Property in virtual worlds

Erlank, Wian (2012-12)

Thesis (LLD)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Includes bibliography

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation analyses and investigates how virtual property functions inside virtual worlds. It also determines if, within that context, virtual property is similar to, or should be treated like real world property. The questions that are addressed include the following. What is the (real world) legal status of property in virtual worlds? Is it worthwhile to recognise and protect virtual property in real world law? Is it possible to recognise and protect virtual property in real world law, given the differences? Would recognition and protection of virtual property in real world law require or be restricted to instances where virtual property is or can be recognised as real rights? The dissertation finds that there is a definable concept of “virtual property” as it is encountered in virtual worlds and there is a great degree of similarity between the function of property in virtual and real world systems. There are also sufficient justifications (social, economic and normative) to recognise virtual property as property. Even though the function of property is similar in both systems, the similarities are undermined by the absence, complete or almost complete, of real rights in virtual worlds. This creates a problem since, in real world law, real rights enjoy stronger protection than weaker personal rights. The first reason for this absence of real rights stems from the unique (and mostly uncircumventable) nature of game-code that removes the necessity to make all rights in virtual worlds real rights. The second reason relates to the fact that most virtual world rights are completely derived from and regulated by contract. It is concluded that it is possible to recognise and protect virtual property by means of traditional private law property law (both Roman-Germanic and Anglo-American), constitutional property law, and criminal law. While criminal law will fill some gaps left by the absence of real rights, the rest that are left are contractual rights. In certain circumstances, these contractual rights may be strong enough and in other cases they may require support from special legislation that strengthens weak personal rights and makes them into stronger property-like rights. In constitutional cases, these rights derive support from constitutional property law. However, in other circumstances recognition and protection will probably require recognition of real rights.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie proefskrif analiseer en ondersoek hoe virtuele eiendom in virtuele wêrelde werk. Dit gee ʼn oorsig oor die vraag of virtuele eiendom, in daardie konteks, vergelykbaar is met eiendom in die regte wêreld en dieselfde erkenning moet ontvang. Die volgende vrae word gestel en beantwoord. Wat is die (regte wêreld-) status van eiendom in ʼn virtuele wêreld? Is dit die moeite werd om virtuele eiendom in die regte wêreld-regstelsels te erken en te beskerm? Is dit moontlik om virtuele eiendom in die regte wêreld te erken en beskerm, gegewe die verskille? Sal erkenning en beskerming van virtuele eiendom in die regte wêreld-regstelsels vereis dat, of beperk word tot gevalle waar virtuele eiendom geïdentifiseer of erken word as saaklike regte? Die navorsing toon aan dat daar ʼn bepaalde konsep van virtuele eiendom is soos wat dit in virtuele wêrelde gevind word. Daar is ook ʼn merkbare ooreenkoms tussen die eiendomstelsels in die virtuele en regte wêrelde. Hierdie proefskrif bevind dat daar genoegsame regverdigingsgronde is (sosiaal, ekonomies, sowel as normatief) om regte wêreld-eiendomserkenning aan virtuele eiendom te verskaf. Alhoewel die funksie van eiendom dieselfde is in beide stelsels, word die ooreenkomste tussen hulle ondermyn deur die (algehele of amper algehele) tekort aan saaklike regte in die virtuele wêreld. Dit veroorsaak probleme, aangesien saaklike regte in die regte wêreld aansienlik sterker beskerming geniet as swakker persoonlike regte. Die redes vir hierdie tekort aan saaklike regte in ʼn virtuele wêreld is tweeledig. Eerstens veroorsaak die unieke aard van rekenaar-kode ʼn tekort aan saaklike regte binne die virtuele wêreld, aangesien die kode die bestaan van saaklike regte in meeste gevalle onnodig maak. Tweedens word meeste van die regte wat verkry word en bestaan in virtuele wêrelde geskep en gereguleer deur middel van kontrak. Daar word ook bevind dat dit moontlik is om aan virtuele eiendom erkenning en beskerming te gee deur middel van tradisionele privaatregtelike eiendom (beide Romeins-Germaans en Anglo-Amerikaans), konstitusionele eiendom en die strafreg. Strafreg kan egter slegs sekere gapings vul wat deur die tekort aan saaklike regte veroorsaak word. Die oorblywende regte sal egter persoonlike regte wees. In sekere omstandighede is dit moontlik dat hierdie persoonlike regte sterk genoeg sal wees, maar in ander gevalle sal dit nodig wees dat hul ondersteun word deur middel van die proklamasie van spesiale wetgewing wat swak persoonlike regte in die virtuele eiendom versterk tot eiendoms-agtige regte. In ander gevalle geniet hierdie regte beskerming deur die konstitusionele reg. In ander omstandighede sal dit egter verg dat erkenning en beskerming moet plaasvind deur die erkenning van saaklike regte in virtuele eiendom.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/71649
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