Virtual Reality & Copyright Protection

Do existing copyright laws protect virtual reality applications and works?

Virtual reality (VR) involves computer generated simulation of three-dimensional images or environments that users can interact with using special electronics, such as headsets or special gloves.  VR can be described as “near-reality,” and with recent innovations in the field of virtual reality, users are increasingly being immersed in fantastically realistic realms.  The year 2016 was considered a turning point moment for virtual reality due to the release of several new systems, including Oculus Rift.  While thus far virtual reality for video games has been the focus of most creators, several tech companies have indicated that VR will soon be applied far beyond.  In coming years, it may change the way we surf the web and use our computers.  

As virtual reality continues to grow and expand, it raises questions about whether our current laws provide adequate answers to all the potential questions that will arise out of use of this new technology.  Artists working in the field of virtual reality are creating innovative works not possible in any other realm.  They can paint with color and light and incorporate sound and motion to create 3D works.  With time and energy being exerted to create VR works, it becomes important to consider whether existing copyright laws provide adequate protection to VR creations.  

The Copyrightability of Virtual Reality Works

The United States copyright law, found in 17 U.S.C. 102, protects original works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which they can be reproduced, perceived, or otherwise communicated.  The Act was created in anticipation that new technologies would develop that will require copyright protection.  By the language of the statute, virtual works could receive protection because they are original works of authorship, fixed in a tangible new medium of expression.  VR works are perhaps most analogous to video games, which are copyrightable.  

However, some issues will arise in that VR attempts to simulate real life.  Pure facts are not copyrightable, raising the question whether some of the more realistic VR works could receive copyright protection when they mimic fact or reality in an identical manner.  Those who work in the field of virtual reality will need the help of an experienced New York City copyright attorney to protect their works.