Debating the Virtual Property Dilemma

I notice Terra Nova has resurrected the virtual property issue (Link), based on the same XBox 360 virtual property/market situation I previously mentioned (reLink). The debate levels keep rising, yet some of the same limited arguments continue as if videogames and virtual worlds exist in a vacuum (I guess to some degree it makes sense that some people feel that way).

Terra Nova at least has been a source of some excellent commentary. In particular, I enjoyed reading Ashok‘s comments. Here’s a few excerpts:

There are two questions involved in the more general topic of law and virtual/real assets:

1. How does, or how will, law treat such assets?
2. What do we make of popular perception?

While people, through the legislature, technically make law – well, let’s get serious. How many people do we know who take an active interest in the law?

The difference is between the Internet being a tool, as it is for the people in this paragraph, and having one’s identity and labors at stake, as it is for those in the above paragraph. The group of users described in this paragraph, as well as the public at large, probably have no clue about virtual assets or armor kits being paid for in real cash.

Another comment, this one made by Ken Fox, is also worth repeating here:

What distinguishes a virtual property from other common types of (legally recognized) intellectual property?

It seems pretty cut and dried here. The horse artwork and software are intellectual property owned by Oblivion. The player receives a copy of the property with limited rights — perhaps not even the right of first sale. Probably the player is really screwed and does not even own the copy; most likely the player is granted a license to “use” the horse under certain conditions.

This really isn’t different from any other game software.

I couldn’t agree more. The problem imo doesn’t start with the screwy IP laws, it starts with a public that – as Ashok says – doesn’t know or care. After all, if average gamers can’t distinguish between copyright and trademark, how the hell are they going to make it through a EULA?

To continue Ken’s comment:

A much more interesting situation occurs if a player uses a virtual world to create horse armor. The game company merely provides a tool. Are all new works created in the virtual world derived works owned by the game company?

Well, of course, in Second Life the developer hands over the IP rights to the creator which is why I find it so much more interesting than other MMOGs. But good luck with those rights because you won’t be fighting the developer, you’ll be dealing with the mostly mindless public. And perhaps that’s the ticket to the public perception issue; when “players” who develop reputation (brand/trademark) and create popular content (copyright) get ripped off, maybe they’ll take a real interest because it’ll be their work being ripped off, reclaimed by others, and uploaded for distribution.

In fact, if you’ve followed any of my posts regarding intellectual property in Second Life (including the most recent one regarding DMCA enforcement – reLink), it may be that some residents are coming round. I certainly don’t see the same “free everything” comments I once used to read on the forums.

Maybe the internet, which has had such a dramatic impact on the free-flowing exchange of intellectual property assets (images, music, movies, etc), will ultimately be the means by which the public realigns its perceptions on intellectual property. I wish I could believe that.

2 thoughts on “Debating the Virtual Property Dilemma

  1. Thanks for linking back to me (yeah, I googled myself. I know, it’s sad. Really sad).

    IP right now is a mess. Forget this virtual property issue – what about what should be in the public domain, and charges of plagiarism generally? It’s like we have no notion of how these things should work, or too strict a notion.

    Did you see Paul Graham’s essay, btw, on how software companies use patents? That’s really interesting reading, and, of course, I can’t find the link to that.

  2. Agree. There’s very little common sense being applied to the issue by a whole lot of people out there afaic.

    And no, I’ve not read Graham’s essay, but I’ll make some time to locate it and give it a read. Thanks for the heads up.

Comments are closed.