January 15th, 2008 by Benjamin Duranske
VB is pleased to bring readers a new, notable paper in virtual law, Leave Those Orcs Alone: Property Rights in Virtual Worlds, (.pdf) by UCLA law student Kevin Deenihan.
The paper argues that virtual worlds and games should be essentially free from real life legal intervention. In reaching this conclusion, Deenihan provides a solid overview of the existing arguments against commodification, and adds several wrinkles of his own. His big-picture look at the assumption that real life law should apply to these spaces should resonate with both developers and users who advocate in-world solutions.
From the summary of Leave Those Orcs Alone:
Players and their characters earn virtual property to socialize, for fun, or for status, not for protection or investment. Shoehorning in a legal system that protects investment and ignores the value of fun and communality would do terrible violence to these societies. Far better utility results from allowing users and developers to continue elaborating on their quasi-legal systems in peace.
Among many other intriguing points, Deenihan argues that real world legal intervention is more likely to result in rules that benefit bad elements than average users.
The litigants with the most incentive to sue, and thus to have their interest recognized, are typically those whose role in Virtual Worlds is considered negative by wide swathes of the playerbase: gold farmers, account sellers, and exploiters.
The paper is to some degree at odds with much of the recent academic literature on legal issues in virtual worlds, and indeed, with the very premise of this site. Most writers, including VB’s editor, take commodification and subsequent legal intervention as a foregone conclusion at this point. That is in no way a criticism of the paper — Deenihan raises questions that are fundamental and important, and that are all too often overlooked.
Deenihan is a student at UCLA School of Law. He is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, and graduated from UC Berkeley with an Economics degree. His main is a Paladin (and if you don’t know what that means, you need to spend more time “earning virtual property to socialize, for fun, and for status”).
With Deenihan’s paper, VB is launching a new feature, “Reading Room,” where we will periodically feature notable papers in virtual law which are, at least for the moment, exclusively available here. If you have written or are writing a virtual law-related paper that you would like to have hosted at VB, email the editor for more information.
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