Virtual reality is playing an increasingly significant role in education, especially in the context of classes that are traditionally theory-based and abstract, delivering content has been difficult and uninteresting to students. Not suprisingly, a number of legal concerns accompany the growing use of virtual reality in education.
One legal issue is ownership of property. Formula Student, an educational motorsport competition, challenges engineering students in universities to design and build cars to compete in events. Virtalis, a virtual reality technology company, partnered with a university to design cars in a virtual reality system, which allowed the students to design a car and then decide which one to use rather than try to have each student’s design actually manufactured. In such partnerships, however, there may be a question of who owns a car simulation. Is it the property of the student who designed it, or the virtual reality company who produced it? Could there be joint-ownership? Should the actual design be owned by the student and the finished product be owned by the company? Such concerns should ideally be addressed early on in the transaction.
Another area of education that can otherwise be abstract is medical education. Virtual reality has helped medical students and doctors train on realistic simulations of anatomy, approximating operation on real people as closely as possible. Simulations can even be based on the anatomy of specific patients.
With this development, of course, comes the legal issue of patient privacy. If a virtual reality company produces technology that allows patient anatomy to be copied and transformed into a virtual simulation, the company must safeguard patient medical information. Thus, virtual reality companies should familiarize themselves with privacy laws. Doctors also must be careful not to share information even to the medical community about patients without respecting patient privacy.
While no particular law addresses this use of virtual reality directly since this is a relatively new technology, all parties involved should familiarize themselves with law such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Medical Information Privacy and Security Act (MIPSA) simply to get a sense for the general values and standards that U.S. privacy law protects.