Napsterizing Virtual Worlds?

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Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, together with John Crowley, has made available online his most recent piece entitled “Napster’s Second Life? – The Regulatory Challenges of Virtual Worlds” on SSRN. By examining virtual worlds like EverQuest and Second Life and using a law and economics approach, the authors develop a scenario as to how the real-world legal system will interact with virtual worlds. Viktor, in essence, argues that virtual worlds will increasingly be engaged in regulatory competition with each other by offering alternative governance structures – including the allocation of intellectual property rights – to their users.
Further, the authors argue that real-world law makers are unlikely to extend the reach of national legal frameworks into virtual worlds, but might aim at regulating virtual world providers. Against this backdrop, Viktor and John explore some of the potential consequences of such an approach and conclude that such an approach by real-world legislators is likely to backfire and push “virtual worlds along a path similar to the one along which the fight against Napster pushed music sharing – towards a decentralized peer-to-peer model, in which providers themselves disappear, and with them almost any hope of real world lawmakers to directly influence the governance inside virtual worlds.” As an alternative, the authors recommend national lawmakers to facilitate the creation of robust self-governance structures within virtual worlds rather than “napsterizing” virtual world providers.

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