Sara M Grimes, “Persistent and Emerging Questions About the Use of End-User Licence Agreements in Children’s Online Games and Virtual Worlds”

Working Abstract

The appearance of standard form end-user license agreements (EULAs) in online games and virtual worlds designed and targeted to children raises a number of important cultural and ethical questions—about children’s autonomy, liability, responsibility and authorship—that warrant closer attention. For the most part, EULAs contain highly complex language, terminology, and highly abstract economic and legal concepts, while mechanisms for obtaining user and parental consent are largely inadequate. In addition, many of these documents work to preemptively resolve regulatory grey areas that have not yet been subject to public discussion, as well as expand corporately advantageous power relations into new spaces of childhood. An exploration of current trends, future implications and possible solutions is provided in five sections. The first part examines common terms and arguments made about EULAs, and questions whether and how they might apply to players who are minors. The second section reviews theories used to justify children’s special legal status, specifically in regards to younger children and contracts. The third part explores the notion of parental liability and reviews recent legal developments relating to the enforceability of infants’ waivers. The fourth part examines the converse trend of officially ‘banning’ minors from participation, and considers the legal ramifications for children who misrepresent their age in order to play. The final part explores how the criticisms and problems raised in previous sections of the paper can be used to devise an alternative framework, and provides a series of recommendations for drafting a more reciprocal, balanced and child-centric EULA.

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