Virtual rights? property in online game objects and characters
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Kennedy, Rónán. (2008). Virtual rights? Property in online game objects and characters. Information & Communications Technology Law, 17(2), 95-106. doi: 10.1080/13600830802204195
The new industry of Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) brings together two sets of fictions: the interactive stories of shared computer games and the legal devices of intellectual property. In these virtual worlds, scarcity need not exist, but players tend to prefer the competition it creates. This leads to the development of property rights within the game world and players trading real money for virtual objects, ‘land’ and characters. This new phenomenon brings with it familiar legal problems such as theft, fraud and ownership disputes. Game creators also challenge the right of the players to claim ownership outside the game world. The volume and value of the items traded make real money trading an important area of current interest for intellectual property lawyers. Something is being traded, but does it fit neatly into existing conceptions of property rights and who owns it? Analysing the novel problems that result from various theoretical perspectives (utilitarianism, labour-desert theory and personality theory) leads to the conclusion that with time, we will see the development of property rights for players in online games. This connects with a growing understanding that the traditional conception of copyright law dealing with creative work generated by the solitary author is becoming less appropriate in the new creative spaces that information and communications technology brings, where individuals are both consumer and producer. In virtual worlds, new forms of intellectual property, and perhaps even new rights, are taking shape.
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