LA NATURE JURIDIQUE DE LA PROPRIÉTÉ VIRTUELLE
Keywords:virtual worlds, virtual goods, virtual property, private international law, conflict of laws, intellectual property
For a decade now, multiplayer virtual worlds have played a prominent social and economic role in society. Users of virtual worlds are vast in number, and they exchange—often against real-world currency—virtual objects (avatars, virtual clothing, virtual homes, etc.) created or purchased in virtual worlds and over which they claim ownership. However, this virtual property currently has no legal status under domestic or international law. The developers of virtual worlds exploit this regulatory vacuum and apply the legal framework that best serves their interests to the end-user licence agreement (EULA) that every user must accept before entering the virtual world.
Virtual goods by definition do not physically exist; they appear as images only in the virtual worlds that host them. If we accept the traditional view of property, virtual property cannot find a legitimate place in the property law of France and Quebec. This is in contrast to common law, which has a much broader stance on the notion of property. In the end, questions regarding virtual property are best examined within the framework of intellectual property law, a branch of property law tailored to intangible objects: intellectual property rights were established specifically to regulate ownership of intangible goods and are neither diminished nor limited by an object’s lack of existence—physical possession is thus immaterial.