Will the Same Laws That Apply in ‘Real Life’ Apply in the Metaverse?
People are entering the metaverse at a swift pace. Large corporations like Nike and Gucci have set up shop. Celebrities like Snoop Dog and Paris Hilton have also staked a claim on metaverse property. Naturally, as more people enter the metaverse there are increasing questions about how ‘real life’ laws will apply to a digital society.
More recently, the issue of crime in the metaverse has made headlines. What digital actions can be considered and/or prosecuted as crimes? How laws apply in the metaverse will be important for lawyers who plan to hang a shingle there.
Lawyers in the metaverse will be responsible for handling cases like metaverse marriages, contracts, real estate matters, and, of course, criminal matters.
How Laws Will Apply in the Metaverse
That takes us back to the original question of how laws will apply in the metaverse. Recently, the New York Post published an article about murder in the metaverse. Is there such a thing? Can someone be prosecuted for digital actions against someone else?
Legal analysts and experts suggest that it will largely boil down to the wording of the laws as they currently exist. But our current laws are written for real living people, and not for digital avatars. But does that mean the metaverse is a place where anything goes? Not necessarily.
Cyber Security and Cyber Crime teacher John Bandler says,
“I would view it more like speech or expression; less as a physical act against a person. Then we can analyze whether that speech or expression is permissible, protected, or not.”
In other words, crimes in the metaverse may be limited to speech-related actions like stalking, harassment, or menacing. These charges would be based on what speech is protected and prohibited under the First Amendment. Attorney Greg Pryor told the NY Post,
“All the trolling, virtual bullying, threats and bad behavior online happens all the time. It’s nothing new, and it’ll happen in the metaverse. “But if I say something racist or abuse someone based on their race or religion or sexuality, then you can potentially be prosecuted.”
Can Avatars be Punished for Bad Behavior?
With our current laws and the uncharted world of the metaverse, it seems like punishment for bad behavior will also be somewhat limited. It would be difficult to hold a digital avatar in prison or execute a death sentence. But what sort of punishments could there be?
So far, analysts believe that punishment will be limited to the usual forms of digital punishment like deactivating or restricting an avatar or preventing someone’s IP address from connecting. The difficulty is that so many people in the metaverse will be largely anonymous outside of their digital persona.
Will the Metaverse Change the Law?
For many people, it may seem like changing technology should be a catalyst for changing existing laws, or enacting new ones that are relevant to the metaverse. But many analysts and experts believe that amending current laws to protect digital avatars would not be successful. John Bandler made a good point when he said,
“I don’t think the criminal laws should be amended to protect avatars as people. It would not make sense, and we have enough challenges just protecting people.”
Another issue with changing the law would be how those changes affect online gamers. Currently, many open world massively multiplayer games include injuring or killing other avatars in the game. In games like Fortnite, those avatars are representative of real people.
Another challenge is the fact that online threats, harassment, and crimes are very rarely prosecuted in the real world. Most often, victims must report bad behavior through the platform itself. There is very little involvement from law enforcement. It is possible that law enforcement will be equally as hands-off in the metaverse unless the laws are changed.
There is still a great deal of debate about just how web3 and the metaverse will affect the legal and criminal justice systems. For lawyers, it is a great time to explore the potential for web3 and how it will affect their clients and practice. But for now, it seems like the laws are not changing to a point where fundamental rights and criminal sanctions will extend into the metaverse.