Ranked a “Top 100 Thought Leader” in “Augmented Reality” and “the Internet of Things” by Onalytica, Glen Gilmore, the author of this post, has been called a “futurist” by IBM. An international speaker and consultant, Gilmore is an adjunct instructor at the Rutgers University School of Business, Executive Programs. Although he is also an attorney at law, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice.
The reality is that you can be sued for what you do in virtual world. Whether you could be sued successfully, or possibly even be arrested, for your conduct in a virtual world would require a case-by-case analysis and a recognition that our law evolves.
Let me take this one step further and suggest that you can even be sued for helping create virtual world where others get hurt without their consent. “Really?” Really.
“Ok. Here we go. A whole new world of litigation launched by a lawyer!”
This isn’t about an over-litigious imagination. This is about enterprise risk minimization and the protection of traditional rights in a virtual world.
An injury that gives you the right to sue is classically defined as a “tort”, a legal wrong that contains: (1) the existence of a duty to protect others from harm, (2) the breach of that duty, (3) an injury to another, and the key element that that (4) injury was caused by the defendant’s (person being sued) breach of the duty.
If you have created a world in which someone else gets injured as a result of your failure to protect them from harm, where a duty to prevent such harm existed, you may be held liable (legally accountable – you may be successfully sued. If your conduct in a virtual world is prohibited as criminal in the real world, it is even possible that you could find yourself being charged criminally for what took place in virtual world.
Whether you create a virtual reality device or software, you could be liable for the harm caused by their participation in your virtual world.
A Few Virtual Cases You May Wish to Consider
- A child is exposed to harmful conduct. This could consist of exposure to adult content – or worse. What measures did you take to prevent such harm and/or to obtain parental consent? Did the consent you obtain satisfy current law? What warnings did you have on your product or software? What safeguards did you provide? What warranties did you offer or could reasonably be implied (e.g., the product could be safely used for its intended purpose). Did you comply with COPPA (if you don’t know what this is, I’m guessing you didn’t)?
- A player of your game is subjected to an unconsented physical assault. Many gamers enter a virtual world for a wide variety of adventures. They consent, either expressly or implicitly, by the very nature of the game.
What happens though when a consumer enters a virtual world, without having given express or implied consent to physical contact and is subject to inappropriate physical conduct?
“Pure silliness”, you may retort. Actually, the genesis of this post is another post written by a woman who shared her experience in being sexually assaulted in a virtual world. Read her post, then tell me what you think: My First Virtual Reality Groping.
Could someone be arrested for a sexual assault committed in a virtual world? What do you think? Could they? Should they? These are questions we must confront, sooner, rather than later.
Should we allow bullying or other forms of harassment in a virtual world without our consent? Education is moving online. Actually, it’s already moved online. According to Forbes , “More than 35 million people have enrolled in online courses in the last four years, and 2015 enrollments doubled from 2014.
Education in virtual reality is the next likely evolution from online courses. Google has already announced plans to bring virtual reality to one million school kids in the UK. Should we make an exception for bullying in virtual classrooms? If someone shoves our child – or worse – in a virtual world, they are likely to have the physical sensation of that contact. We should address bullying in the virtual world in the real world now. The same goes for other forms of harassment.
As virtual worlds become worlds we find ourselves in to attend courses for work or our children enter to attend school, we will want safeguards that protect us and those we care about. Think about it.
For virtual reality products and software, early complaints have focused on nausea induced by use of the devices. We have yet to hear whether the couple in Russia hit by a car while playing a virtual reality game in a parking lot plan to sue, but it is doubtful their case would get very far. Stories like that detract from the serious need to set some standards in a world in which very few rules exist.
Think what you will about the law and virtual worlds – but, think. The real world and virtual reality worlds are colliding. Questions of conduct, ethics and the law are boundless. Expect that just as we spend immense amounts of time on our mobile devices and in social networks, the same will happen with virtual reality as its products move to mass market. Unlike our current online experience, in virtual reality we – and our children – will even feel the physical contact from others. Are we ready?
Tell me what I’ve missed or have gotten wrong (right?). Please share a comment below if you’d like.
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