Virtual reality is here. In just a few years, the technology moved from science fiction to the Internet, from specialized research facilities to living rooms. The new virtual reality environments are connected, collaborative and social, built to deliver a subjective psychological effect that believably simulates spatial physical reality. Cognitive research shows that this effect is powerful enough so that virtual reality users act and interact in ways that mirror real-world social and moral norms and behavior.
Contemporary cyberlaw theory is largely based on the notion that cyberspace is exceptional enough to warrant its own specific rules. This premise, a descendant of early cyberspace exceptionalism, may be dramatically undermined by the advent of virtual reality. The technology brings cyberspace conceptually and concretely close to the real world, blurring legally significant distinctions between cyberspace behavior and physical behavior, between “real”, “not real” and “virtually real”.
There is an opportunity here. Some of the cyberspace-specific legal regimes that developed over the last twenty years are seriously flawed, especially in criminal law contexts. Computer hacking legislation is overly broad and vague, effecting the criminalization of minor Internet infractions and chilling digital freedoms; cyberharassment and cyberstalking laws are poorly enforced and ineffective, turning cyberspace into a hostile environment for many people; government cybersurveillance norms have seriously upset the balance between public security and individual privacy, putting society on the path to an Orwellian surveillance state.
Virtual reality brings a new understanding of the human cyberspace behavior continuum that counteracts cyberspace exceptionalism, undermining contemporary cyberlaw theory and presenting an opportunity to move away from problematic cyberspace-specific legal regimes, back towards the well-established laws of the real world.
Gilad Yadin, Virtual Reality Exceptionalism 20 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. (forthcoming 2018)
Yadin, G. (in press). Virtual Reality Exceptionalism. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, 20(3)