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

Amanda Walker amanda at alfar.com
Sat Oct 4 15:04:05 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

On Friday, October 3, 2003, at 05:41 PM, Ren Reynolds wrote:

> I don't see how this is a critical difference. The cases do not go
> into the physical nature of things or their context of use. They
> simple note that the companies in question have used an
> Intellectual Property Right to attempt to prevent (though
> contract) their customers from performing acts that the companies
> IPR does not extend to. And in the cases I cite, this has been
> ruled to be a misuse of the companies IPR.

The critical difference is that those acts in the physical world do
not depend on acts of the company.  In a virtual world they
do--those acts are only possible, and only have meaning, on the
company's servers and in the context provided, maintained, and
mediated by the company.

>> If your copier company goes out of business, you still have a
>> copier.

> Not sure about this. If you have rented the copier and the rental
> company goes out of business, I would assume that the asset is the
> property of the creditors.

Well, yes, but in that case you've never own it in the first place.
What you may or may not do with it isn't an issue of property
rights, it's a contract matter between you and the rental company.
Contracts specify anything that both sides agree to.

> Let's assume that I own a lease to an apartment on the 13th floor
> of a building. The existence of that flat depends on the physical
> reality of the 12 floor, which in turn etc etc. What's more my
> lease hold is dependent on the nature of the freehold and the
> whole building existing.  Lastly my lease is not for ever but only
> for a limited amount of time.

> The fact that the existence of my flat is utterly dependent on the
> physical reality of other things such as the floors below, and is
> only really mine through some limited time to use does not prevent
> me from selling the lease.

On the other hand (at least in the US), your ability to sell your
lease or sublease your flat *does* depend on the terms of your lease
with the property owner--it is a right granted by contract, not a
property right.  Now, it is true that there may be applicable laws
which govern what those terms may or may not include--it is probably
in the public interest for there to be some basic level of
uniformity in this regard. However, even those laws do not grant
property rights, they only specify what constitutes a valid lease
within their jurisdiction.

> Fine, let's talk about my bank account. It is a set of database
> entries on a server. If the bank turns the server off, has my
> money gone ? If not what's the difference (in these respects)
> between avatars and money ?

A very large difference.  Game companies create avatars and items;
banks do not create money, they only hold it in trust.  A closer
analogy might be holding a bond issued by a store that closes.

> There is no reason why an avatar cannot simply be printed out in
> an old D&D style character sheet. There is no reason why that
> cannot be a widely recognised form if only in the MMO world (but
> may items that are traded only have value within a very small
> group of people - take trading cards etc).

Certainly; in fact, I'd be quite happy with a game that let me
create a character with whatever stats and resources I wanted as
long as it fell within the guidelines for that game.  People already
use character names to denote cross-game identity; appearances and
general abilities would make this even more effective.

> One might further argue that this print out is no use if the
> servers are not running. But what's that got to do with it, we are
> talking the notion of value here, the print out could be used as a
> token of value just as much as any other, different games my
> recognise it and provide a character of a similar level upon
> receipt of such a document.

Exactly.  We're not talking about inherent value, we're talking
about contingent value.

> OK, let's extend this argument. Game servers run on operating
> systems.  How many game companies own the operating system they
> are on ? Let's go further, what about the server hosting - does
> the game company own the hosting centre, or the bandwidth
> (probably even the ISP does not own the dark fibre).

> So if you have to actually own everything that supports a virtual
> thing, like totally and for ever then not a network based games
> company in the world owns their game.

> Which is not the case.

Indeed.  All of those things are commodities--the game context is
not.  The value of an avatar is not contingent on which hosting
facility is being used, or which wires your bits travel on to get
there.  It *is* contingent on the pieces provided by the game

> I'm not saying that they don't. This is a different point. I'm
> arguing that Sony might not have the right to tell people if they
> can sell EQ characters or not. What's more if Sony killed an
> account on this basis, _they_ might be in breach.

Well, the last time I rented a house, the lease specified that I
would not sublease it.  If I had, my own lease would have been
terminated for breach of contract.  Under Virginia law, this was
perfectly enforceable.  How is this different from a game provider
saying you can't sell your avatar, under your analogy?

Amanda Walker
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