My colleague in legal academia and uber slinky-fan Eric Goldman joined Cory at the Santa Clara Rules & Borders conference and is attempting to throw a wet blanket on some of the more ambitious legal claims regarding virtual worlds.
First, Eric has a draft paper posted on free speech issues in virtual worlds that discusses the Peter Ludlow media blitz of a year ago. Eric points out, correctly, that the burden here falls on free speech advocates to explain how the virtual world "company town" situation differs from the common claims, generally rejected by courts, that the First Amendment protects against "censorship" by private ISPs and forum owners. He's not convinced that there is a difference.
Second, he's got some ruminations on his blog that take a very similar, very skeptical approach to the possibility of players avoiding the legal enforcement of pro-Dev EULA/TOS terms and claiming rights to virtual property, as has apparently happened in China. As he points out, we're generally bound by our contracts, so the burden falls on the players to demonstrate some reason the MMORPG situation differs from the standard ISP situation, given that the standard ISP situation may sometimes act to destroy misplaced customer investments. Again, he's not convinced there should be a difference for MMORPGs.
And I can't say I disagree with any of this -- the burden should fall on those drinking the metaverse kool aid to explain clearly and articulately why legal issues involving immersive virtual social environments should be treated any differently than the prior cases that have involved, e.g., message boards, chat room, and the like. (If different treatment is indeed desirable from a policy standpoint.) This is not an easy task. As Dan and I explained towards the end of our first paper on this stuff, the first wave of legal cyber-exceptionalism has largely foundered. Why should we expect virtual worlds will get a different treatment by the law? The cool graphics and the 20-30 hour (on average) weeks will probably not be enough to do the trick.