Cybercrime: Virtually Unnecessary?

For reference, non-principle bloggers, my reading assignments were as follows:

*Susan Brenner – Is There Such a Thing as Virtual Crime? (

*Susan Brenner – Fantasy Crime (

*Lori Drew – The Sword, The Thief And Eula (on TWEN)


The first two articles, written by Ms. Brenner, were similar in many respects, and largely focused on the distinction between “cybercrimes” and “real crimes.” Ms. Brenner’s main contention is that cybercrime doesn’t really exist in most cases, to the extent that there need not be separate distinctions or additional laws between cybercrimes and real crimes. The key issue to focus on is that crimes occurring in a virtual context either are, or are not traceable to existing criminal law principles in the real world. I’ll illustrate using an example brought upon by the reading:

Let’s say your avatar owns a jacket in Second Life and that jacket gets stolen. There are a few pivotal factors which affect your level of harm. In scenario one, you received that jacket for free from a Second Life store, and it can immediately and easily be replaced for free. In scenario two, you paid five (or five thousand to make my point) real dollars for that jacket, and you now experience a monetary loss.

To establish criminal liability, one of the requisite elements is achieving a prohibited result or creating harm. In scenario one, you have experienced no real-life harm that could be prosecutable. You can replace the jacket for free and move on. This concept even extends to rare pieces of virtual art – you could write code for a million Mona Lisa paintings into Second Life, something that could never be done in the real world. In scenario two, you have experienced actual harm; you are down five dollars based on the malicious actions of another user. Ms. Brenner’s articles pose the question of whether there is a need for specific virtual laws – and assert that in a situation like this, the answer is simply, no.

Continuing with the theft example, even though a crime took place in a virtual context and caused you harm, you experienced that harm in real life, and therefore real laws would govern. Our society already has established criminal implications for theft, so there is no need to create new laws for this situation, as it isn’t really a new situation. Taking language from Ms. Brenner, “It may represent nothing more than perpetrators using cyberspace to engage in conduct that has long been outlawed.” Cybercrimes of this type are simply existing crimes committed in a different venue.

The first article continues to analyze the differences between several specific crimes, including theft, fraud, forgery, pornography, stalking, and vandalism, among others. In most of these situations, there is no perceptible difference between the cyber and real versions of these crimes other than the venue in which they take place, therefore illustrating the lack of a need for new or additional laws.

There are certain crimes that solely take place in the virtual world, though, such as cyber-stalking. This crime cannot simply be subsumed by existing stalking laws because it is an entirely new occurrence. Cyber-stalking involves one avatar being harassed/followed by another, albeit with no real-life danger present. This is a somewhat-unique situation, where although there are no real-world harms experienced, this type of behavior should be criminalized or punished in some way as a form of deterrence. It is at this point that Terms of Service and End User License Agreements come into play and create community/societal standards. The effect of making someone a virtual criminal and putting them in virtual jail is basically none, as they can create another avatar immediately and continue the harassment. On the other hand, logging this users IP address and banning their accounts (either temporarily or permanently) may make more of an impact, not only on that users, but on future users.

Second Life has a user-reporting service to protect against this type of behavior, but I thought the feature of the Estate Level Abuse Program was more intriguing. If users are on private land rather than Linden Labs’ land (say that three times fast!), there is the ability to report behavior not only to Linden Labs, but also to the owner of that property, who then becomes able to deal with it as they see fit.  I think this is an interesting approach to self-governance, although much of the property in Second Life is not private, and therefore governed by Linden Lab. Interestingly, private property is still ultimately controlled by Linden Labs, as they retain the right to put an end to illegal/harmful activity taking place on private land if you, as the owner, take no action to stop it.

One piece that I found particularly interesting was the analysis of victimless crimes, such as drug use, gambling, and prostitution. Seclimine exists in Second Life, and runs a script that apparently mimics the psychedelic effects of LSD. In the real world, LSD is extremely addictive and dangerous, and in many cases, fatal. In Second Life, there is once again no real harm done to the user, no risk of addiction, no risk of losing your life savings on a drug habit, and no risk of death or even disease.  I thought this was a great illustration of the distinction between virtual harm and real harm, and that without the presence of real harm, it is difficult to make the argument for criminalizing such things. On the other hand, online gambling is illegal in Second Life because of the inability to effectively monitor users’ behavior, as well as the issue of differing gambling policies existing throughout the world. It was simply easier for Linden Labs to avoid the issue than try to constantly govern it.

It seems to me that as cybercrimes continue to occur and evolve, there is potential to extrapolate existing real-world crimes to the virtual world. For now, most situations involving real-life harm can be dealt with using existing criminal liability standards and laws. There is definitely a compelling argument to be made that criminal liability for virtual actions can be used to discourage the production of material that incites people and could inflict harm proscribed by the criminal law. Ms. Brenner makes a fair argument that online actions/speech may even be entirely protected under the First Amendment, since an avatar’s behavior is ultimately just the expression of a real person sitting behind a keyboard. I think this argument could carry a lot of weight, since everything an avatar does is just a manifestation of its “master”, rather than having any free will or intelligence of its own.

The topic of abhorrent content and illegality also arose in the readings. According to Ms. Brenner, commenting on topics such as child molestation/pornography , “As long as the effects of Second Life fantasies – however dark – stay in Second Life, the “harms” they inflict cannot threaten order in the real world and therefore should not be the concern of the criminal law.”

Overall, I think many of the arguments discussed are highly meritorious. In the presence of real-world harm, existing criminal liability would be attached to a user’s virtual criminal actions, as they merely take place in a different venue. Further, in the absence of real-world harm, what need is there for any (let alone new or special) criminal liability?


~ by kerwin22 on September 11, 2011.

10 Responses to “Cybercrime: Virtually Unnecessary?”

  1. Mike, great job. I like what you are saying about their needing to be an actual harm in order for a crime to have occurred. One thought I have though is even though you can make duplicates in virtual worlds, what if the value of the piece of virtual property is in its limitedness. Yes, you can make one million virtual Mona Lisas so if yours is stolen no harm and no big deal. But what if you took pride in the fact that you had the only virtual Mona Lisa. Now the fact that it was stolen and the game would have to make a second one, limits how valuable it is. Or take a fighting virtual game where I have the strongest sword in the game. If a bully forces me to give him my sword, the game can always give me a second strong virtual sword, but the fact that there are now two strong swords would upset me and doesn’t seem right. I would hope that these virtual worlds would have the ability to go into the thief’s account and delete this original painting or weapon, but if the virtual world administrators refuse to do this, I would want a way to compel them to do so.

    In our readings, a man of bad morals created a fake Myspace account that he used to flirt with and then emotionally devastate a thirteen-year-old girl that was a classmate of his daughter. In the end, he told her the world would be better if she was dead, so the girl committed suicide. I was furious that a conviction against him could not stand because they could not find a crime with the appropriate elements. What this mad did was wrong and resulted in a girl dying. I understand that criminal charges should not be brought against anyone who violates a TOS, but if there is not a physical world crime that correlates than sometimes new laws of virtual crimes need to be legislated and passed to prevent something like from ever happening again.

  2. Great Post!

    Distinction between real world criminal activity and crime in the virtual context need not be disruptive to the legal system. Real world crimes which incidentally involve virtual worlds can be prosecuted with few changes. Problems arise when a virtual component to a crime distracts from the real world criminal activity. There is, however, a growing realm of virtual world criminal activity with no real world component. Crimes in the virtual context (cybercrimes) require the unfolding of common law jurisprudence to embrace new elements of crimes and develop appropriate punishments.

    Real world crimes taking place in our digital age may have a virtual component. As you pointed out, some virtual “goods” have value, while others are easily replaced if stolen. If a virtual item of value is stolen, however, theft is theft. The Runescape articles illustrate that value is generated by virtual worlds which can inspire criminal conduct. Whether it is a man hacking accounts to sell avatars, or teenagers threatening another boy to hand over his virtual goods, real world crimes are committed. As the Dutch case involving the teenagers pointed out, the Courts decided that the virtual goods fell under the penal code meaning of “goods.” Since the teenagers physically harmed and threatened the boy with knives, the real world criminal activity was clear to see.

    Unfortunately, the virtual component of a real world crime can be distracting, as the Lori Drew case illustrates. In this case, a woman conspired with others to create a false MySpace account and “cyberbully” a 13 year old girl who then committed suicide. The phenomenon of cyberbullying is an unfortunate activity which has developed with virtual worlds and the internet. The prosecutors in this case, however, tried to treat this case as a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). This strategy, perhaps seeking a harsher sentence, was misguided. Despite the tragedy of a young girl’s suicide provoked by the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the CFAA was not drafted to regulate cyberbullying. Expanding to CFAA to do so would make it overbroad, creating violations for wide-ranging computer activity. Fraud regulations, as well as case law involving bullying or pen pals, would be more suited in this case. Despite good intentions, broad expansions of inappropriate regulations will do more harm than good.

    Finally, there is a growing potential for crimes in the virtual context (cybercrimes) which have no real world component. As you mentioned, cyberstalking is a great example. Intellectual property and international law issues may also create cybercrimes without real world components. The common law is well suited to unfold its eternal principles from the fountain of justice and embrace cybercrimes. New elements of a crime or new punishments may be added to cybercrimes which have real world ancestors.

    When individuals have deeper roots in virtual worlds, with their employment or official activity significantly tied to virtual environments, cybercrimes will develop to exploit those environments.

  3. I would strongly support the notion that in general, there should be actual harm before for a virtual crime can be cognizable. We are a very litigious society. I would fear that without an actual harm requirement virtual worlds would be too fertile ground of lawsuits. Cases like the prosecution of the Dutch teenagers that beat up a youth in order to force him to turn over his virtual, yet valuable property, shows that society will be able to apply laws and give out punishments rationally, even if the crimes partly take place in a brave new world. Lets not sweat the small stuff. We are, and always will be, a society of scarce resources, and we will need to allocate our judicial resources to where they are most needed. That, I believe, is not in the area of settling disputes regarding ownership of a virtual dragon-killing, lighting-shooting sword, however unique that weapon might be… if there is no actual harm.

    To the extent that de minimus virtual crimes will go unpunished by the machine of the legal system, I believe that the creators of these virtual worlds will be in a unique position to ensure law and order in the worlds they create. Linden Labs, for example, is far better suited to deal with cyber-stalking in Second Life, than is the entire bar. Although I am cautious to put too much emphasis on the importance of Terms of Service Agreements (so few of us read them), I believe that the norms and community standards of these online virtual worlds can serve as an effective body of laws, and the programers of these worlds to serve as its arbitrators, judges, and police. Don’t like the laws here? There are many virtual worlds to chose from.

    What makes virtual worlds so exciting and full of potential, is that they are fundamentally different than the “real” world. Legal scrutiny of crimes without harms will chill creativity and exploration, and stifle a corner of the universe where we are free to make mistakes, experiment, and take risks, without lawyer and lawsuit involvement. Lets keep it that way.

  4. Mike, great job capturing what the heart of these articles was: actual vs. virtual harm. I think Orin Kerr said it best in his article, when he stated that “[t]he state’s power to deny individuals their freedom is an extraordinary power, and it should be reserved for harms that other mechanisms cannot remedy.” 2008 U. Chi. Legal F. 415. I think as a law student I sometimes get drunk on the power of the law and my fascination with the future of the law, and I forget that the law (as I know it at least) does not have to have a place in everything that is new. While I absolutely believe that criminal law has a place in the virtual context when there is actual harm involved, I must remember that people are not only agreeing to, but want to, “live” in a virtual world that is not governed by the laws of our land. That being said I agree that, especially as our society is truly getting used to the idea of virtual worlds, EULA’s and ToS should be the governing body for virtual worlds. As users become savvier and new issues arise in virtual worlds, I am confident that there can be redress in our current court system for users who are wronged or harmed virtually.
    Another issue I would like to touch on, that strays a little bit off topic from Mike’s post, is the realistic ability of our government to combat and prosecute virtual “crimes”. It is easy to talk about criminal law in the virtual context in an abstract sense, but it becomes much more difficult when one considers the realities of such a thing. As Orin Kerr mentioned in his article, it is expensive to track virtual users because of the complexity of technology, the world-wide platform it exists in, the absolute necessity of a world-wide police force working together, and the anonymity that comes with being online. If someone in Gainesville, Florida is harmed virtually (using Mike’s example, a sweater worth $5,000 is stolen) by someone in China, the process is seemingly endless. The victim in Gainesville must notify someone of the crime (which raises an interesting question as to who or whom would be the agency to contact), who must then try to track an IP address and system to someone on the other side of the globe. Not to mention the fact that if someone is smart enough to know how to steal online, they are probably smart enough to know to cover their virtual tracks. The resources needed to create the type of agency response necessary to police this virtual activity seems overwhelming to me. While I understand that there are some dumb online criminals, like Lori Drew, who do not cover their tracks, as people get more technologically savvy there will be more who are smart enough.
    While I understand that virtual platforms, for some, are a place of fantasy and freedom, it saddens me to realize that for some, fantasy and freedom mean crime. “Freedom” and “crime” are not synonyms to me, and so I have a hard time reconciling some online activity with a just society.

  5. The best approach is to have the developer regulate wrongful behavior in their virtual world. Like Ms. Brenner’s article mentioned, real life monetary losses that occur in the virtual world should be resolved by our criminal justice system. Certainly, we have laws against theft. The developer should regulate all other wrongful cyber behaviors by banning IP addresses, banning accounts, or other appropriate sanctions. It is unnecessary, and a waste of resources, to require the legislature to establish virtual crimes. Our current criminal laws should provide enough deterrence for unscrupulous users.

    The gambling and LSD examples are perfect illustrations of the lack of need for legislative action. Although the gambling would take place in the virtual world, Linden has banned gambling from its world. Presumably, Linden banned gambling out of fear of criminal action. Thus, our current criminal laws are sufficient to deter developers from engaging in questionable legal behavior. Ultimately, the users of the game will persuade the developer to take stronger action against disorderly users. Users will not want to play games where the developer lets other users ruin the gaming experience of everyone else. People will simply turn to the next greatest virtual world.

  6. Mike, let me start with… great post! You did a great job of capturing the articles for this week and your post itself was easy to read. I felt a strong understanding of the material after reading your post, even before reading the articles. But, unfortunately, I have to stir the calm waters. I hate to be the one who disagrees with such a great post, but there are some things that you posted–and Ms. Brenner suggested initially–with which I cannot agree.

    Ms. Brenner seems to confront the idea that virtual crime and real-world crime are entirely different entities that will be separately criminalized, if at all. While I completely agree with the fact that real-world and virtual-world crimes are separate entities, I cannot accept the idea that without the presence of real-world harm, it’s difficult to make an argument for criminalizing virtual-world crimes. This just doesn’t sit well with an undergraduate psychology student whose passion lies with understanding the psychological effect of crimes on both criminals and the victims of their crimes. Cybercrimes cannot be simply labeled as “crimes committed in a different venue”. They’re so much more and their effects have long-lasted and deeply-rooted implications.

    I agree that there is no need for a separate set of specific virtual laws to govern virtual-law crimes. As Ms. Brenner and Mike clearly established, these crimes often have similar and related real-world crimes which have real-world statutes and laws to govern punishment. But, to say that crimes committed online through a virtual context (ie. on Second Life or in another virtual world) are “victimless” is an overly simplified and arbitrary classification. As a student with a strong psychology background, I cannot understand how one can openly suggest that someone cannot be affected–and as a result become a victim–of an online-only crime. Take cyberstalking as an example. Cyberstalking is a crime that can only be committed in a virtual context and some suggest that as there is supposedly no real-world danger present (because only the avatar is being stalked) and supposedly no real-world harms experienced, it would be difficult to criminalize such an activity. There are movies, documentaries, books, and reports written annually about the effects of cyberbullying and cyberstalking on its real-world victim. And what about this supposed avatar-rape Ms. Brenner discusses. Suicide, depression, anxiety… the list goes on. These online-only crimes DO result in real-world harm, it just often goes unseen and undocumented. After all, isn’t it just an avatar stalking another avatar with no real-world repercussions once the user logs out of the “game”? And as Ms. Brenner suggests, don’t we have the right to free speech over the internet covered under the First Amendment? Online-only crimes do cause real-world harm and should be criminalized. As the area of cybercrimes evolve, I hope that there additional and more strict regulation results to govern these online worlds. When one user logs out of the game, the real-world implications may continue and the results may be devastating.

    One last point, Ms. Brenner commented on topics of child molestation and pornography. She noted that “as long as the effects of Second Life fantasies–however dark–stay in Second Life, the ‘harms’ they inflict cannot threaten order in the real world and therefore should not be the concern of criminal law.” Did no one see the show on NBC titled “Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator”? What starts as an “online-only” activity can easily and quickly translate into a real-world offense. And how is viewing child pornography on TV or over the world wide web any different from watching virtual avatars do the exact same thing? Someone is personalizing this avatar, directing its activities and gestures and someone is getting a great deal of pleasure and excitement out of this experience. I do not see how avatars that engage in illicit activities with minors or an avatar-only rape occurring solely online differs greatly from the real-life occurrence of the same event. In either scenario, someone feels the effects in the real-world whether we’d like to admit it or not. Someone could be traumatized and someone could feel violated even if it was only their avatar victimized by such behavior. These supposedly online-only activities can easily translate into real-world harm and real-world psychological effects felt by real people and not their avatars.

  7. Theft is theft whether the property is a virtual good or real word item. The question is still whether there was harm to the owner. In jramsey’s example, one who paid for a stolen shirt in Second Life is harmed if the owner paid money for the item, however, if the item was freely obtained, then there is no theft. I do not think it is that cut and dry. What if the store was no longer in business in Second Life and the owner was emotionally attached to the shirt? Is there harm? There could be if the owner paid to have the shirt replicated. These cases are rare. However, to prevent numerous frivolous law suits, per Josh’s comment, there needs to be threshold to measure harm in the virtual world.
    My position goes further than some of the previous posts. There needs to be a rule to determine when to use criminal law for cybercrimes. My position is that criminal laws should apply to equivalent cybercrimes with few exceptions. Whereas, cybercrimes without real world equivalents should be handled by cyber cite owners. To illustrate this point, take the Lori Drew case, cited previously, the prosecution attempted to expand the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) to charge the defendant with cyberbullying. The jury was not willing to stretch the CFAA that far. However, had the prosecution sought to expand the laws governing bullying in the real world to include cyberbullying, it might have proven more lucrative for the prosecution in this case.
    Some reasons for applying criminal laws to corresponding cybercrimes is, as stated by jramsey above in a summary of Ms. Brenner’s argument, “Everything an avatar does is just a manifestation of its “master,” rather than having any free will or intelligence on its own.” Avatars are not free thinking individuals and neither are various websites and other cyber locations, each cyber citation or use has a real-life human on the other side. The real-life human is the one committing the cybercrimes whether they are in the virtual/cyber world or not. The human is the one that should be punished for any harm inflicted on another human via the use of an avatar or other cyber methods. Anything less would be creating a loophole in the system by which someone can escape prosecution.
    There are many arguments against this line of reasoning including it would become a logistical nightmare to prosecute someone in China who harmed an avatar representation of someone in Gainesville, Florida. However, to believe that a TOS or EULA is enough to govern human behavior is naïve. As illustrated by SouthPark’s Humancentipad and the Lori Drew case, no one really reads TOS and EULAs, well at least, not until they are caught. TOS and EULAs do not serve as a deterrent to cyber criminals since cyber site owners only have the power to suspend or discontinue access to the user under their current login. The cyber criminal can come back again and again as someone else or another version of him/herself. TOS and EULAs do present a remedy for victims who may be deterred by costs of taking a virtual criminal to court. EULAs and TOS allow for legal remedies at a fraction of court costs and it is possible, though doubtful, that the cyber criminal may appear for mediation between the parties. It is best wherever it is possible and cost-effective to prosecute a cyber criminal by means of the criminal law system.
    For cyber crimes for which there are no criminal law equivalents, TOS and EULAS should govern. An example of this is griefing. The current criminal statutes are not equipped to handle this type of crime and it is questionable if there is harm to the victim. I believe there can be however rare. For crimes like these, the common law needs to catch up with the technology, but for now, the owners will have to take there griefs (no pun intended) to the owners of the virtual cites.

  8. The problem I have with saying that “actual” harm must result in order for law enforcement to become involved is that we are relying on the traditional criminal law, which frankly, seems to be ill-equipped to effectively hand the indefinite realm of virtual crime.

    Here is a prime example of such ineffectiveness: World X is a virtual world that allows “real money trade” and is home to Game X, a very popular multiplayer game. Bob, by and through his avatar, spends a year creating an amazing sword that can defeat any and all other swords in Game X. Joe, by and through his own avatar, steals Bob’s amazing sword and subsequently sells the sword to Max, by and through his avatar, for one million Game X dollars. One million Game X dollars is worth $100,000 in U.S. dollars. Have Joe committed a real-life crime?

    Now, here we are going to run into our first issue: since the “crime” took place in the virtual context, who has jurisdiction over the potential defendants? If Bob is in the U.S., but Joe and Max are in Spain, what is the prosecution going to do? Extradite them? Even assuming all three people live in the U.S. but all three live in different states, which state’s laws apply? And all of this is assuming law enforcement can even figure out Joe and Max’s real-life identities. In virtual worlds, your real-life identity can remain anonymous forever, especially if you are well-versed in dodging security measures (such as IP address tracking).

    Let’s say that all three live in Florida, so Florida laws apply. § 812.014, Fla. Stat., governs the crime of theft and states as follows:

    “(1) A person commits theft if he or she knowingly obtains or uses,
    or endeavors to obtain or to use, the property of another with intent
    to, either temporarily or permanently:

    (a) Deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit
    from the property.

    (b) Appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of
    any person not entitled to the use of the property.

    (2)(a)1. If the property stolen is valued at $100,000 or more or is a
    semitrailer that was deployed by a law enforcement officer; …. the
    offender commits grand theft in the first degree, punishable as a
    felony of the first degree”.

    Under this law, “property” is defined as anything of value, which includes intangible personal property (including rights, privileges,
    interests, and claims).

    So, the real question becomes: does Bob have any rights, privileges, interests, and claims in his virtual sword? This issue here is that the sword lacks any copyrights, trademarks or any other legally recognized intellectual property right. So, does Bob have any interest in what is really just an online representation of a sword? If the virtual sword is not considered property, then the prosecution fails to meet element one of the statute.

    There is no doubt that Joe earned real, hard cash by taking the Bob’s virtual sword, but did Bob really suffer any actual harm? Did Joe really steal Bob’s “property”? Can virtual representations of things really be considered “property” under the law?

    As it stands, I am not sure that Florida criminal law is prepared to answer the question of whether a virtual representation of something is truly property, although I don’t see why it couldn’t be considered property. This example is merely to illustrate the first speed-bump (among many) where the traditional, real-world criminal law doesn’t seem well-equipped to deal with the infinite situations of virtual crimes. Thus, I do think that there needs to be an additional set of laws to deal with the ever-evolving and growing area of virtual crime. Now, the logistics of these laws are an entirely different topic. But I’ll leave you with this: should there be an umbrella, one-fits-all set of laws, much like the federal law? Should it be left to the states? Should it be left up to the virtual worlds to determine their own desired rules and just have legal enforcement? Other alternatives?

  9. Last week’s topic of discussion suggested that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was outdated. My biggest complaint was the laws lag too much in its application and is enacted by individuals who may not necessarily be qualified to make technology related decisions. When it comes to virtual crime/fantasy crime, it’s an area where the ones most affected by these issues also have the most control. Instead of having to rely on courts and politically drawn out legislation, companies creating these virtual worlds have the power to combat these crimes very effectively. In essence, they are the law makers; they decide what is wrong and what is not. Yes, this makes it one sided but if enough people disagree with their TOS they will adapt when they notice all their users leaving for other virtual worlds. Virtual worlds differ too much from one to another to have one set of laws that would be appropriate. Stealing clothes from a person in Second Life may not conform to the community standards but may be a part of surviving in another. As far as theft goes, the companies who own these virtual worlds are best suited to correct this deviance. Although we edit our avatars and what not, they ultimately are the property of the software developers. Characters in worlds like World of Warcraft are merely the equivalent of leasing a vehicle and when you stop paying your fees everything goes back to the company. When theft occurs, developers can cure this by following transactions and reversing them back to how it should be. I don’t agree that there is no harm done by stealing virtual goods, especially in the context of games like WoW where it takes a lot of labor to buy things. Companies are in the best position to sue users if they do irreparable harm. The point where the government should get involved is when actions extend beyond the computer and involve actual movement of US Dollars or harm to the physical person.

  10. Mills Harm Principle

    John Stuart Mills in “On Liberty” assert the harm principle: the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. The principle has become the thrust of libertarian politics. “[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

    The problem with trying to analyze harm is it is hard to define. Direct harm is easy, but lets look at an example of possible indirect harm. The law is you must wear your seat-belt. This law does not compile with the harm principle because there is no harm to others from a person deciding to not wear their seat-belt. However, one could argue indirect harm is caused. If the driver was your mother and you depend on her, she could cause you harm by not wearing the seat-belt and dying.

    It is a challenge to define harm in the real world, trying to define it in a virtual world and how it effects the real world which we have trouble defining it in would be a feat for a philosopher.

    I think there is to much focus on us either needing or not needing virtual laws. Instead why don’t we go about trying to solve the problems with current law and ad virtual band-aids along the way? Rather than focusing on laws we should focus on the judiciary. I think a group of judges should organize themselves who are very familiar with computers and the internet. You know, some nerd judges who could understand what they are making decisions on.

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