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From Jack M. Balkin and Beth Simone Noveck, eds., The State of Play



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1 From Jack M Balkin and Beth Simone Noveck eds The State of Play Law and Virtual Worlds NYU Press 2005 forthcoming Virtual Crime F Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter Ever since creation s peaceful dawn was startled by the death cry of the murdered Abel and Jehovah placed his mark upon Cain and set him forth a fugitive and a vagabond cursed from the earth that had opened its mouth to receive his brother s blood from his hand there has been a never ending conflict between those who make the laws and those who break them 1 In a recent article we explored the emerging social phenomenon of virtual worlds and the legal issues raised by these environments 2 We focused upon two primary questions First we asked whether the virtual items and properties currently being bought and sold by residents of virtual worlds should be regarded as property in a legal sense We concluded that no obvious reason exists prohibiting the recognition of legal interests in intangible virtual properties Second we explored the question of whether the current technocratic corporate and anarchic governance systems in virtual worlds should be problematic from the standpoint of democratic governance We concluded that due to the unique nature of the virtual spaces and the unusual and varied conventions that govern interpersonal actions within these spaces the governance of virtual worlds is a very complicated question and would be better left to internal and marketdriven forces In this essay we will look at a third issue that is largely derivative of the two issues previously explored Private property systems inevitably present the potential for social conflict by granting private ownership rights that can be infringed by trespass and conversion In the essay we will explore the issue of non consensual appropriation and destruction of virtual properties and ask whether these behaviors might be seen as truly criminal We will conclude that such conflicts will generally not give rise to criminal liability but



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