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Will Real-World Laws Apply in Virtual Spaces?

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VR reality is a technological advancement gradually making its way towards mainstream adoption. Younger people are more interested in VR than their older counterparts, but that doesn’t mean this tech won’t extend its reach. Because it’s new, VR will take some getting used to. This adjustment period will also include laws. VR shouldn’t be a lawless space — it’s about finding out how real-world rules work in the virtual world.

Where Current Cyber Laws Are Lacking

Since the realm of virtual reality is so new, it’s uncharted waters in terms of legality. It’s difficult to cover something with a legal blanket when it’s not in the world you’re used to making and following laws in. As such, cyber laws are clearly lacking in how much they can cover.

The laws regarding virtual experiences in the real world are still murky. Scammers lurk everywhere, ready to prey upon anyone.

People have already fallen victim to scams in the virtual world. A famous case of virtual theft in 2007 set the rule that virtual items and currency are valuable, not just negligible online goods. Online play-to-earn games of chance and crypto games are also skyrocketing in popularity — and with any game involving real-life money, the fraud typically experienced in real life will translate to these online games, too.

A similar case comes from the game RuneScape in 2013, where one user hacked into other profiles to gain access to rare items that other users had collected. Without VR laws set in place, the door is open for other users to commit the same actions that would be considered crimes in the real world. More VR laws need to be enacted to protect personal property and experiences while in a virtual space.

Why Is It So Difficult to Make VR Laws?

Making laws extending to VR is difficult because many factors work together to make up the virtual world. You have the developers who made both the VR headset and the world or game a person is currently in and then you have to consider the person entering VR themselves. How much do they assume the risk of operating the virtual world in a small space at home? Does the responsibility lie on the creator or the user?

Extending the discussion to VR’s cousin, AR, one such case is the game Pokémon Go, where users can attempt to capture Pokémon in the real world. Real-life locations become Gyms and Pokéstops, which allow users to fight and capture powerful Pokémon or obtain beneficial items. These Pokéstop locations have seen an increase in accidents by around 25%.

The game has also been linked to the deaths of players who don’t pay attention to their surroundings, whether they’re out for a walk or playing while driving. In cases like these, it might be hard to determine who’s responsible — the person playing the game, the company or someone else entirely?

Because VR can take place anywhere in the world, creating laws under one governance could be impossible. What may be a law in one country might not be an issue in another one. How would the law prosecute any VR user for a potential crime if different countries weigh things opposingly? There’s also the argument about whether VR is actual reality and how far laws should extend into a space that is technically not the real world.

Violent crimes can also happen in the virtual world. Recently, a researcher was sexually assaulted in a virtual space and captured the assault on video. While the researcher thought it valuable to capture the footage and acted quickly, other potential victims may not think the same way.

While some may argue that using an avatar means the assault didn’t happen to a victim’s real body, the psychological consequences of going through a traumatizing situation could be impossible to predict or control. The issue may lie with convincing people that the trauma is enough to constitute assault in the virtual space a crime.

You may also have the case of misuse of intellectual property. If someone creates something in VR that infringes upon the IP of someone else, who is responsible for that infringement? Is it the user for creating something in the space or the developer or provider for technically allowing it? In another case, it may not matter because VR may be too far from the real world for recreations in the virtual world to affect anything in reality.

One thing that many people worry about is their data. VR is still relatively new in the grand scheme of the world, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how they’ll handle data in the years to come. Politicians are in the process of making more laws regarding the privacy protection of online data. How do they maintain those laws in the virtual space? How much data do VR programs collect when people use them? Only time will tell — and lawmakers can then adapt their rules to include VR advancements.

As VR becomes more popular, the law will have to adapt to virtual spaces and figure out a way to regulate what happens online. Right now, VR is mostly uncharted territory. As more companies turn toward VR as a new way to have their consumers interact, VR will become more ingrained in the real world. Once it reaches peak popularity, people may start to see overhauls in law language that includes protection in the virtual world.

The Future of the Virtual World

As new advancements emerge, lawmakers have no choice but to adapt the rules for the virtual space. While current laws could adjust to include virtual reality, they should implement future ones with the VR space in mind. Only time will tell how officials plan to enforce laws in VR, but just as rules have adapted in the past to make room for new advancements, they’ll change again with the inclusion of the virtual world.


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