Sorting Through The Legal Questions Of Property Rights In Virtual Worlds

from the layers-and-layers dept

We’ve discussed the many questions raised about property rights in all of these new virtual game worlds. Do the laws of the outside world apply? If so, what country’s laws apply? What about the end user license agreement? If that rules who owns property in the game, then (effectively) that makes the company law enforcement. So what happens when law enforcement in the community violates the laws of the nation? Obviously, these aren’t easy questions and eventually they’ll end up in courts. John has submitted a story about a case in China where someone is suing an online game company for deleting a weapon he bought in the game. Apparently, the seller had “duplicated” the weapon in the game, which was against the rules. He then sold the duplicate to the guy suing – and the company deleted it once they realized it was a duplicate. The guy is suing, saying that he worked hard to make the virtual cash to buy the virtual sword, and it’s unfair for the game to simply delete it. The company claims that the rules are clear that dupes aren’t allowed – but, only the seller knows it’s a dupe. So, when you unravel it, this is a fairly complex legal question involving different layers of intellectual property. First, you have the problems of the “duplicates,” which could be seen as infringement on its own. Then, the guy sold the unauthorized copy for profit (admittedly within the game, for virtual currency) and kept the “original”. The buyer paid with virtual money and received the “illegal” copy of the virtual sword which was then deleted. So, who’s really at fault? It certainly sounds like the guy who created the dupe and sold it is the most reasonable target, but how do you deal with the situation where the guy then sells the “real” virtual sword to someone else? Who gets to keep it? The simple answer – of course – is both of them. It is virtual property after all, and can be reproduced at will by the powers that be. However, the company claims this will destabilize the game. Meanwhile, the guy who’s suing only really has a claim if the virtual property he bought with virtual money is considered his to own. The gaming company will, most likely, claim that it’s really theirs. It seems like we’ll be seeing plenty of more related lawsuits.

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Comments on “Sorting Through The Legal Questions Of Property Rights In Virtual Worlds”

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phoenix says:

No Subject Given

I think there is one quite straightforward solution: the duplicate should be destroyed at the seller’s expense, plus the buyer would get his money back from the seller’s account (if the seller’s funds are insufficient his virtual property should be confiscated to satisfy the buyer). In essence, this amounts to a rollback of the entire transaction.

thecaptain says:

Re: No Subject Given


the thing is that right now, its the buyer (who as Mike pointed out, has NO way of knowing if he’s buying a duplicate) who is being punished.

If anything, the buyer should keep the item, and the seller’s original (original and duplicate being meaningless in bits and bytes…except maybe as a coding issue) should be deleted.

I don’t see why the online company didn’t just do that. Sure, they are afraid every cheater will just claim innocence, but seriously, there’s no reason that stuff can’t be tracked.

Also, there’s no reason why the bug could be fixed that allows duplication in the first place.

As for game destabilization by keep both objects, its obvious Mike that you haven’t played MMORPGs much (Its better for your real life anyway to not play too much LOL)…but I’ve seen it happen in EQ when I used to play way back…basically if a powerful weapon that USED to take a LOT of work to acquire suddenly becomes too available too easily, next thing you know, everyone has it and the game is much harder to keep balanced.

thecaptain says:

Re: Re: Re: No Subject Given

yes of course its a game…and I am amazed at the lengths that people will take it…but.

It is a game that people pay good money to play…so there is an investment of money and time into it (like ANY other hobby) so when something like this happens, people will get upset.

Going to court seems a touch much in this case IMHO, but it could have been avoided if the company had dealt with this fairly in this case (instead of punishing the innocent scammee)

I don’t think just saying “get a life” is an answer really.

(For what its worth, I think all those games SHOULD have mandated time outs to go to the big blue room…but thats because I know how addictive they can be…which is why I stay the hell away from them)

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