[MUD-Dev] BIZ: Who owns my sword?

Chris Mancil chrism at ubisoft.com
Thu Oct 2 17:46:47 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: Ren Reynolds

> I just thought that I would note that I am starting to revise my
> view over ownership of virtual items and their sale. In summary I
> feel that games companies most likely have copyright in
> player-characters, and possibly other virtual items; however I am
> still unsure as to whether these rights are of sufficient scope
> for a game company to use to prevent the sale of characters or
> items, moreover (at first sight) there seem to be weak grounds for
> the use of contract law also.

In terms of case law and precedents, I'm sure the grounds are pretty
weak in regards to virtual realities. However in regards to 'rights'
of ownership as a legal matter, you only have to take a look at RIAA
for an indication of where this debate is heading.

While you can legally purchase any music CD or DVD, place those
songs or files on your hard drive, perhaps even rename those files,
organize them, play with them, delete them. You can certainly listen
to, or watch and experience that material as much as you want, and
as often as you want it.

You can not however - sell them, rent them, and in some cases you
can't even share those files. You certainly can't legally claim
rights to that material. In many ways games are exactly the
same. While you actually 'own' the box and CD that you brought home
from the store shelf - the content contained upon that disc is not
yours, nor do you have any rights or ownership over that
intellectual property contained upon it.

> Virtual items, especially things like art works are slightly more
> ambiguous I feel.  Now a player makes a set of game choices, to
> start off with they choose a name for their character, they often
> select from a number of attributes, the choose what to hold or
> drop at any time. Hence there is an argument to suggest that a
> player has copyright in a collection by virtual of these
> selections.

Because of the strength of the experience it is so easy to walk down
this path. And it plays into this entire thread of "Who owns my
sword?' because basically there is no sword, there never was a
sword. Its just 1's and 0's in lines of codes. So who owns that
code? Who owns and stores that data? Who owns the server in which it
resides? And what rights if any does a user have when their
interaction with that data creates an experience that reflects
somewhat that user?

Couple of examples:

  -- If I pay membership to a golf club and I then jump into the
  pond off the 18th hole and splash around. Do I own those splashes?
  Can I sell those splashes to my friend? Does the self-portrait I
  drew in the sand trap on Hole 12 with my seven iron become my
  property, or do I have rights to sell that to the party behind me?
  Or if I found the perfect lay shot off the fairway on Hole 9 that
  I discovered or helped discover - can I sell that spot? I doubt
  it. I mean I could try - but I would probably be tossed out before
  I succeeded, and if I was to succeed I could probably be arrested
  or sued because of it.

  -- Making choices does not imply ownership. When I get a new cell
  phone and make all these choices about ring patterns, voice mail,
  long distance or minutes plans, friend plans, and tons of other
  personalized choices that reflect me and my experience - do I have
  any right to sell that phone, plan, and contract to someone else
  because I chose it and it is unique to me?

  -- Can you subscribe to Showtime, HBO, and Cinemax and then sell
  that subscription to your neighbor because you have a method of
  altering those channels at certain times which provides an
  experience that reflects you as an individual?

  -- Can you sell your leased car to someone else simply because all
  of the available options from the tow package to the matching
  paint and seat colors simply because that's how you ordered it?
  Does writing your poetry into the leather seats with a red marker
  give you any more rights to the vehicle so that you can sell it on
  Ebay? I really doubt that you can legally do that - in fact, I
  doubt any of us would ever try because doing so what certainly put
  us in major legal trouble.

This is what I mean by walking down that path, or as friends say -
drinking the Kool-Aid again. When applied to real life these same
principles are ludicrous. But most people don't equate a game with
real life because the experience takes place inside of our heads and
has perceived existence and value because that's what we take from
it and then put back into it. The experience is so real and valuable
that users can lease, trade, sale, and share it with others in the
same dream.

My argument is simply this - you lease the key to a dream. It's an
experience, and its intangible. That is what you pay for and
receive. The realism and social aspects of this dream do not make
real life rights and ownership any more obtainable or feasible
regardless of how material and solid they may feel to you.

There is no sword =) You rent/lease the dream where you use and
'own' a sword. And while you can sell, trade, and share that 'dream
sword' using 'dream money' inside of 'the dream' - once you cross
that threshold into the real world and try to sell that for real
world money - your drinking the Kool-Aid again and real world laws
apply again.

You do not own anything.

My view anyway,

- Chris

Chris "Vosx" Mancil
Community Manager
Shadowbane - ubi.com
"Massively Merciless!"
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