[MUD-Dev] Reality check ...(long) [was Re: Black Snow Revisited]

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Wed Apr 3 09:56:33 New Zealand Daylight Time 2002

Raph Koster writes:

> My *personal* take on what is going on is that the concept of
> intellectual property has been gutshot, and just doesn't know it's
> going to die just yet.  It's going to take many long and painful
> years before the final demise, and it may yet be saved by
> ridiculous extraordinary measures, but the prognosis is currently
> grim.

> The law is a complete mess.

Laws are a reflection of the society that they apply to.  'nuff said

> The questions are more like, "is the virtual sword analogous to
> performance of a song?" "Does the venue in which the "give"
> happens matter?" (It does in the case of musical performance,
> btw). And we can't even define what the venue *is* under the
> law--there's significant differences between singing over the
> telephone, over TV, and recording the song.

I think that's the fundamental question:

What is a virtual sword?

Many seem to believe that it's a real item.  My personal take on
this is that a virtual sword is a feature of a service.  The feature
involves pushing a button to see a character wielding a sword, being
able to push a button to see a sword be transferred to another
character, etc.  We use the word 'my' a lot in these games.  Heck,
folks don't even bother with 'my character' and go straight to 'I',
as in 'I did this' or 'I died'.  Players are encouraged to a sense
of ownership, and I think that the game companies are going to pay
for that decision.

Consider if game items and game characteristics were swapped.  You
can't give away your items, but you can give away your stats.  Does
this make stats a real world item?  You can't see them.  But you can
trade them.  You can use them.  But you can't destroy them.  Just
because a virtual sword walks, talks and acts like a real sword
doesn't make it a real sword.  I believe that THAT is what the law
will eventually discover.

> I think that the range of activities in online worlds is only
> going to increase, not decrease. And therefore we will run into
> more of these problems as time goes on. I think the real "reality
> check" is that we're in for interesting times. Simply put, the law
> is already showing major cracks and at some point will burst
> asunder.

Nah.  My analogy, this is just a shaking out of the laws.  They're
being tested to see if we really understand ourselves and what we
value.  It really is a reality check for the laws - which are a
reflection of our society.  Our society values property rights and
it values the effort that people expend in order to provide
services.  Intellectual property is valued, and it will continue to
be so.  The means of guarding intellectual property might change,
but it'll get done.  We may have rampant loss of rights due to
electronic distribution for decades.  But somebody is going to
realize that that is a money-making opportunity - to shut it down.
So the engineers will be working on how to cleverly retain the
ability of a producer to retain their intellectual rights while
still providing a service.

Game developers may have to go with an arcade approach to providing
their service.  Perhaps all companies that want to provide a virtual
environment will band together to come up with a standard to which
hardware can be manufactured to retain the IP rights of all content
presented there.  We might be doomed to return to physical security
until somebody figures out how to ensure that only the 'right'
people get to witness certain IP property.


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