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
    Xeno, 7 Sep 2006 @ 12:56pm

    They're going to have a very hard time proving that this is against the rules.

    Let's forget about the whole, "is it worth the real world money paid for it" argument for a secont.

    When you stop to think about it, what did they actually pay for....

    The buyer paid to have the seller perform a virtual action in the game. In this case the action was giving the buyer the item(we'll address the duplication in a bit). The action of giving the buyer an item is no different from paying the buyer to kill another player, or perform some quest, or some other strictly game related task. In the end, the buyer paid the "seller" to simply perform a service and give him the item.

    He could have just as easily paid for the information as to the exact time and location in the virtual world where the "seller" was going to drop the item, and if selling information about the game is illegal, then any video game site that provides a walkthrough for a profit will also be illegal(which as far as I know is not the case).

    So all the "seller" was doing was performing a certain task that resulted in the buyer getting the item, and as others have pointed out, unless the ToS say you cant do that, there's no issue.

    As for the duplication, you can't blame them for copyright infringement.

    There are two possible ways that the "seller" could have gotten the items.

    1) The seller hacked into the server in order to create the new items. This would definatly warrent a hacking charge or whatever it's officially called.

    2) The seller created the new items using a glitch in the programming code. This was a mistake on the part of the programmers, so they can't be surprised that others would take advantage of it. From the sounds of it, this seems to be the way the items were created, so lets focus on this...

    All the seller did was perform a certain sequence of actions that resulted in a new item being created on the games server. The user did not remove anything from the server at all, everything remained in game. In short, the key point here is that the object never left the virtual world.

    So to sum it all up...

    Basically what we have is the "seller" using the games software to create a new item. The seller then contracts with the "buyer" to perform the actions in the game that result in the object leaving the seller's account and being transferred to the buyer. The buyer compensates the seller for his time just as any other person performing a service in the real world would and they both go on with their lives.

    The game owners obviously aren't happy about this, but the item was created using their program(not hacking). And if the process of creating new items is copyright infringement, then doesn't that mean every player who kills a monster which results in a new item being created (Dropped) is effectivly guilty as well?

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