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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WonderkarpAndrew Yoon Died http://www.gamerevolution.com/news/rip-andrew-yoon-3096901/31/2015 - 10:26pm
Matthew Wilson@ea so much happened this week its not funny. fcc broadband, Nintendo, sega, and sevral other big stories. was not a slow week lol01/31/2015 - 8:50pm
Andrew EisenWasn't on the list but we can certainly talk about it.01/31/2015 - 8:45pm
Matthew WilsonI know its not directly related to games, but are you going to tak about the fcc raising the definition of broadband to 25/3?01/31/2015 - 8:33pm
Wonderkarpwell we had to christen it some way01/31/2015 - 7:13pm
Andrew EisenThank goodness the Shout box now goes back 100 shouts, eh folks?01/31/2015 - 7:10pm
Wonderkarpyouve said youre stuff. I gave you a point on one thing.01/31/2015 - 7:04pm
Andrew EisenNo, they're facts. Not beliefs. Not opinions. Facts. Do I need to list them all for you again? I'm happy to oblige.01/31/2015 - 7:02pm
Andrew EisenAnd I have seen no evidence (and would find it very hard to believe) that her fans and funders, even the most radical, would be the ones perpetuating that nonsense.01/31/2015 - 7:01pm
Wonderkarpabout as right as Glenn Beck is about the gays, man. Its all your beliefs and opinions.01/31/2015 - 7:01pm
Andrew EisenI didn't say you did. And this talking head is still right about everything he's said so far.01/31/2015 - 6:58pm
Andrew EisenAlso, considering the number of non profits that merchandise, I'm going to guess you're wrong on that one too but I don't really know as it's not my area of expertise.01/31/2015 - 6:58pm
WonderkarpYou can keep saying that all you want. Its just a talking head, man. there's all the proof in the pudding. I never said she was trying to take away games, or get rid of male protagonists, or any of the BS thats perpetraited by her more radicalfans/funders01/31/2015 - 6:56pm
Andrew EisenNo, as I've spelled out throughout this discussion, you're wrong.01/31/2015 - 6:53pm
Wonderkarpok. that one I am wrong. I'll give you that one. That was one I didnt research properly. BUT I'm right on the others.01/31/2015 - 6:53pm
Andrew EisenFact: It makes no difference whether she recorded the footage or not. Fact: yes she does have a Section 107 'fair use' disclaimer at the end of every video and in the video description.01/31/2015 - 6:47pm
Wonderkarpsaying otherwise. I've presented a video with cited sources combined with opinion. Youre presenting just your opinion. 01/31/2015 - 6:43pm
Wonderkarpits still important information brought up on the original video. and by not saying anything, the casual observer thinks its her footage. there's no "section 107 Fair use" disclaimer. Its as if she's showing star wars and saying "look what I made" without01/31/2015 - 6:43pm
Andrew EisenIf that's true, maybe she's willing to lose her tax exempt status by merchandising. So? Also not a problem with her Kickstarter. And no, I don't have to be a rep of FemFreq to point out how nonsensical, irrelevant and untrue all this nonsense is.01/31/2015 - 6:43pm
Andrew EisenShe doesn't say it's not her footage and she never said she'd record all her own footage. So this isn't a problem. I doubt she's said anything like "no women or non white people are critics of mine." Regardless, nothing to do with her Kickstarter.01/31/2015 - 6:41pm
 

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