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
    Big Huge Dave, 7 Sep 2006 @ 1:32pm

    Re:

    I appreciate the fact that your argument is well thought out, however I do see some problems with it.

    You are correct that when you explain what the seller purchased, no one can argue that.

    As for "copyright infringement" I'm not a lawyer so I don't know if we can blame them for that or not. To me and most others I think it sounds like they're grasping at straws to get whatever charge they can against the seller.

    The main problem I have with your logic, however, is point #2 "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...". Basically what you're saying is that if someone leaves a way open to break the rules it's okay.

    So if you accidentally leave the door of your house unlocked, someone comes in and steals things, it's your fault, not theirs. Obviously this isn't true in our legal system. Breaking the rules is breaking the rules, pure and simple. Just because an opportunity exists to break the rules doesn't make it legal, just, ethical, or right to do so.

    When you say "The game owners obviously aren't happy about this, but the item was created using their program(not hacking)." I disagree that it's not hacking. I feel that when you use a computer system in such a way as to take advantage of security holes to benefit yourself, well that's hacking. But it doesn't matter if I think it was hacking or not, the game company can decide what's hacking, because it's their product. Not yours, mine or anyone else's, it's theirs, and they have the right to determine what hacking is and what it isn't. They may employ a lawyer to further define "hacking", who knows.

    As to the legal aspect of this issue I'm not sure how they can go about charging the offender, but I'm sure they can cancel his/her account and take whatever action is necessary to restore the game world to it's state before this action took place. I'm sure their terms of service state they can cancel someone's account for any reason at any time, and the game world can change for any reason at any time without guarantee.

    Also, I'm sure it's in their license agreement somewhere that purchasing items in the game using real world currency is against their terms of service. All games nowadays have this stipulation, otherwise things like this will plague the MMORPG game companies.

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