It’s [not] my fantasy crime, so it’s OK

“Not a week goes by that there is not a report of in-world activity that would likely be actionable either as theft or fraud, and it is only a matter of time before prosecution becomes commonplace.” (p. 203 of the text)

Earlier this semester, some of us (me included) balked at the idea of criminalizing certain virtual offenses, such as theft, prostitution, etc.  In her article entitled Fantasy Harm, Susan Brenner does not quite disagree, at least to the extent the “harm” caused by such offenses remains exclusively in the virtual world and does not transcend into real life.

Thus, Brenner considers harm to be the threshold of what virtual offenses should be criminalized.  Because traditional criminal law has evolved as a function of tangible harms (which Brenner refers to as “hard harms”), along with certain “soft harms,” this premise fits logically within the framework of criminal law.  Soft harm refers to morality, affectivity, or systemic concern with safety or the integrity of property.

But where is the line?  Morality principles once justified the criminalization of consensual sodomy.  Yet, our society has since determined that a person’s right to privacy is paramount to any interest in criminalizing such conduct, which people considered abhorrent and offensive.  What about when my feelings get hurt because a virtual bully “robbed” me? The experience can hurt our real-world feelings. It can frustrate me, and possibly make me want to retaliate.  But, can society criminalize offensive virtual behavior because it hurts my real feelings?  These are some of the questions that Brenner explores in her article.

In Fantasy Crime, Brenner begins with a discussion of the goals of criminal law in the real world, discussing the role of harm in shaping criminal regulations.  She then describes the various virtual worlds (focusing on Second Life) before considering what she dubs “fantasy crime,” i.e., crimes in the virtual world.

Criminal law punishes conduct based on the harm such conduct causes.  Hard harm causes injury to persons or property.  Such crimes include murder, assault, theft, fraud, etc.  Soft harm can be tangible or intangible and generally cause harm to morality or public welfare.  Examples include prostitution, bigamy, and consumption of certain controlled substances.  Stalking and harassment are the only soft harms directly criminalized in the United States (although other crimes with a soft harm component, such as antitrust, are also outlawed in the U.S.).  Some states, including Florida, have gone a step further to criminalize cyber stalking.  See Fla. Stat. § 784.048(1)(d) (2008) (proscribing any course of conduct that would electronically communicate “words, images, or language” directed at a specific person, “causing substantial emotional distress . . . and serving no legitimate purpose.”).

Immediately, I made an observation about Brenner’s discussion of real crime.  She states that offenses against morality target protection of ethical and moral principles that predominate in society, and systemic offenses protect systems which are “essential” to survival and well-being of a social system’s members.  What society? What social system?  Every country has markedly different values.

In the United States, we value First Amendment protection so much that no one could legally stop that crazy Qur’an-burning guy, despite international outrage.  The Chinese version of Second Life, HiPiHi, prohibits political discussions.  America runs on politics (and Dunkin’ of course).  What one country criminalizes as prohibited speech or behavior another country protects as a fundamental right.  How, then, do we apply existing domestic criminal law to a virtual world that operates internationally and has borders that do not always reflect real life borders? The definition of harassment varies between states, nevermind countries.

It is difficult, then, to criminalize something that is morally reprehensive in one country but tolerable in another country.  While Brenner’s discussion of real world crime is informative and provides an apt foundation, one must be cognizant of the fact that America is one of the few countries that actually protects the right to commit moral offenses (for example, as we read in the main text, virtual child pornography is protected by the First Amendment; Germany has outlawed it).

Next, in discussing the development of virtual worlds, Brennan discusses the different harassment policies that various worlds have developed.  For example, Blizzard, which owns World of Warcraft (WOW), separates harassment into verbal, physical, and ongoing.  Penalties for violating the rules range from a warning to a closed account.  Blizzard and other virtual worlds have been able to successfully implement their own rules and enforce penalties for violations of their rules.  In my opinion, this is the best way to handle harassment, at least at this juncture.

Traditional criminal law, with regard to harassment, generally requires some fear of real harm.  As Brenner notes, “[c]ontemporary [harassment] statutes criminalize three types of conduct: (1) conduct requiring proximity to the victim, (2) conduct that conveys a credible threat of death or injury, and (3) conduct that would cause a reasonable person ‘to fear physical harm or to suffer severe emotional distress.’” (see p. 14).  Thus, criminal law as currently developed does not reasonably address harassment that remains strictly within the virtual world.  How can we objectively determine whether harassment of one’s avatar causes a person in the real world to suffer severe emotional distress?  Furthermore, should we criminalize harassment that creates fear of physical harm to one’s avatar but that presents no threat of real harm? Personally, I do not think this constitutes a valid basis for criminal liability.

Much like the First Amendment protects virtual child pornography as an artistic compilation of pixels and data, an avatar is a set of data and pixels that cannot experience pain or any real emotion.  Thus, it seems ridiculous to me to criminally prosecute someone who causes harm to a computer image.  It amounts to proscribing the hurting of someone’s feelings (same with adultery/bigamy, discussed infra). I do not doubt, however, that there is a line beyond which people should not be permitted to cross.  Even the First Amendment has its limits.

Before getting into Brenner’s concept of fantasy crime, a word on cyber crime.  It’s effects are felt in the real world; cyber crime need not involve any sort of virtual world.  Money laundering, fraud, stalking, etc. are all examples of cyber crime. In each instance, the victim of the crime feels its effects in real life. If a crime does not have an effect in the real world, then by definition it is not cyber crime.

So, for example, if a theft occurs in Second Life, and the property has no monetary value, then there can be no cyber crime.  However, if the property cost money (even if it only cost $0.50), then there is real world loss (but would it be more of a loss to spend the time and money prosecuting a $.050 theft?).  Based on this logic, other countries have brought criminal prosecutions (see my brief discussion of the 2nd reading, infra).  The UK and US have expressed concerns about money laundering on Second Life because of the ability to transfer funds across real-world borders. However, we have yet to prosecute money launderers.

I think this is a legitimate concern if we see such crime reach fruition, and existing laws can probably address money laundering and fraud adequately.  Two concerns will be jurisdiction and choice of law, especially in the context of international crime. While we do have principles of international jurisdiction, it is still something to consider because not all law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction have an interest in prosecuting a case.  Another major concern is having a police force that has the training necessary to enforce whatever laws may be imposed.

So what about other crimes that occur in Second Life (by “crimes” I mean offenses that would be crimes if committed in the real world)?  In Second Life, avatars can take “Seclimine,” which is like LSD.  But there are no real effects. It does not get a real person high.  Proponents of banning use of drugs argue that it creates a higher likelihood that Seclimine users will become curious and begin using drugs in the real world.  Opponents say it actually decreases likelihood of real-life use because virtual drug use serves as a “release” for those who would otherwise turn to real drug use.  However, Brennan notes that there is no credible evidence either way.  I do not take a position, but it seems like some people would become more likely to use real drugs, and others would become less likely.  Hence, it is at least theoretically possible for virtual drug use to be criminalized, especially if virtual world programs do not self-regulate by banning it.

The less/more likely argument seems to be the same for every “fantasy crime.”  Prostitutes can make real money by providing escort services without the risk of disease, injury, or physical restraint.  Furthermore, it can actually be quite profitable (perhaps a great way to pay off those loans afterall!).  Since it is not real, it is probably more like pornography, which the First Amendment protects.  Does virtual prostitution make a person more likely to go find a prostitute or become one? I doubt it.  Thus, it seems like virtual prostitution could never be criminalized.

One other topic Brennan mentions is bigamy/adultery (she discusses others, but I do not discuss all of them).  Let me start by saying I think it is ridiculous to criminalize either bigamy or adultery. First of all, virtual “marriage” is not legally recognized so it is not really bigamy.  Also, are we talking about two virtual marriages, or one virtual one real? Either way, it is not bigamy.  If an avatar has virtual sex and “cheats” on his/her real or virtual wife/husband, the most that happens is someone gets his/her feelings hurt. I seriously caution against making it a crime to hurt your online boy/girl friend.  Imagine what would happen! Yes, there was a point that we regulated such conduct in the real world.  However, the United States has since declared adultery unconstitutional.  While we do regulate bigamy (a soapbox I decline to get on right now), we regulate it to the extent a man or woman attempts to form two legally recognized marriages.  This entails much more than a piece of paper. It entails inheritance, jointly filed tax returns, and a host of other legal rights and obligations. To criminalize a non-legally recognized marriage seems absurd.

Brennan discusses rape, and as a component she discusses “consensual rape.”  Basically, she discusses the fact that sometimes virtual rape can create real life trauma (to which I say, really? Come on…seriously!?) and that creates a justification for criminalization of rape (a more legitimate argument, in my opinion, is the desensitization that could result).  Perhaps, as she suggests, it could be considered harassment.  By definition, there is no penis entering vagina.  It is digital code interacting with other digital code.  Furthermore, “consensual rape” is an oxymoron.  Brennan discusses how it is possible in a virtual world to engage in “consensual rape.” However, what she describes as “rape” (“a sort of ‘dark’ role playing”) boils down to consensual virtual sex.  Thus, it is not rape.  I fail to see the distinction between real consent and virtual consent.

[Brennan goes on to discuss virtual murder and pedophilia.  She briefly discusses a United States Supreme Court decision, Ashcroft, in which the Court held that a statute criminalizing virtual child pornography unconstitutionally violated the First Amendment.  I do not discuss it here because this blog is getting long and I plan to analyze this case in detail in my other blog]

At the end of the day, we must decide whether certain conduct can be criminalized. If so, should it be?  I think that we should allow Linden Labs and other virtual world creators to create their own rules and self-regulate.  If a person is harassed or followed, they do not have to use the program.  Maybe privacy settings can be modified to add protection.  I think the real world harm is minimal and does not justify the expense.  However, I consider major financial crimes to be the exception. I could foresee requiring a minimum dollar amount. Even though petit theft in the real world could involve theft of something worth $0.01, virtual world is a different ball game. There are jurisdiction issues, choice of law issues, and more practical problems like finding the real person behind the avatar.

Regardless of what I think about the propriety of criminalizing certain offenses, this area of law will likely be developed over time as virtual worlds become more popular and once law enforcement agencies get a better grasp on what virtual worlds consist of and how to regulate them.  No doubt, this will require some collaboration with the international community.

Lastly, I leave you with a brief synopsis of my other reading. The 2008 “Runescape Theft” happened in Court of Leeuwarden  (I’m pretty sure this is in the Netherlands but do not hold me to it).  There was a virtual robbery-with-violence that left the avatar with “physical” injuries and caused the real person to lose items that had real monetary value (the court does not say how much).  In holding that these virtual goods were “goods” within the meaning of the statute, the court found relevant the fact that these goods had real material value, sentimental value to the victim, and the fact that the victim lost actual power over the objects (mainly because they could not be recreated).

Thus, the Netherlands has successfully prosecuted virtual robbery, and even considered as aggravating factors the fact that they used (virtual) violence and threats, the impact it had on the victim, and the fact that it was premeditated. (PS- the kids were suspended from school on top of it).

While I think there is a point in pursuing these charges, I see the harm that it causes these kids.  They now have criminal records because they stole another kids virtual property.  It brings me to my earlier point that if the property had a certain value (say, $100), then it makes sense, but anything less than that seems like a waste of time.  Banning the kids from the game (not to mention school suspension) seems like punishment enough.

This also highlights my point about the need for international communication because if they were in the United States, they probably would not have been punished. What if the victim was in the U.S. but the perps were not? Vice versa? I realize that we have principles of international jurisdiction, but these are just some things that need to be considered, especially since criminal law has been largely domestic until fairly recently. I see this becoming a sticky issue with crimes that cause intangible harm because different countries see these harms very differently…

Everyone, sorry this is so long!!! Brenner’s article was 97 pages. Don’t hate!

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~ by hollyufl on September 28, 2010.

16 Responses to “It’s [not] my fantasy crime, so it’s OK”

  1. My main concern for criminalizing behavior in virtual worlds instead of the real world is the fear that we may allow the wrong person to prosecute.

    For instance, the Sword article we read talked about one user having his precious sword stolen from him and he lost a good monetary value. At first glance, it would appear that the first user who owned the sword would be the victim of a theft.

    However, when you look deeper I think that the real victim is the computer company that hosts the game’s platform. I would argue the user that “owned” the sword never really owned it in the first place. For example, if the computer company decided they no longer wanted to host the virtual world and closed the world, would we prosecute them for depriving people of their valuable goods they acquired through gameplay?

    I’d suggest that to be a ridiculous notion. It would seem counterproductive to the business world. In a sense, we would be forcing companies to continue to operate their business (possibly at a loss) so that they not deprive their users of the goods they acquired solely because of the virtual world’s success!

    So in the case with the sword, I’d offer that the world’s creators were the real victims. If users realized that logging game hours was pointless and they could simply buy their upgrades and cool swords online, it would devalue the “fun” in playing a computer game for hours on end.

    Personally, I think the same logic could be applied to any and all crimes committed in the virtual worlds. Just like in the real world, the victim of a crime isn’t just the actual victim but society as a whole. Fortunately or unfortunately(?), no one makes a profit off our society. (maybe?…I’ve seen Men in Black).

    So, the victim of a cyber crime is really the society of the virtual platform, which is owned by an actual person making money. If his society is seen as a place where crimes are committed and other users are criminals, the appeal to join the creators site will be substantially altered towards the negative. To wrap this up because I too am getting long-winded, I feel that cyber crime is no crime but a tort. The tort of Tortious Interference of a business.

  2. I agree with you that most virtual offenses don’t seem worth prosecuting and even if there were, there would be serious jurisdictional issues. It seems that the federal government would have to pass laws saying that the actions are “in or affecting interstate commerce,” however, I don’t believe the government would want to take the time to prosecute some of the offenses you discuss.

    I have a hard time fathoming someone being prosecuted for some crime he or she committed online where there was no real harm. It’s too easy to just log off and not be harmed on something like Second Life. This is why I also agree with you that programs like Second Life should be making and enforcing their own rules. The solution and minimal cost of suspending from and subsequently kicking someone off Second Life seems must better than having the government involved. The headache from jurisdictional issues alone makes that obvious to me.

    On the jurisdictional note, I just fail to see how international citizens should have to expect to be held to the United States’ laws regarding virtual crimes. As you pointed out, things that are rights here are criminalized elsewhere. Since the internet knows little bounds, there will be a gigantic number of people who won’t even be subject to the laws under which the victim will want people prosecuted. Additionally, I am pretty sure people can find ways to mask their IP to make it seem like they are logging in internationally or from another state.

    The internet certainly provides interesting issues going forward in the criminal context that I had not thought about at all before taking this class.

  3. I THINK there is case law that says use of the internet is per se interstate commerce because there is no easy or convenient way to determine whether someone’s internet signal crosses a state line.

    Still, I see issues of venue and international jurisdiction.

  4. I completely agree that it’s absurd to think that virtual rape is going to carry over into any kind of trauma in the real world. At the worst, I would probably feel that it was disturbing that someone got pleasure from a graphic raping another graphic, then move on.

    I would like more information on whether allowing these crimes in the virtual world make people more or less likely to commit them in real life. By saying there is no real punishment for things like rape and murder in virtual space, are we taking the stigma away from these crimes in real life? Somehow I doubt it. People who commit rape and murder in real life know that those things are wrong, and just because a graphic is allowed to get away with something seems unlikely to make people think it would be okay in real life. On the other hand, it might actually be a deterrent to real life crime. Rape or murder fantasy? Play it out in a virtual world and avoid it in real life. Apparently there are people willing to engage in this kind of role play, so it doesn’t even need to be criminalized. Could Second Life set up an area like the adults only areas where this kind of thing is allowed? It would be interesting to see what happened in that kind of situation.

  5. My main concern for criminalizing behavior in virtual worlds instead of the real world is the fear that we may allow the wrong person to prosecute.
    For instance, the Sword article we read talked about one user having his precious sword stolen from him and he lost a good monetary value. At first glance, it would appear that the first user who owned the sword would be the victim of a theft.
    However, when you look deeper I think that the real victim is the computer company that hosts the game’s platform. I would argue the user that “owned” the sword never really owned it in the first place. For example, if the computer company decided they no longer wanted to host the virtual world and closed the world, would we prosecute them for depriving people of their valuable goods they acquired through gameplay?
    I’d suggest that to be a ridiculous notion. It would seem counterproductive to the business world. In a sense, we would be forcing companies to continue to operate their business (possibly at a loss) so that they not deprive their users of the goods they acquired solely because of the virtual world’s success!
    So in the case with the sword, I’d offer that the world’s creators were the real victims. If users realized that logging game hours was pointless and they could simply buy their upgrades and cool swords online, it would devalue the “fun” in playing a computer game for hours on end.
    Personally, I think the same logic could be applied to any and all crimes committed in the virtual worlds. Just like in the real world, the victim of a crime isn’t just the actual victim but society as a whole. Fortunately or unfortunately(?), no one makes a profit off our society. (maybe?…I’ve seen Men in Black).
    So, the victim of a cyber crime is really the society of the virtual platform, which is owned by an actual person making money. If his society is seen as a place where crimes are committed and other users are criminals, the appeal to join the creator’s site will be substantially altered towards the negative. To wrap this up because I too am getting long-winded, I feel that cyber crime done in a virtual world is no crime but a tort. The tort of Tortious Interference.

  6. My attitude is pretty much the same as yours, Tim, but I thought more about theft of items that have actual value in worlds that use a currency exchange with real-world currency where that theft is not a part of the rules and design of the game or world and is achieved through some sort of exploit. I really can’t see any principled reason to deny that there is a legally redressable theft there. “It’s just a game” is convenient, but all that amounts to is “I don’t believe that property is worth acknowledging,” and that’s not the view in the real world. I think the practical difficulties with holding someone accountable for it should go to prosecutorial discretion (i.e. is it worth it/possible to prosecute this case?) not whether or not there is some legal redress for those actions.

    • I agree with you that hard harms should not go unpunished. I would be interested to know the real-world value of the majority of thefts…

  7. It seems that in order for any real punishment or consequences for cyber crimes to occur, there needs to be a universal code of some sort. These cyber crimes can be committed by and to individuals from all around the world, and as it was pointed out, each country/culture may value and emphasize different actions in a completely different light. So would it really be fair to criminalize an individual for an act that is considered socially acceptable in their home country? The likelihood of having the entire cyber world (or the entire world) agree on one set of rules (that would need to be modified each time a new cyber crime developed) might be an impossible feat considering all the world peace we have going on in the world today…

  8. I want to start with the choice of law issue presented above. Although I do believe that it can be challenging to determine which laws apply to virtual environments, I think that for virtual platforms that require memberships, the issue is not as complicated. While being mindful of the fact that some litigation could ensue regarding the validity of choice of law clauses, I think overall, adding such a clause (which if I remember correctly from earlier in the semester Linden Labs has already done) resolves much of the debate about where crimes committed on Second Life would be resolved.

    In regard to the rest of the article, I agree that certain virtual crimes which involve financial expenditures should be prosecuted in the real world. If a person has created a virtual business which sells virtual items and their belongings are copied without consent, then it raises a valid issue as to a violation of intellectual property similar to that of copying a CD or a DVD – in both of the cases there has not been a “real” theft, copying a movie does not keep the original owner from owning it, while copying virtual shoes has the same result, but the taking of said property does create a real harm to the VALUE of the property and reduces the benefit that comes with putting one’s creative juices to work on a new concept.

    I think that declining to prosecute in that case would harm advancement of technology because parties would be less willing to spend their time creating new gadgets if they could so easily, and with such little consequence, be stolen.

    However, I do not necessarily think that is the case with all examples of virtual theft. The Habbo Hotel case comes to mind. In this case, 15 year old children took virtual property from a hotel room and took it back to their own virtual hotel room. Although inconvenient to the parties involved I think it highly unnecessary to prosecute these children in the real-world for an action that, truthfully, did not result in much harm.

    In contrast to the earlier example, there was no “intellectual property” rights stolen in Habbo, simply the loss of the actual item. I think the intent to steal the virtual idea is different than the act of actually taking a virtual item. Taking the IP script creates a value to the person who steals it while causing a true detriment to the person who created it.
    However, taking a virtual sofa does not harm the intellectual property owner and only results in a minor inconvenience to the owner of the item. in this case, I think that banning the user and returning the property to the “victim” should be more than enough to compensate for the “injury.”

    If you go to Vegas and play Blackjack, you might lose all your money. You can’t sue the casino, despite how pissed you are. Losing your virtual sofa has a similar emotional result – it sucks, but you’ll get over it.

    • And one more thing, the argument that virtual drug use should be banned or that it deters or encourages drug use in real life is absolutely ludicrous. If someone wants to use drugs, watching an avatar tripping is not going to stop them. Similarly, if someone doesn’t want to use drugs, watching an avatar tripping is not going to start them either.
      If that were the case, everyone who plays half of the video games out there would be drug addicts or in rehab.

    • I wonder if the choice of law clause in the Terms of Service would apply to criminal law or if it only applies to civil suits in which Linden is a party? It definitely raises a point I did not think of.

      Daniella, you also mentioned the ability to use virtual property. It was interesting that the court in the Runescape case considered the fact that the property was not easily replaceable and in fact the victim had been building his treasure chest for 4 years.

  9. I tend agree with Holly on most points she made in this massive, but entertaining blog entry. (Thanks for the shoutout by the way, a girl has to pay her loans somehow.) The way I see it, no harm, no foul. It seems absurd to me to prosecute someone for a crime they committed online that had no tangible harm. It’s a waste of time, money, and, even though technically they were “wrong”, it’s causes unnecessary, excessive harm to the reputation of the “cybercriminal” (term used loosely). I’m sure anyone who gets their kicks out of causing a little bit of trouble in a virtual world will feel punished enough if their membership from the world was revoked, or they were reprimanded in school. With leads me to the next point Holly brought up, the fact that the virtual worlds themselves should be in charge of taking care of these minor “crimes.” They could impose stricter Terms of Use, enhance the privacy settings, revoke memberships, I don’t know, impose fines on people if necessary. The world itself is the best place to begin cracking down on virtual crime. It would save an incredible amount of time and money while remaining a very effective solution. I also agree though that there should be exceptions to this solution. Obviously, if the crime caused real-life “hard harm”, then the applicable laws should be imposed. I also agree with the suggestion that there be a monetary limit for prosecuting for financial virtual crimes. Because the area of virtual crime is so new and dynamic, law makers need to keep up with the times and for right now I believe that they should be focusing on cracking down on virtual crime in the most time, money, and energy efficient ways possible.

  10. I too see the difficulty in “prosecuting” virtual criminals. It would seem to be a lot simpler to measure justice in the virtual environment through civil action. If something of value gets ruined or stolen from a virtual environment, then most assuredly one can sue for the value of the object.

    To attempt to limit personal virtual actions such as drug use, murder, or assault as actually criminal does indeed seem to be a bit outside of the logically functional concepts that back our criminal laws. In a virtual “murder,” no one is legitimately harmed. At worst, something of value (the time, effort, and money that went into creating the avatar/character of choice) was lost. Beyond that it’s hard to find a crime in the virtual act.

  11. If a virtual character murders another virtual character in the virtual world, nobody is actually physically harmed as a result…but it would qualify as a “fantasy crime” according to Brenner’s definition since it is an activity that involves conduct that would constitute the commission of a crime in the real world. But Brenner’s explanation as to why someone accused of virtual murder would not be subject to criminal liability is not satisfying. While I don’t think that they should be subject to criminal liability, I don’t think it should be completely ignored.

    My question, and one that Brenner does briefly touch on, is what does committing a fantasy crime/virtual crime actually say about a person’s moral character and potential to harm in the real world? I agree to an extent with the opponents, and believe that the fantasy activity might lead to real-world crime. It seems as though it might be a starting point for future real world criminals.

    The conclusion in the Ashcroft case is disappointing. Although there may only be a remote connection between viewing virtual child pornography and any resulting child abuse, there is evidence that viewing child pornography can lead a person to abuse children. Some pedophiles have insatiable desires and fantasies about children. Once they get tired of looking at child pornography, they want the physical experience themselves, and so on. I can just see the potential for harm that a virtual world creates. It is simply a different avenue for potential criminals…one where they can remain anonymous and try out their evil fantasies. What happens if they like it? So much that they want to experience it in the real world?

  12. I agree that a distinction should be drawn between soft and hard harms. If one’s conduct causes substantial real life harm to the financial or proprietary interests of another, the conduct should be criminalized, regardless of whether it took place online or face-to-face. But if it only causes hurt feelings or emotional harm, the line is harder to draw.

    I also agree with you that the best way to handle this is to let the developers who make the world police the conduct, but it may be best served by a change in approach. If legislation puts the developer/maintainer of the virtual world on the hook for foreseeable hard or soft harms, it creates an incentive for these companies to adequately police their worlds. This makes sure both that the people with the most knowledge of the world are the ones policing it, thereby preventing some of the problems the CFAA has wrought, and helps keep some of these parade-of-horribles soft harm lawsuits from clogging our courts. The setback is that such a policy requires those creating the worlds to have even more resources than they already need to create and offer the content to consumers. This could effectively chill the generation of new worlds because of the increased liability and requirement for even more start-up capital.

  13. Translating virtual crime to real world criminal law is always going to be messy, but I think it’s a better fit in some situations than others. There’s a distinction between using the internet to further real world crimes (like counterfeiting, money laundering, copyright infringement) and engaging in an act that is, for the most part, solely related to the online world in which it occurs. In cases of the former, there’s a real incentive (and need) for state/international law to try and fill in the gaps created by evolving technologies. In cases of the latter, as Holly said, it’s difficult to even define what should or should not be a crime with varying policy concerns at play. I think in those situations, as Nick said, it would be better to leave regulation up to the admins of the virtual world rather than try to apply some sort of universal law that would be a poor fit.

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