UK government to police virtual worlds like Second Life

October 26, 2007

UK government to police virtual worlds like Second LifeThe UK government has pledged to start policing virtual worlds such as Second Life. Government minister Lord Triesman was talking at the Virtual Worlds Forum in London when he vowed that the authorities would start to address causes for concern such as ID fraud and money laundering.

Lord Triesman is a minister at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, which makes him responsible for copyright infringement and online intellectual property laws. Tech Digest reported that he started his speech by praising virtual worlds:

“They are one of the most exciting technological developments of recent years, and one to which we have to be especially attentive”.

“They are also a great example of the United Kingdom leading in innovation”.

That last line is a bit strange seeing as most successful virtual worlds have their roots in North America or Asia, very few are British based.

He then went on to talk about copyright laws being just as stringent in virtual worlds as in the real one.

“In virtual worlds, they may choose to make copies of other people’s goods, or use their logos. It’s a problem. As long as such infringing action goes on, IP owners will have to be vigilant and capable of taking appropriate action.”

I suppose he’s right, as there does seem to be a nonchalance about copyright ownerships online compared to real life. Certainly I’d expect to get away with a lot more flouting of the laws online than I do offline. But it also worries me that the government seem so determined to get involved in online realms now that they are growing larger and more popular. It seems we can’t go anywhere without being chased by legislation from above.

“I am utterly convinced that in government, we have to embrace these exciting technologies, and be as much part of the flow of the current, because if we don’t, this country will be the lesser for it. And I’m determined that’s not the case.”

What he means is he wants the government to have a say in what goes on online. There’s no doubt that there’s a definite shift worldwide towards online activities, be that from virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life to online media taking over from traditional print media as the reading material of choice. And when something becomes popular, someone somewhere always wants to come in and spoil the fun.

I’m not against criminal activity being stopped online, but the chances of the government stopping there are zero to none. Although the minister didn’t give details of any planned legislation, whenever government organisations get involved, things tend to turn sour quite quickly. Let’s just hope that by the time it happens, virtual worlds are big enough to handle themselves and tell them where to stick it.

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