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.