Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies


With the increasing trade in and production of virtual content (e-books, digital music, files stored in the cloud, etc.) and an ever growing use of virtual real estate (email accounts, online storefronts, URLs, etc.) in commercial transactions, the legal interest users hold in their virtual property will determine whether all have the power to prosper in this new, multi-billion-dollar virtual economy. In the cloud, service providers can grant or destroy scores of virtual property with the click of a button and without compensation—a power not even available to the Canadian government. As it stands, the legal regime governing virtual property is economically and socially unviable. The extension of traditional property law principles to new types of virtual property would better protect the reasonable expectations of parties involved in these electronic transactions. This article defines virtual property and its legally relevant characteristics before turning to examine the licensed-but-not-sold contractual regime that governs virtual property today. It argues that virtual property more closely resembles physical property than intellectual property. In addition, it concludes that utilitarianism and personality theory justify the creation of a legal duty for service providers to protect the interests that users maintain in their virtual property. Lastly, the author suggests how the creation of property rights in virtual property might come about and offers a starting point for future debate as to the nature of the rights that ought to be recognized.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.