Virtual worlds are becoming very much like real worlds, fueled in part by major businesses acquiring virtual real estate. At Dozier Internet Law we are asked about doing business in these virtual environments often by businesses looking for additional sales opportunities. But with the good comes the bad.
A 43 year old female player in "Maple Story" became so angry about her sudden "virtual divorce" from a presumably ill-conceived virtual marriage to a fellow online gamer that she basically hacked into her soon to be ex's player account and murdered his avatar (avatars are digital images that represent the individual in an online community). He reported his death to police when he logged into the game and discovered his avatar was toast. Police in Japan have arrested her and jailed her for illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, a statute similar to the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which is being used to prosecute the lady in the MySpace hacking case who allegedly caused a young girl to commit real suicide.
And about a month ago, a woman was charged in Delaware with plotting the real life abduction of a virtual boyfriend she met on "Second Life".
And virtual currency is like real currency to such an extent that a man was charged with stealing the ID and password of a fellow player and "swindling" virtual currency worth $360,000.
Times are changing. At Dozier Internet Law we are constantly challenged to find the right laws to apply to new facts and scenarios. It's not easy. But those who have any doubt about whether something is legal or illegal today are best advised to look to ethical and moral considerations to guide their conduct.