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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IronPatriotDocmelon admits "DocMelonhead: Iron Patriot, I have no proof, I got no evidence" for his false claim defending TotalLYINGbiscuit. Thank you for finally being honest.08/03/2015 - 10:49pm
DocMelonheadFace it, the only reliable source that GamerGate is a reactionary movement conducted by the gamers raised in the 90s is Rational Wiki itself, courtesy of another victim of Harassment: Ryulong.08/03/2015 - 10:48pm
DocMelonheadOr all you wanted to see is counter proof that GamerGate is a Bigot campaign against Social Justice Studies in Video games? Either way, It's no wonder you got banned back then.08/03/2015 - 10:43pm
DocMelonheadI said that as a belief because the lie that Anita Sarkeesian is a Hack is very common among the skeptics. Also why the well do you dehumanize Total Biscuit anyways? Do you have a grudge against gamergate?08/03/2015 - 10:42pm
DocMelonheadIron Patriot, I have no proof, I got no evidence, hell the main reason I said that is because I hate your aggressiveness. All I said is that I believe that Total Biscuit regurgitate the same belief that Anita Sarkeesisan's a fraud08/03/2015 - 10:37pm
IronPatriotbenohawk, why do you believe TotalLyingBiscuit when he says he cares about ethics? If he cared about ethics, why did he LIE so much about Gamergate victims like Sarkeesian? How is his lying ETHICAL?08/03/2015 - 10:22pm
IronPatriotDocMelon, prove your claim that TotalLyingBiscuit did not make up the anti-Sarkeesian lies he told to proven harassers in Gamergate. Prove it.08/03/2015 - 10:19pm
DocMelonheadOnce you watch this in full, then you realize why Gamergate is a thing.08/03/2015 - 10:10pm
DocMelonheadSo once again, I invite you to watch this video to see what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y8XgGhXkTQ&list=PLJA_jUddXvY62dhVThbeegLPpvQlR4CjF08/03/2015 - 10:09pm
benohawkThe simplest way is to look at what he's said in total, as mentioned before, he's come out against harassment, and that his past behavior suggests that he's very much in it for Ethics and not to try and drive women out of the industry08/03/2015 - 10:03pm
DocMelonheadBecause that is the exact same nutpicking that made GamerGate infamous in the first place.08/03/2015 - 10:02pm
DocMelonheadAnd even if they didn't spread misinformation on Feminist, there's someone out there that does. So with that in mind, it's best to educate people on feminism and critical thinking instead on relying on blog posts and storify on such things.08/03/2015 - 10:01pm
DocMelonheadHell, the same could be said about MundaneMatt, ThunderFoot, or IA/MM/Jim: they're all Angry Jack because of fucking denial. I get that you Despise them for what they did to Anita Sarkeesian, but Calling them demons isn't going to solve anything.08/03/2015 - 9:58pm
DocMelonheadTotal Biscuit is more like Angry Jack than a complete bigot. What he did is bad, but he's beyond someone that constantly harass others.08/03/2015 - 9:55pm
DocMelonheadA moron, not a bigot, a moron in regards to women studies. That is why he brought on to the whole SJW BS; haven't you watch the entire Angry Jack series yet?08/03/2015 - 9:53pm
IronPatriotIf you can't prove that TotalLYINGSACKOFbiscuit was only parroting lies against victims of Gamergate harassment, then what do you think of him?08/03/2015 - 9:46pm
IronPatriotSo prove that TotalLYINGSACKOFbiscuit was not also making up lies, since you stated that as a fact.08/03/2015 - 9:45pm
IronPatriotIt's would only be bad if TotalLYINGSACKOFBiscuit was making up lies?08/03/2015 - 9:44pm
DocMelonheadAlso yes, because he DIDN'T make them up: in fact, that more or less make him a moron that fell for their guise than a bigot that actively harass minorities online.08/03/2015 - 9:43pm
IronPatriotSo it's better to 'parrot" lies about victims of harassment?08/03/2015 - 9:43pm
 

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