has strong and, so to say, classic real-life law flavour blended a bit with the technical specifics of virtual worlds background. 

All of the above implies that virtual law (1) is a real-life law as applied to virtual worlds (in narrow sense) determined by technical specifics of a virtual law.

2. Virtual law as, ahem, virtual law

Virtual law (2)

Let us imagine that a dwarf crafts a cudgel and sells it to some human passing nearby. It is clear that the dwarf has a property title in the cudgel by the right of property. The dwarf (let us assume that it is a female dwarf) may dispose of her property as she wishes. The passing-by human gives promise to pay, the dwarf provides consideration - the cudgel in question - and the contract is made. 

Looks like an allegory for a theory of law class, doesn't it?

I believe that this is a natural way of thinking when it comes to any forms of "transactions" in virtual laws. They are really perceived as transactions, the items are really perceived as property and the infringements related to the virtual items are perceived not as infringements of terms of use or end-user license agreements made by and between the game provider and each individual user, but as breach of contract made between users/avatars themselves.

It is this discourse, where guilds or clans viewed as political structures seem appropriate.

Thus, virtual law (2) is a kind of law which is developed through virtual social communication in a virtual social reality of a virtual social world.   

Both virtual law (1) and virtual law (2) should be differentiated from other related phenomena such as internet law, IP law and e-currency law although all of these are related phenomena. Virtual law practice/firms is a completely different issue as what is implied is just legal services rendered without any "physical" office.

Does virtual law (2) appeal to you?  


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