After such an interesting guest speaker last week who talked a bit about in-game purchases, I got to thinking a lot about virtual property – the acquisition of it, the sale of it, the theft of it – and how the rise of virtual property might change the face of the law.
Consider the following article:
Now consider the ownership rights of that property……
There really aren’t any. (not in North America anyway)
Virtual property created in virtual worlds has yet to be formally recognized by law in Canada or the United States despite the fact that property obtained in the realm of video games is often given real-world, monetary value. This is corroborated by the fact that there are countless examples of the sale of virtual property in the real-world marketplace. My question is, since virtual property is being bought and sold in the real world, shouldn’t there be real-world legal implications for the theft of it?
I feel like North American courts and judges have consistently showed disrespect towards the gaming community, over-emphasizing violence and undermining and even belittling the importance of video games to many people’s lives (fodder for another blog post at a later time). This lack of respect towards gamers and their subsequent virtual property, has led to injustices that, currently, cannot be remedied by law.
Presently, ownership rights are determined by contract – which is an underlying theme of the course, often in the form of an end-user license agreement. While the specific terms of this agreement vary, most of them place virtual property rights with the developers, not the gamers who acquire the property. I looked up the World of Warcraft end user license agreement out of curiosity and sure enough, under the title “Ownership”:
All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the Game and all copies thereof (including without limitation any titles, computer code, themes, objects, characters, character names, stories, dialog, catch phrases, locations, concepts, artwork, character inventories, structural or landscape designs, animations, sounds, musical compositions and recordings, audio-visual effects, storylines, character likenesses, methods of operation, moral rights, and any related documentation) are owned or licensed by Blizzard.
It is important to mention that there are signs of other countries beginning to recognize virtual property rights as per the case in our class text about Li Hongchen (p 158-159) whose stolen virtually property was actual restored.
While this discussion is much too large for a simple blog post, my intention is to provoke a discussion of virtual property, mainly, should virtual property be legally protected? Who should be the owner of virtual property? Should gamers be allowed to sell their virtual property for real money? (Indeed, some end-user license agreements restrict this) And finally, how can the law adapt to issues surrounding virtual property? Should it?