Virtual reality can yield real legal woes

Mar 19, 2008

What your avatar does in an online fantasy world may very well land you in court. As virtual worlds increasingly generate real-world legal disputes, a cyberlaw scholar at the Rutgers School of Law—Camden is authoring a book that promises to be the first to focus on the complex intersection of law and virtual worlds.

In his forthcoming book “Virtual Law” (Yale University Press, 2009), Greg Lastowka, an associate professor at the Rutgers—Camden law school, will explore how the daily interactions of millions of people who “live” each day in online communities based in such virtual worlds as World of Warcraft or Second Life. In these three-dimensional worlds, individuals relate to one another through avatars, human-like digital depictions that represent real people in a simulated world.

“Virtual worlds are places where new social organizations are formed, new works of art are created, and virtual property is bought and sold for real money,” Lastowka says.

Virtual worlds also raise compelling and new legal questions about such issues as owning virtual assets and preventing virtual crimes. During the last few years alone, numerous federal lawsuits have been filed over disputes in virtual worlds. Real plaintiffs have raised claims involving property rights, criminal activities, contractual duties, copyright and trademark laws, and much more.

Online devotees and the businesses that cater to them aren’t alone in their fascination with virtual realities. Mainstream media attention has resulted in annual academic conferences and led universities to establish institutes designed to study and create new virtual worlds.

“Twenty years ago, science fiction writers imagined international communities forming within simulated online spaces,” says Lastowka. “That future has arrived. Both law and society will need to adapt to this new environment.”

The Rutgers—Camden legal scholar first started studying the topic of law and virtual worlds in 2003 and co-authored the leading law review article that introduced virtual worlds to the legal academy. He co-founded Terra Nova (terranova.blogs.com), a blog featuring commentary on virtual worlds from scholars in a variety of academic disciplines.

In addition to his work examining virtual communities, Lastowka has written articles on a range of topics, including laws regulating the Google search engine, authorial attribution rights (meaning the right of an author to be credited), computer trespass and crime, and digital copyright. His research has appeared in such journals as Brooklyn Law Review, Berkeley Technology Law Journal, California Law Review, and Intellectual Property & Technology Law Journal.

Lastowka’s interest in computers started in seventh grade when he wrote and sold a computer game programmed on his Apple II computer. His interest in computers continued through law school, when he built his own web site during the early days of the Web.

At the Rutgers School of Law—Camden, Lastowka teaches a variety of courses, including property, intellectual property, and Internet law. He has a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, where he won the Veech Prize for “the best creative writing by an undergraduate.” Following college, he served in the United States Peace Corps for two years in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan. He then graduated from the University of Virginia Law School, where he was a Hardy Cross Dillard Scholar, an article editor on the Virginia Law Review, and elected to the Order of the Coif. Before joining the Rutgers faculty in 2004, he practiced intellectual property and technology litigation at Dechert LLP.

Source: Rutgers University

Explore further: Movie world fears for freedom of speech as N.Korea parody pulled

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Australia to crack down on online pirates

Dec 10, 2014

Australia's government Wednesday outlined plans to tackle online piracy as it moves to end the country's position as one of the world's top illegal downloaders of television shows such as "Game of Thrones".

Top pilot sees risk in unregulated US drones

Dec 10, 2014

Small drones pose a danger in US skies so long as clear rules governing their operation are not in place, the head of the world's biggest pilots' union said Wednesday.

Has global interdependence made the US vulnerable?

Dec 02, 2014

Risk is everywhere. There's a risk, for example, that volcanic ash will damage aircraft engines. So when a volcano erupted in Iceland in April 2010, concerns about the plume of volcanic ash disrupted air ...

Recommended for you

Report: FBI's anthrax investigation was flawed

2 hours ago

The FBI used flawed scientific methods to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others, federal auditors said Friday in a report sure to fuel skepticism over the FBI's ...

Study reveals mature motorists worse at texting and driving

Dec 18, 2014

A Wayne State University interdisciplinary research team in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has made a surprising discovery: older, more mature motorists—who typically are better drivers in ...

Napster co-founder to invest in allergy research

Dec 17, 2014

(AP)—Napster co-founder Sean Parker missed most of his final year in high school and has ended up in the emergency room countless times because of his deadly allergy to nuts, shellfish and other foods.

LA mayor plans 7,000 police body cameras in 2015

Dec 16, 2014

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a plan Tuesday to equip 7,000 Los Angeles police officers with on-body cameras by next summer, making LA's police department the nation's largest law enforcement agency to move ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.