How to Write Terms of Service for Virtual Reality

Legal contracts will pervade and regulate virtual reality. Just as end user license agreements (EULA) govern the use of software, legal terms of use will govern virtual reality "space." Some terms of use will be like No Trespassing signs. Others will will be warnings or disclaimers of liability. 

Like the terms of use for web sites or mobile apps, some virtual reality terms of use will prohibit unauthorized activity (example: "You agree not to simulate sexual acts.)

Legal Notices Are Common.

Modern life is filled with legal notices and contracts. For example, as a visitor enters a physical building, it is common that the manager of the building will notify the visitor -- with a legible sign -- that guns are prohibited inside the building. Notices like this can be legally enforceable against a visitor: bring a gun into that building, and you can be ejected and perhaps arrested.

Property Rules

Legal Terms in VR Could Impose a Binding Contract.

In a virtual reality environment, the terms of use could cover myriad topics. They could confirm the intellectual property rights of the VR developer. Or they could restrict the legal power of a user to violate intellectual property (e.g., a work of art) by, for instance, forbidding the user from recording the property.
virtual reality contract

The terms could limit the power of a user to sue the developer if its data security is weak. (Example: "You give us your personally-identifiable information at your own risk. We cannot assure the security of your information, and we take no liability for any compromise of your information.")

Or ... the terms could impose legally-binding fees on a visitor. (Example: "If you enter this virtual room, you agree to pay VR Dev, Inc. $5.")

Enforcement of terms would often require the gathering evidence of the terms and how they appeared in the virtual space. See blog post about capturing legal evidence in virtual or augmented reality

Legal Terms Might Be Enforced on Bots.

Google reported that its DeepMind bot is able to navigate a Doom-like 3D maze similar to how a physical robot can navigate through a physical building. Cool.

But when a bot visits a virtual space, legal terms -- written in natural language not robot language like robots.txt -- might be imposed on it, even though no human actually set eyes on the terms or interprets the legal meaning of the terms.

Why do I say that?

Refer to the famous case Internet Archive v. Shell. Ms. Shell published a web site, and posted legal terms on that site. The terms said that any visitor to the site agreed by contract that if it made a copy of a page from the site it would pay Ms. Shell $5000 per page. Internet Archive engages in the public service of archiving the Web. Using an automated program (a bot), Internet Archive made copies from Ms. Shell's website. Then, Ms. Shell sued Internet Archive for breach of contract, seeking money! Internet Archive argued in court that it was impossible for it to enter a contract with her because the copying was performed by an automated program and no human had reviewed the terms posted on Ms. Shell's site.

However, on a first-blush review, the court sided with Ms. Shell. The court ruled she had sufficiently proven the possibility of breach of contract so as to force the lawsuit into deeper proceedings.

The risk of deeper proceedings meant greater cost to Internet Archive and the possibility of an embarrassing loss in court.

Then Internet Archive and Ms. Shell settled their dispute. Internet Archive apologized to her, and she accepted the apology. She dropped her demand for money from Internet Archive.

Ms. Shell achieved a victory and established the possibility that a bot could be legally bound to contract terms communicated by natural language.

Legal Notices Will Be Published as Audio.

When Time Magazine's Lisa Eadicicco tried Microsoft's HoloLens, what surprised her were the sounds. Through HoloLens, she saw 3D objects as she expected. But she did not anticipate that the audio would be so meaningful.

She could hear objects that were out of view! She reported that she could hear them moving, similar to how we can hear creatures moving in real space, even though we don't see them. In other words, a rich VR experience will communicate by way of audio as much as by video.

Accordingly, some legal notices and contracts will be posted as audio, and/or they will attract attention by audio. For instance, as a VR explorer enters a landscape, she may hear a certain tone to indicate that legal terms apply to that landscape and she can read them if she so elects.

Notice of a Contract Might Be Given By Haptic Vibration.

Instead of audio, however, legal notices might bring attention to themselves through haptic feedback. For instance, a little vibration on the left side of a headset might indicate that

  • a legal notice is present,
  • the legal notice is binding, and
  • the user can access the notice (similar to clicking "Legal Terms" link at bottom of web page) if the user so desires.
I am interested to hear comments on this topic.

See also:

  1. How to make a legal recording of a "mixed reality" experience.
  2. Legal measures brand and property owners may take to regulate augmented reality

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