Authorization and Governance in Virtual Worlds
Dan L. Burk, Authorization and Governance in Virtual Worlds, 15 First Monday (2010).
Although a variety of formal and informal mechanisms govern behavior in virtual worlds, the proprietors of such worlds increasingly have relied upon formal legal claims to sanction undesired user behavior. A range of such legal claims might be asserted in different factual situations: copyright infringement, or trespass to computers, or circumvention of technical protections. But each of these claims relies upon the authorization status of the targeted user. Authorization is largely an incident of the virtual world proprietor’s Terms of Service (ToS). Thus, the ToS is increasingly regarded as a license to access the proprietor’s servers; violation of the ToS annuls authorization to access the servers. The result is that any misbehavior by users, in violation of the ToS, can be recast as a violation of copyright, or trespass, or technical circumvention laws, even if the undesired behavior has little bearing on the variety legal claim asserted. This mutation of legal claims is troubling, not only from the standpoint of legal policy, but as a social policy to govern virtual worlds.