[MUD-Dev] Re: Black Snow Revisited

Richard Woolcock KaVir at t-online.de
Mon Apr 1 14:08:35 New Zealand Daylight Time 2002

Koster, Raph wrote:

> If a court case was decided which determined that players owned
> the virtual items generated in the process of playing an online
> world, I suspect that many of the large corporations--particularly
> those which make a living form intellectual property--would
> immediately exit the market, worried about liability issues and
> loss of their IP.

Ownership of computer-generated material is a bit of a touchy area,
but there's a good link about it here (with the relevent parts
repeated for archive purposes):


    - Ownership by the Programmer -

      In a situation in which a copyrightable work is created by
      minimal input from the user of the computer program, such as
      the example given earlier where the user types in a single
      instruction, and the computer program generates a kaleidoscope
      image of the subject, the major obstacle confronting the
      programmer's claim to copyright ownership of the kaleidoscope
      image is that the programmer did not cause the image to be
      "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" as required by the
      Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 102(b). How can the programmer be the
      author of the image if the programmer is never aware that the
      image was created?

      The best argument for the programmer in response to the
      fixation problem is that where the output of the program is
      fairly repeatable, the programmer has a better claim to
      fixation than the user. If the program generates the same
      image every time a user provides a certain command, then the
      creativity displayed in the output must have come from the
      programmer. After all, it would be strange to ascribe
      authorship to the user where the same output would have been
      generated no matter which human author caused the output to be

      In a case dealing with video games, this same reasoning was
      followed in holding that the computer programmer of the video
      game was the copyright holder of the audiovisual displays in
      the game, even though the game player's performance determined
      in part what display appeared on the screen.

    - Ownership by the User -

      In a situation in which the computer program output is not
      repeatable, the major obstacle confronting the user's claim to
      the copyright is the minimal standard of originality. Because
      copyright law is not directed to passing judgment on the
      creativity of works of authorship, the level of creativity
      required to qualify a work for copyright protection is low. In
      a widely cited case, a court once stated that "a copyist's bad
      eyesight, or defective musculature, or a shock caused by a
      clap of thunder, may yield sufficiently distinguishable

      However, while the standard is low, it is not non-existent. A
      single word or slogan must have some value as a
      composition. Therefore, a user probably would not satisfy the
      originality requirement by typing in a single word, such as
      "run" or "compose." Unfortunately, no clear rule exists
      regarding the circumstances under which the user, or the
      programmer, should be considered the author of a
      computer-generated work.

      Nevertheless, in many situations such as a word-processing
      program, or a mechanical drafting program, it is clear that
      the computer program still functions as a tool of the user,
      and the user should be considered the copyright owner.

    - Joint Authorship -

      The computer programmer and the user of the computer program
      should be considered joint authors of some computer-generated
      works. A joint work is a work prepared by two or more authors
      with the intention that their contributions be merged into
      interdependent parts of a unitary whole. Under the majority
      rule, the contribution of each joint author must rise to the
      level required for copyright protection. Furthermore, courts
      have interpreted the "unitary whole" to require that each
      joint author must intend that each joint author will have an
      interest in the copyright.

      A computer-generated work having repeatable elements of
      expression as well as significant expression contributed by
      the user might be a joint work if both the programmer and user
      intended to create a joint work. For instance, the software
      license or advertising materials accompanying the computer
      program might state that the user would be a "co-author" or
      "joint author" of works generated using the computer program.

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