Making sense of virtual property research

I just realized that I haven’t blogged anything about VERN – Virtual Economy Research Network, here! Well…I’m just gonna point you in the direction – to start you off, there’s an interesting post/essay on “Making sense of virtual property research” – I would say it’s a must for anyone wanting to look into such matters! I felt it was very helpful!

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When technology governs

Mark Wallace had a very honest and reflective post in his blog yesterday about ‘the issue of trademark, copyright and intellectual property rights in Second Life’. There seems to be a lot of trust in Linden Lab’s technology to take care of these rights – but that technology can only govern in its space, Second Life. If someone were to copy these virtual objects into another program – what happens to these issues? If then the object comes back into Second Life but modified from another program? And…well…what about when some of the virtual objects become real, without the original creator’s consent? And…oh I’m on a roll now – with virtual worlds such as Second Life, where citizens are making real money from real businesses – well, Linden Lab can’t protect the intellectual property rights of this, can they…would they?
It seems the IP rights issued for creators in Second Life are governed by technology – the ability to protect objects from being copied technolgically. But ideas and creativity go so far beyond technological restrictions, do they not?
Mr. Wallace feels that laws of the physical world should apply to the metaverse as well. And what I think is so funny in these discussions is the assumption that we’re trying to protect the rights of the little man from being stolen from the big corporational man! Or is it just me? These programs were designed to help creators – to create, to be imaginative, to be free – when we start protecting things with an iron fist of the law (real world) and screaming out “You can’t touch this, this is mine ALL MINE!” (wow – it just dawned on me why MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” is so popular now days) – it tends to put a damper on creativity and freedom to express oneself. If there’s absolutely anything this whole Web 2.0 movement has taught me is that you can actually trust people to create, be thoughtful and respectful at the same time. Give them the trust and they’ll give you a lovely gift economy.
I guess I’m wondering, what’s stopping the Creative Commons being involved in Second Life? I’m actually asking here! Is there really a need to go as far as the courts to deal with this issue? And does someone really have to be sued in ‘small claims court’ in order for people’s creativity to be protected as their own?
I’m very wary of the advocation to get real world courts involved in issues concerning the metaverse, but I find Second Life a difficult issue. It’s gone so far beyond any definition of a game and the protection of ‘the magic circle’, so I really can’t say if I agree with Mr. Wallace’s post or not, I just thought I’d point it out as an interesting read! But I will concur that I don’t think we can trust technology to govern such worlds! As he so cleverly puts it:

“If the focus remains on technology as enforcer of the law, then it will eventually be (as Lawrence Lessig has pointed out) the technologists who are writing the laws. Now, I’m all for technologists, don’t get me wrong. But we didn’t elect them as legislators, did we?”

"…even if their world doesn’t really exist."

Clickable Culture reports on a lawsuit made against Linden Lab for “a virtual land deal gone sour”. From what I gather, Marc Bragg found some glitch in the system (bug?) of Second Life where he could buy land for under the market value. He decided to invest in this discovery and see if he could make a profit when he proceeded to sell the land for market value.

And from what I gather something suddenly happened that made him loose his Second Life account. According to Bragg, Linden Lab terminated his account “without explanation, without citing any violation of community policy, and have since refused offer a credit or a refund”.

Bragg in a statement says: “These games are like the virtual Wild West, but Linden Lab is still obligated to honor real-world contract law and consumer law, even if their world doesn’t really exist.”

Of course he’s right! Second Life has a potent market with US dollars and since they’ve issued Intellectual Property rights to their citizens – they really do have to think about real life contract and consumer law. Second Life very much exists then, if you ask me. But by what laws should they adhere to? Don’t get me wrong, I love what Second Life has done! But with it comes some democratic responsibility and not dictatorial rule. I’m no lawyer, so I’m not sure – and to be honest, lawsuits like this kinda scare me for what’s going happen in the future. I, for one, don’t want too much reality in virtual worlds although it is exciting to see it evolving, it’s like a whole new society being born – and that is fun!

I find it really suprising if Linden Lab truely has behaved in this manner. They must have been prepared for this happening somehow, haven’t they? And I’m sure they’re within their rights of punishing those who take advantages of bugs for profit (after all, we’re not talking about a game here, we’re talking about reality) – but to just cut him off with no reason, no explanation and furthermore no dialogue! I’m sure they could have worked something out, somehow and learned from this ‘glitch’! So…I’m not sure if this is really the way it all went down – I’m looking forward to hearing Linden Lab’s response!

Sony Station Exchange and GMs responsabilities

So, yeah! I’m still trying to write about intellectual property rights within MMORPGs. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that reputation is a commodity in MMORPGs, both for the game developers and the gamers themselves, and I’m wondering if it is this reputation that is or should be protected within intellectual property rights! Firstly I’ve used Eriksson and Grill’s DiGRA 2005 paper “Who owns my avatar? – Rights in virtual property” for inspiration to illustrate the different interests game developers and gamers have in intellectual property rights. From their excellent paper:

“Two main interests are discernible in connection to the game producers:

  1. Subscription interest – virtual trade may decrease a game producer’s income from subscriptions. If new players buy advanced characters for real money they won’t have to spend time in the game (which they consequently would have to pay for) advancing their own avatars. The subscription interest is also affected by the fact that the game producer may get a bad reputation by letting people with more money than time buy themselves into the game, resulting in gamers leaving the virtual world
  2. Control interest – developers have an interest in remaining in control over their creation. In part, this may be a purely creative interest, quite separable from the subscription interest. Often, producers wish that their virtual world should remain a game only. The recognition of ownership rights in the virtual world of their game may thus conflict with their wish to control that world. Producers therefore try to establish norms implying that trade in virtual property with real money should not exist”

Venting thoughts!

Otherwise my Easter has been spent lying on the couch ignoring social circles because ‘I’ve got so much work to do’ and watching tv and letting my eyes wander warily over to my computer with a passionate hatred!

I’ve kinda gotten myself into a sticky situation, which I’m either overthinking or I just need to drop it all together. Let me share it with you! I’m trying to explain the attachment we feel to our virtual assets in MMORPGs and I thought I’d found the perfect example. Now, let me point out that I want to go on to explain the distrust of the coding authorities (excellent word, Castronova!) to rectify such situations. So let me just vent out here:
Madelaine, a player in The Sims Online (TSO) loves to build houses! One time she had spent a lot of time, love and effort on a house which was fabulous! A friend of hers was constantly hassling her with wishes to buy it. Madelaine was flattered and in the end gave in! A few days later Madelaine came to me quite distraught. She had just found out that her friend had copied the house from Alphaville to Blazing Falls (another virtual city in TSO) and was passing it off as her own design. Madelaine was quite distraught, and rightly so in my opinion. So this is where I get into trouble! I don’t understand Intellectual Property Law! I thought this was a perfect example of that, and the more I think about it, the more I think it has to do with copyright.

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