According to several experts murdering metaverse avatars may be a crime. Recently, two lawyers, both of whom have written about metaverse crime, spoke with The Sun, as well as a former prosecutor and current law professor, John Bandler.
Of the three experts, two believe murder, rape and other violent crimes committed in the metaverse could incur speech-related charges in the real world. Such charges include stalking, menacing, and harassment. However, this remains uncertain as laws as they are currently written protect actual human beings, not virtual avatars and software code.
“I would view it more like speech or expression, less as a physical act against a person,” Bandler told The Sun. “Then we can analyze whether that speech or expression is permissible, protected, or not.”
From Trolling to Virtual Crime
Of course, online trolling and bullying are frequent occurrences on the web. These offences in their Web2 form are rarely prosecuted. This, therefore, leaves one questioning where the line will be drawn between freedom of speech and cybercrime. Despite being in its infancy, metaverse crimes are already a reality. Metaverse pioneer, Meta added a personal boundary feature to its Horizon Worlds platform after a woman came forward about a virtual sexual assault.
“All the trolling, virtual bullying, threats and bad behaviour online happens all the time. It’s nothing new, and it’ll happen in the metaverse,” said Greg Pryor, a lawyer at the law firm Reed Smith LLP to The Sun. “But if I say something racist or abuse someone based on their race or religion or sexuality, then you can potentially be prosecuted.”
According to Patrick Roberts of the Roberts Law Group, however, virtual crimes will likely receive virtual punishments such as banning or restricting a user’s account.
“After all, people kill each other in video games all the time without consequences. I can’t imagine real-world penal consequences for virtual crime,” said Roberts.
Currently, Bandler believes that adapting laws to protect avatars isn’t feasible. Conversely, Pryor and Roberts feel that metaverse crimes may be persecuted under new or amended existing laws in the future.
“Could the law give greater protection to avatars because they’re like our personal persona? Could the law extend protection? Yeah, I think potentially. But that’s not how it is right now,” Pryor told The Sun.