Metaverse experts reveal if you can kill in the virtual world

“Murder” in the Metaverse isn’t a 25-year sentence — or even a felony — but it could be a felony, some legal experts say.

The Sun spoke to two lawyers who have written about crime in the Metaverse and a former Manhattan prosecutor turned law professor about violence in the virtual world and whether they can be prosecuted.

Two out of three experts said violent crimes such as murder, rape or assault in the metaverse can arguably be speech-related charges, such as threatening, stalking or stalking.

It comes down to the wording of the laws as they are currently written, experts say.

They were written to protect “real, living people,” said John Bandler, who teaches cybersecurity and cybercrime at the Elisabeth Haub New York School of Law at Pace University.

The law is not intended to protect avatars or software codes that populate the metaverse.

“I would see it more as a speech or an expression; less like a physical act against a person,” Bandler said.

“Then we can analyze whether that speech or expression is allowed, protected or not.”

This argument fuels the wider First Amendment societal debate about what speech is protected, what isn’t, and what can be prosecuted.

“All the trolling, virtual bullying, threats and bad behavior online happen all the time. This is nothing new and it will happen in the metaverse,” said Greg Pryor, attorney at law firm Reed Smith LLP.

“But if I say something racist or insult someone because of race, religion or sexuality, you could potentially be prosecuted.”

Crime laws protect “real, living people,” not avatars, who populate the metaverse, an expert has said.
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

A third expert — Patrick Roberts of Roberts Law Group — said it would be difficult to prosecute a usually anonymous user and prove that the user committed the act.

The consequences will likely be some sort of virtual punishment, such as disabling or limiting a user’s avatar, he said.

“And the person who used the avatar for virtual violence may be restricted or blocked for a while,” the North Carolina attorney said.

“This is all conjecture and has implications for freedom of expression. After all, people are constantly killing each other in video games with no consequences. I can’t imagine real criminal consequences for a virtual crime. †

UNSPECIFIED - MARCH 25: General view of the Etro fashion show during Metaverse Fashion Week on March 25, 2022 in UNSPECIFIED, unspecified.  Metaverse Fashion Week MVFW is hosted by virtual world Decentraland and is the first experimental virtual fashion week.
“I don’t think criminal law needs to be changed to protect avatars as humans,” says an expert.
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Will the avatar have a “personality”?

This question has divided experts who have spoken with The Sun for the past week.

Bandler, who has a long history and deep knowledge of cybercrime, said criminal defenses for avatars “couldn’t work.”

“I don’t think the criminal laws need to be changed to protect avatars as humans. It wouldn’t make sense and we have enough challenges to protect people,” Bandler said.

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A virtual reality headset is one of the means by which users can access the metaverse.
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“Online gaming means thousands (millions) of avatars are ‘injured’ or ‘killed’ every day. Such acts are either “part of the game” or at the very least allowed by the game.”

Even now, according to Bandler, very few crimes or threats of digital harassment are prosecuted on the Internet.

“Each case is individual, but many threats are made and criminal repression is rare,” he said. “I can’t imagine threats in the metavers will gain much traction in law enforcement.

UNSPECIFIED - MARCH 25: General view of Metaverse Fashion Week on March 25, 2022 in UNSPECIFIED, unspecified.  Metaverse Fashion Week MVFW is hosted by virtual world Decentraland and is the first experimental virtual fashion week.
The metaverse has untapped potential and an unknown amount of crime.
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

“You can try reporting them to the FBI, but good luck. The main refuge is through the platform.

On the other hand, Pryor and Roberts said they can envision a future where laws are changed or new laws are created to reflect potential violence in the metaverse.

“Can the law give more protection to avatars because they are just like our personal personality? Can the law extend protection? Yes, I think potentially. But it’s not like that now,” Pryor said.

This story originally appeared on The Sun and is reproduced here with permission.

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