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.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2015-07-31/khan-academy-s-sal-khan-studio-1-0-full-show-7-30- not game related, but this is a good interview.07/30/2015 - 8:52pm
Goth_SkunkFinally, I never misspelled Chipman's name. So, feel free to try your luck again, but pick an opponent you can beat.07/30/2015 - 8:32pm
Goth_Skunk@Technogeek: I paid for the experience of the seat, and upon completion of the movie determined that the extra for the seat wasn't worth it. Additionally, your opinion is not law. You thinking the movie is crap does not make it so.07/30/2015 - 8:31pm
Craig R.1st I heard of Pixels was seeing trailer in theater. Was interested until Sandler appeared, then it became an instant 'Nope'.07/30/2015 - 4:52pm
james_fudgesick burns are not always allowed in the shoutbox.07/30/2015 - 4:28pm
MechaCrashIt's especially funny because I said "you'd have to be a moron to enjoy it," and Goth boasted about enjoying it, as if that does anything to change my opinion of the movie or of him.07/30/2015 - 4:19pm
TechnogeekMatthew: Back when that law was first implemented, I kept trying to come up with a scenario where it would be anything other than an unmitigatedd sisaster. Nothing ever came to mind.07/30/2015 - 4:16pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/07/new-study-shows-spains-google-tax-has-been-a-disaster-for-publishers/ no duh Sherlock!07/30/2015 - 4:10pm
TechnogeekI can't even make a joke about that. It's like poking fun at Donald Trump's hair.07/30/2015 - 4:01pm
TechnogeekSo you willingly paid more money than you needed to in order to watch a crappy Adam Sandler movie (but I repeat myself), just to spite a reviewer that you can't even spell the name of properly.07/30/2015 - 4:01pm
Goth_SkunkMy one regret was paying extra for a DVX seat, which jostles and vibrates in relation to the action on screen. What a waste of money.07/30/2015 - 3:55pm
Goth_SkunkYes, I did watch Pixels just to spite Chipman. I was originally going to see Minions, but moved it down the list. AND I ENJOYED IT. So nuts to you, MechaCrash.07/30/2015 - 3:44pm
Matthew Wilson@phx works fine for me, but I did it the long way. I upgraded, made a recovery drive, than did a full install.07/30/2015 - 3:24pm
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ZippyDSMleeI dunno I'd go to see it, seems liek dumb fun, better than half assed serious stuff that has so many holes large enough to drive mac trucks through(coughinterstellercouch).07/30/2015 - 10:58am
Andrew EisenGoth - Wait, you went to see Pixels just to spite Chipman?07/30/2015 - 10:49am
MechaCrashYou can see Pixels, which requires you to be a moron to enjoy it, or you can actually spend that time and money watching something actually good. Gosh, what a choice.07/30/2015 - 10:49am
benohawkHot damn, I'm sold. Why see something you can enjoy on multiple levels when you can nap through half the film and still get it all?07/30/2015 - 10:17am
james_fudgeSo what people are saying is PIXELS is a great movie to see if your are comatose.07/30/2015 - 9:47am
 

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