Do You Actually Own Your Virtual Property in Your Favorite Online Game?

October 25, 2011 -

Is virtual property found within games and often freely traded real legal property? One legal expert says absolutely not. Minneapolis lawyer Justin Kwong says those virtual baubles you spent real-world cash on are simply lines of code owned temporarily through a license. Or so he posits in the most recent issue of the William Mitchell Law Review (as highlighted in this article).

"At their core, virtual items are lines of software code that exist within larger computer programs," according to Kwong, who also writes a blog called Virtual Navigator on legal issues in online worlds and social networks. "Many scholars and authors have attempted to paint virtual items or virtual land as a new form of property. To date, no online environment has expressly acknowledged any such right to items within their world and no U.S. court or legislature has recognized a right to virtual-world assets."

Greg Lastowka, a law professor at Rutgers University, points out that courts in other countries such as South Korea, have begun treating virtual items as real property. He also notes that domain names are just lines of code too, and they have been regarded as property in U.S. courts.

"Your bank account is lines of code," he adds.

But Lastowka also concedes that virtual items don't fit the traditional legal definition of real property like a piece of land or personal property, and would be difficult to make an exclusive claim of ownership to an item created in an online game.

But "there's a lot of different ways you can have a property right," he said. "I think we'll see a day - it might not be next year, it may be five or 10 years from now - where a court will recognize some form of virtual currency or virtual property as legal property," Lastowka said.

Kwong says that for now, when you purchase a virtual item in an online game, you are really buying a license, not a piece of property.

Kwong compares the experience to the Mug Club at the Contented Cow, a pub in Northfield, Minn. For a fee, a bar patron can join a club that gives him or her the exclusive right to use a numbered mug, "but he or she does not own it - the mug must stay in the pub," according to Kwong. "Virtual items are analogous to the mugs because they are created by software and cannot be moved outside the realm for which they were created," according to Kwong.

Instead of trying to give the status of legal property to virtual items, Kwong says he'd like to see more standardized language used on terms-of- service or terms-of-use agreements in online games.

Kwong followed up on the story that appeared in the William Mitchell Law Review with a rather lengthy post on his Virtual Navigator blog - mostly to address the harsh comments he received from readers, who strongly disagreed with his assertions. It's worth reading for some clarification on the topic. Clearly the issue will continue to be argued until someone, somewhere either takes a case involving virtual property to court - and wins or loses, setting some sort of precedent.

Source: Slashdot

Image provided by Shutterstock. All rights reserved.


Comments

Re: Do You Actually Own Your Virtual Property in Your ...

This reminds me about the story of a woman in Japan who was arrested and jailed for using her ex-boyfriend's Maple Story ID and password to access his account and delete his character, because he broke up with her. She faced up to 5 years in jail or a $5,000 fine, for illegally accessing his account and deleting was was deemed to be his property, which in this case was his character. I don't know what the full outcome of the trial was though.

I'd be surprised if the US didn't follow suit with virtual property considering how everything is becoming more on more online these days.

“How can one not be fond of something that the Daily Mail despises?” ― Stephen Fry

Re: Do You Actually Own Your Virtual Property in Your ...

Do I own my emails? I wonder if I own my photos on Facebook?

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Managing Editor at TheBestGameSiteEver.com

Re: Do You Actually Own Your Virtual Property in Your ...

Caveat emptor.  'Nuff said.

Re: Do You Actually Own Your Virtual Property in Your ...

Not quite enough said. A lot of us don't speak latin.

Re: Do You Actually Own Your Virtual Property in Your ...

"Buyer beware."

Re: Do You Actually Own Your Virtual Property in Your ...

Stocks and bonds are considered legal property, but are also just lines of code with no real in world representation.....

 
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Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.businessinsider.com/xbox-one-virtual-reality-headset-will-compete-with-oculus-rift-2014-12 can a xbo even handle doing vr?12/21/2014 - 10:48pm
PHX Corp@Adam802 We'll break out the popcorn in June12/19/2014 - 9:23pm
ZippyDSMleeMaskedPixelante: I'm itching to start it too but I will wait till the patch goes live. >>12/19/2014 - 7:52pm
Adam802Leland Yee and Jackson get trial date: http://sfbay.ca/2014/12/18/leland-yee-keith-jackson-get-trial-date/12/19/2014 - 5:24pm
MaskedPixelanteNevermind. Turns out when they said "the patch is now live", they meant "it's still in beta".12/19/2014 - 5:07pm
MaskedPixelanteSo I bought Dark Souls PC, and it's forcing me to log into GFWL. Did I miss something?12/19/2014 - 5:00pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/12/republicans-may-have-plan-to-save-internet-providers-from-utility-rules/ this is intreasting. congress may put net nutrality in to law to avoid title 2 classification12/19/2014 - 2:45pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.polygon.com/2014/12/19/7421953/bullshit-cards-against-humanity-donated-250k-sunlight-foundation I have to admit I like the choice o organization. congrats to CAH.12/19/2014 - 1:51pm
E. Zachary KnightIf you are downloading a copy in order to bypass the DRM, then you are legally in the wrong. Ethically, if you bought the game, it doesn't matter where you download it in the future.12/19/2014 - 12:06pm
InfophileEZK: Certainly better that way, though not foolproof. Makes me think though: does it count as piracy if you download a game you already paid for, just not from the place you paid for it at? Ethically, I'd say no, but legally, probably yes.12/19/2014 - 11:20am
ZippyDSMleeAnd I still spent 200$ in the last month on steam/GOG stuff sales get me nearly every time ><12/19/2014 - 10:55am
ZippyDSMleeMaskedPixelante:And this is why I'm a one legged bandit.12/19/2014 - 10:51am
ZippyDSMleeE. Zachary Knight: I buy what I can as long as I can get cracks for it...then again it I could have gotton Lords of the Fallen for 30 with DLC I would have ><12/19/2014 - 10:50am
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.joystiq.com/2014/12/19/marvel-vs-capcom-origins-leaving-online-storefronts-soon/ Speaking of "last chance to buy", Marvel vs. Capcom Origins is getting delisted from all major storefronts. Behold the wonders of the all digital future.12/19/2014 - 9:59am
MaskedPixelanteSeriously, the so-called "Last Chance" sale was up to 80% off, while this one time only return sale goes for a flat 85% off with a 90% off upgrade if you buy the whole catalogue.12/19/2014 - 9:37am
E. Zachary KnightInfophile, Tha is why I buy only DRM-free games.12/19/2014 - 9:37am
MaskedPixelanteNordic is back on GOG for one weekend only. And at 85% off no less, which is kind of a slap in the face to people who paid more during the "NORDIC IS LEAVING FOREVER BUY NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PEACE" sale, but whatever...12/19/2014 - 9:28am
InfophileRe PHX's link: This is one of the reasons the digital revolution isn't all it's cracked up to be. There's also the flip side where Sony can block access to games you've bought if they ban your account for unrelated reasons. All power is theirs.12/19/2014 - 8:52am
MaskedPixelantehttp://uplay.ubi.com/#!/en-US/events/uplay-15-days You can win FREE GAMES FOR A YEAR! Unfortunately, they're Ubisoft games.12/18/2014 - 6:29pm
Papa MidnightAh, so it was downtime. I've been seeing post appear in my RSS feed, but I was unable to access GamePolitics today across several ISPs.12/18/2014 - 6:06pm
 

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