Virtual Worlds but Real (?) Property

The Register has an interesting report on crimes in virtual worlds.

According to a study [PDF] by the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), there is a lot of crime in virtual worlds, and it can be lucrative.

Quoth the author of the study: “While annual real-money sales of virtual goods is estimated at nearly €2bn ($2.51bn) worldwide, users can do very little if their virtual property is stolen. They are a very soft target for cybercriminals.”

There is of course an action plan – indeed a 12-step program – one step of which is “Clarification of virtual property rights for more adequate theft protection”.

Any views on how our law might ‘clarify’ virtual property rights? Would it be a new kind of property, or a statement that a known kind of property (a chose in action? An intellectual property right?) covers the kinds of relationships (between owner and non-owners) created in such ‘places’?

What would such a clarification apply to? Would we have to define a ‘virtual world’? Surely there is a simpler way. What is it?

Do we still have a problem in Canada with R v Stewart [1988] 1 S.C.R. 963, saying that you can’t steal information?

Or would the crimes of concern to ENISA be covered by prohibitions of unauthorized access to computers or computer networks? Would we have to beyond the access to describe rights in the actual ‘things’ (phenomena) that the bad guys target?

And – writing as a Canadian – I have to ask: is this federal or provincial jurisdiction? Creating a crime is federal. IP law is federal. Creating a kind of property is provincial…

[Thanks to Nicholas Bohm in England for pointing this article out to me.]

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