If You Duplicate A Weapon In An Online World, Is It Copyright Infringement?

from the sort-this-sucker-out dept

It seems like we've had a bunch of stories recently about how the wild west of online virtual worlds is bleeding over into the real world courts. As we've said since these issues first came to light, it's a bad idea to take these disputes into a real court. Games need to figure out ways to deal with in-game issues in the game. Otherwise it raises all sorts of problematic legal situations (for example, if defrauding, robbing, killing others is a part of the game, then why is it a legal matter?). However, as each new case comes up, different legal issues are raised. The latest one is in China, where a couple years ago there was a lawsuit over a duplicate magic sword. When the game company realized the sword was an "illegal" duplicate, it deleted it. However, the scammer had already sold the duplicate sword, so the person who paid for it felt cheated and sued the gaming company. Again, it seemed like there were reasonable solutions to this within the game, and without resorting to court.

However, questions of duplicate magic swords in China are back on the discussion board today, as someone (anonymously) has pointed us to a case (which may actually be related to that original case) where three men have been tried for selling duplicate weapons in the game. Here's where it gets tricky, though. The men are being charged with copyright infringement. They made a bunch of copies of highly valuable in-game weapons, and were able to sell them for a profit of about $250,000. Apparently, this helped destabilize the world, as there were so many of these weapons which only the top players were supposed to possess. Still, this raises a number of interesting legal issues. Those involved aren't being charged with fraud, but copyright infringement -- which actually makes a little bit more sense, since they did make copies of digital goods they were unauthorized to copy and distribute. Still, again, it seems like an issue that should be solved within the game. The game can take away the weapons, and while that represents a loss to the players who paid for them, those players broke the rules in obtaining the weapons anyway. Also, we'd assume that since the game involves weapons, it's likely that players could lose weapons in a fight anyway -- so obtaining any such virtual good came with associated risks. Of course, after getting sued the last time the company deleted duplicate magic swords, perhaps they figured deleting these weapons would represent a huge legal headache.
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  1. identicon
    Matthew, 7 Sep 2006 @ 6:01am

    FTA couple years ago

    He is asking the court to order Optisp to give back his sword, which he estimates is worth 1,000 yuan (US$120) in real money, and apologize.

    "I registered the account and played the game following the rules, so I should be viewed as a consumer," He said. "I bought the high-level weapon in a legal way, so how can they delete it without compensation?"

    So he buys this illegal sword for a few million in-game credits, and when that illegal item is confiscated he wants real money back. Trafficking illegal items, real or not, is not legal. Even if unknowingly, one cannot sue the police force for confiscating a stolen TV that you bought at the flea market.

    The other article won't come up for me. So I can only guess at the real issue here, but I imagine it goes something like this: X number of people learned how to duplicate an item or items, and are selling them for in-game currency. Imo, all these accounts should be deleted. All the duplicates should be deleted. Make them all start over from scratch. They all cheated, knowingly or not, and certainly violated the TOS.

    It is not really feasible to ban someone. Odds are good that once all these players have to start over they won't come back anyway, but maybe that's the issue overall. The game doesn't want to lose this fanbase.

    So ultimately it comes down to doing the right thing vs economics.

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