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Virtual Worlds: Between Contract and Property

By Justin B. Slaughter


Although virtual worlds have existed in some form for several years, it is only recently that the phrase has begun to seem truly accurate, with many users increasingly choosing to live the primary part of their days logged into a virtual world. While virtual worlds are causing us to rethink how we view relationships and communications, they are also increasingly coming into conflict with our prior conceived notions of property law. With virtual worlds facing an escalating number of conflicts over property ownership, it is becoming imperative that the status of virtual property be addressed to ensure the continued growth of virtual worlds and their nascent, booming economies. In this Article, I examine the current conflicts over property rights within virtual worlds and offer a solution to the current problems. Although the status quo is untenable, I show that neither property law nor contract law can provide an exclusive solution to the current conflict. Instead, I argue that virtual worlds and their unique characteristics call for the creation of a new type of property interest, which I call the virtual easement. Combining features of both property and contract law, the virtual easement allows for sufficient user property protections as well as maintaining virtual world companies’ control over their worlds. If established, the virtual easement should allow for continued growth of virtual world economies with a minimum of governmental interference. I conclude with a discussion of possible policy concerns relating to the establishment of the virtual easement

Topics: Communications Law, Computer Law, Contracts, Intellectual Property Law, Property-Personal and Real, Communications Law, Computer Law, Contracts, Intellectual Property Law, Property Law and Real Estate
Publisher: Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository
Year: 2008
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