Virtual Property Rights: The Legal Landscape of Real-world Rights in the Virtual World - NOTE: the course is cancelled in the autumn semester 2020

Course content

People are spending an increasing amount of time interacting and engaging with others in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Fortnite. As users of these worlds build, acquire, trade, and sell virtual assets using real money, a bridge between the real-world marketplace and the economy of the virtual community begins to form. Because conflicts inevitably arise, clarifying the legal status of virtual assets is essential to understanding users’ rights to virtual assets and the legal frameworks that govern the transactions involving them. While End User License Agreements (EULAs) help define the rights and responsibilities of users and developers, legal scholars argue EULAs fail to address the tension between contractual powers of developers and the alleged property rights of user rights.

This course will explore the differences between real-world and virtual property, the legal frameworks applicable to defining rights that may be associated with virtual property, the economic consequences of asserting user rights in virtual worlds, and how user rights interact with contractual rights under EULAs. The main topics of the course will include:

 

Introduction to Virtual Property in the Virtual World
The course will begin with understanding the challenge of defining virtual property by explaining the nature of virtual worlds, the types of assets found therein, and how these assets are created.

 

Applicable Legal Frameworks to Virtual Property

The virtual economy created by the acquisition, trading, and selling of virtual property invites examination into the different legal frameworks that can be used to define the legal status of virtual property. In this section, we will discuss and introduce several different areas of law and their applicability to virtual property.
1. Real property
2. Personhood and personal property
3. Contract
4. Intellectual property
5. Consumer protection

 

Real-world Laws vs Virtual World Laws
This section explores the literature on whether real-world laws should be applied to virtual worlds, which has its own set of rules, norms, and customs. Traditionally, behavior deemed illegal in the real world has been acceptable in the virtual world. However, when virtual behavior gives rise to consequences in the real world, when should the courts intervene and should laws of the real world be applied? To what extent should virtual laws play a role in legal decisions made in the real world?

 

Enforcement of Rights to Virtual Property
Available case law from different jurisdictions involving virtual property will be analyzed to assess how different legal concepts are applied by different jurisdictions. This section will consider cases involving users enforcing their rights against third parties and developers enforcing their rights against third parties. Analysis will focus on comparing property rights based approach vs EULA contract based approach and the policy and economic impact of these decisions on society.

 

International Considerations
The issue of jurisdiction comes into question when a dispute in the virtual world spills over into the real world between users from different countries. This section will introduce the concept of conflicts of law and how courts have traditionally decided the appropriate forum, procedure, and applicable law for resolving a dispute. Discussion will focus on whether conflicts of law concepts need to be adapted to apply to disputes involving virtual property in the virtual world

Learning outcome

This course will help students’ develop and acquire the following knowledge, skills, and competences:

  • Develop an understanding of how different legal frameworks such as property law, contract law, intellectual property law, and consumer protection law apply to understanding the legal status of virtual property
  • Develop a deeper understanding and critically reflect on the legal principles that apply to understanding the legal status of virtual property
  • Develop an understanding of conflicts of law and international considerations that arise in disputes involving virtual property
  • Develop an understanding of common law concepts applicable to defining the rights associated with virtual property
  • Analyze elements of an End User License Agreement
  • Identify and explain the rights and obligations that arise under an End User License Agreement as it relates to rights of users and developers
  • Interpret and analyze case law relating to virtual property and virtual worlds
  • Use critical thinking skills to evaluate and explain the ways in which law, economics, and public policy shape the rights and responsibilities of different participants in virtual worlds
  • Demonstrate an ability to identify and apply different real world legal principles and policy considerations to disputes involving virtual property that reflects balanced consideration of interests of the participants
  • Develop and articulate clear, coherent, and professional oral and written communication and argumentation skills
  • Enable students to carry out independent research on the intersection of different areas of law and the relationship between law, policy, and innovation
  • Engage in critical analysis and balanced debate on the role of law in defining how society engages with technology

Group presentation of case study
A case study will be assigned to a group of students based on the readings required for the next class. The group will present their analysis at the beginning of the following class, applying concepts learned from prior lectures and from the most current readings to explain their findings. The learning objective is for students to (i) apply concepts from previous class and (ii) build upon them interpreting and apply new concepts in the current readings to analyze the case study. This activity intended to hone student’s oratory and group work skills. The peer feedback and end of class reflection is a way for self-evaluation and reflection

Take-home written assignment
Students will be given a written assignment to be submitted to Peergrande for anonymous feedback. This activity is intended to assist students in preparing for the synopsis part of their final examination. It will also hone students written and critical thinking skills under minimum pressure.

Class discussion/​simulations/​debates
Engage class in discussion on topical and contemporary issues relating to competing rights and interests related to virtual property and virtual worlds to contextualize the theory and legal principles set out in the readings. Conduct debates on legal and policy implications of current unresolved disputes. These activities are intended to encourage students to think critically on their feet in a group situation.

Research Handbook on the Law of Virtual and Augmented Reality Woodrow Barfield andMarch Jonathan Blitz

Edward Elgar Publishing 2018 (approximately 450 pages)

 

Recent case law, research articles and other relevant materials selected and made available (approximlately 350 pages)

Real property law; contract law; intellectual property law

Written
Oral
Individual
Collective
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

 

 

ECTS
15 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 min.
Oral exam based on a synopsis, 20 minutes
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 343,5
  • Seminar
  • 69
  • English
  • 412,5