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Virtual Property?

By Grimster in News
Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 09:06:00 AM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

With the popularity of "virtual worlds" the concept of virtual property has become very real. Take online gaming, we have people selling characters, houses, weapons, armor, and just about anything else for real, hard, cold cash. And where there's cash, there's conflict.

What "law" covers something like a friend selling my tower in Ultima Online for $800 and stiffing me? (hypothetical situation) Theft? Mail fraud? Property law? What sort of proof would be required or even possible? This is just one example, but when you mix REAL money with VIRTUAL property bad business is bound to rear its ugly head. What can you do to protect yourself?


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Virtual Property? | 26 comments (26 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Definitely +1 for the topic; it's a... (none / 0) (#8)
by Arkady on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 12:36:28 AM EST

Arkady voted 0 on this story.

Definitely +1 for the topic; it's a really interesting problem. -something for the writeup, though. While raising the issue is good, it'd be nice to give some links into e-bay auctions of this stuff and maybe a few news stories (there have been some) and at least a proposition by the author for how to conceptualize the issue. I want a slider for the voting now, because I don't want to vote 0.

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Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Yeah yeah. Interesting idea, but le... (none / 0) (#2)
by mattdm on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 12:49:33 AM EST

mattdm voted -1 on this story.

Yeah yeah. Interesting idea, but let's have a little more meat to the story.

Good question -- Obviously no court... (none / 0) (#1)
by Foogle on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 01:21:39 AM EST

Foogle voted 1 on this story.

Good question -- Obviously no court/law-maker is going to give a damn about transactions that are wholey contained in virtual worlds. But if I paid somebody $5 (real money) for something that existed only in a computer, and he didn't give it to me... I suppose that would be some sort of fraud, wouldn't it?


"You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."
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There's a whole bunch of interestin... (none / 0) (#10)
by adamsc on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 01:25:24 AM EST

adamsc voted 1 on this story.

There's a whole bunch of interesting things that happen in these virtual economis - what if the cost of something goes up to the point where the people running the game decide to create more? Can you sue for losses based on what you could have made? Of course, even more directly visible things are now virtual property these days. Consider that NSI's new contract for domain names allows them to unilaterally give your domain to someone else. They could legally sell amazon.com to Barnes&Nobles!

I'm really indifferent. I've heard ... (none / 0) (#9)
by PurpleBob on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 01:44:08 AM EST

PurpleBob voted 0 on this story.

I'm really indifferent. I've heard about this issue enough already, but the question of "what laws apply to it" is a new perspective on it.

I believe that currently, online tr... (3.00 / 2) (#6)
by fluffy grue on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 01:45:59 AM EST

fluffy grue voted 1 on this story.

I believe that currently, online transactions are covered under 'mail fraud,' though IANAL, and that MIGHT only deal with physical property (rather than a collection of bits on a server somewhere). This is definitely a good thing to find out more about, though.

In the meantime, aren't there rules against selling characters on UO and EQ and the like? :)
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mail fraud and virtual property relationship? (none / 0) (#21)
by feline on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:32:40 PM EST

iirc, this can only be called mailfraud if the postal service is used at any point during the transaction, if you're just forking money out of your credit card toward someone on ebay, and they just send you whatever you 'bought' digitally, then it can hardly be called mail fraud.

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[ Parent ]

Not a particularly interesting writ... (none / 0) (#11)
by Toojays on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 01:56:25 AM EST

Toojays voted 1 on this story.

Not a particularly interesting writeup, but an interesting subject nontheless. Are there any laws to handle this kind of thing?

Submission queue comments: ... (none / 0) (#4)
by kmself on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:04:29 AM EST

kmself voted -1 on this story.

Submission queue comments:

Writeup, details, meat, examples, alternatives, analysis.

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it seems the answer would be one sh... (none / 0) (#16)
by aint on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:20:18 AM EST

aint voted 0 on this story.

it seems the answer would be one should draft up a contract, have both parties sign it,right?
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K5 is a poor place to ask for legal... (3.50 / 2) (#7)
by Pseudonymous Coward on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:47:08 AM EST

Pseudonymous Coward voted 1 on this story.

K5 is a poor place to ask for legal advice -- especially in light of the fact that laws differ around the world. However, for being something other than MLP (In fact, no links at all! gasp!) I give this a thumbs up for discussion.

Just please do keep in mind, the discussion will be likely one resembling the blind leading the blind. Educated guesses about the law aren't equivalent to actual legal consultation. But those educated guesses can be entertaining if nothing else.

Re: K5 is a poor place to ask for legal... (none / 0) (#22)
by 3than on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:45:01 PM EST

hmm! I guess he better go ask on slashdot then... Hey, we can answer questions too! Or at least have interesting discussions!

[ Parent ]
caveat emptor.... (none / 0) (#5)
by transiit on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 03:06:13 AM EST

transiit voted -1 on this story.

caveat emptor.

Very interesting thought. anybody h... (none / 0) (#14)
by fengor on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 03:38:27 AM EST

fengor voted 1 on this story.

Very interesting thought. anybody has some ideas abiut that one?
hackers do it with bugs.

Very interesting. The real questio... (4.00 / 2) (#12)
by iCEBaLM on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 03:40:38 AM EST

iCEBaLM voted 1 on this story.

Very interesting. The real question is, however, if these people are selling something that even belongs to them. In these virtual worlds you're playing a game generally (UO< EQ, AC) under a license, on the authors servers. Now you can make the argument that the author company owns everything, the whole virtual world, they're just allowing you access to it for a price, so really people are selling things that belong to this author company.

-- iCEBaLM

Re: Very interesting. The real questio... (2.00 / 1) (#26)
by royh on Tue Jun 20, 2000 at 12:53:10 AM EST

Yeah but if the virtual world owners own everything, you can't practically sell anything. It's not being stolen ('cause no one loses use of it), and it's not even being pirated(copied). The only loss is you get ripped-off people calling tech support...

[ Parent ]
Interesting question. Though I thin... (none / 0) (#13)
by martin on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 04:52:32 AM EST

martin voted 1 on this story.

Interesting question. Though I think the existing mail order and CC protection laws ceover you here, and in the last instance, 'buyer be ware' - hence the seller profiles in the auction sites, although they aren't 100% accurate (cf the case of the guys who ran up a very good profile _then_ ripped everyone off!).

Interesting idea. But what's 'virtu... (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by Bart Meerdink on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 05:11:59 AM EST

Bart Meerdink voted 1 on this story.

Interesting idea. But what's 'virtual'? Isn't real money a bit virtual too? Shuffle a few bits at the bank and bingo!

Speaking of banks, I expect them to widen their scope and administer all kinds of rights and licenses for their customers in the future.

Maybe even 'game' property!

virtual cash (none / 0) (#24)
by feline on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 03:02:10 PM EST

'Isn't real money a bit virtual...'

Credit cards and these magic shuffeling bits can be translated into hard currency, what can a 'falyed skin tunic' be exchanged for?

'Hello sir, you don't look like someone who satisfies his wife.'
[ Parent ]

I'm reminded of William Shattner's ... (1.00 / 1) (#3)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 08:34:13 AM EST

lee_malatesta voted 1 on this story.

I'm reminded of William Shattner's words at a Star Trek convention: "Its just a TV show people!"

Kind of like selling privacy? Eh? (none / 0) (#17)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 10:09:31 AM EST

There's a woman on eBay who's selling her personal information eg. the answers to a few hundred consumer questions to up to 250 buyers. This is a great idea! Package your information and sell it. The only thing missing is the ability to provide verification that you are you and the information is correct? I'd love to be able to meter out this kind of information in lieu of having it wander around the net unresticted. Plus I'd like to get compensated for it.

Call it Darwinism.. (1.00 / 1) (#18)
by mattc on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 10:35:31 AM EST

If someone is stupid enough to pay real money for an item on a mud (graphical or not), and they don't get it, well.. tough. I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who can't tell the difference between a game and reality. IT'S JUST A GAME PEOPLE!!!

Virtual Property is still property (none / 0) (#19)
by ebunga on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 12:24:41 PM EST

What is the difference between something like that and Intellectual Property? None, really. Just because something is not physical, does not mean it isn't real property. Of course, since the online games generally are the property of some company, you probably don't own your character. Read your agreements people, so you know what rights you have, and of course, if you have any questions, spend a lot of money and talk to a lawyer. As for protection, I'm not sure on that, but standard laws would most likely apply. Spend some money, talk to a lawyer, and then let us know, better yet, we need to find a lawyer to start reading k5, and give some insight.

Contract law protects you. (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by TheDullBlade on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:23:11 PM EST

IANAL, TINLA, GSARL Any purchase involves a contract, usually an implicit one (you don't actually sit down and sign a document, you just agree and it's automatically binding). What you are paying for is the service of transferring the "virtual property". If you pay, and it isn't transferred, you can sue because he didn't fulfill his contractual oblication. You don't own it, and if anyone else takes it somehow, it's between you, him, and the UO people, not you, him, and the courts. It's like being on a beach, and telling your friend, "I'll give you $20 if you build a sandcastle and then let me stomp it." If he makes the castle, you have to pay for it. If you pay him before hand, and he doesn't build it, or he stomps it himself, he's breached a contract and you could get the $20 back in small-claims (if they don't laugh you out of court). However, you don't own the sand or the castle, and if someone else stomps it, that doesn't excuse you from paying for it, nor does it give you the right to extract payment from the stomper. But if it's a supervised private beach, you can probably get the jerk kicked off.
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And what if... (2.00 / 2) (#23)
by 3than on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:54:29 PM EST

But check this out-what if the 'virtual property' is easily copyable? What if some mud biz decides they want to make money by selling items and powers for cash money? There's literally no cost them(more or less). What if there was a free-membership dungeon that made almost all its money like that? It might be lame-if it was dominated by rich people with powerful items-but it could probably be balanced such that spending money will help, but you'll still have to spend lots of time, and there are still un-buyable items.
But what about the flipside of 'virtual property' -mp3? What is .mp3 but property which technically is owned? It strikes me that 'virtual property' is really only a useful concept in game worlds like UO etc. 'Real-World' IP is a tangled and thorny issue already, and the online community has some pretty definite biases. I don't know, but I think that 'virtual property' is an even dumber concept than IP is-when you start using real money.
Let's keep virtual property virtual, people.

Re: And what if... (none / 0) (#25)
by ebunga on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 06:52:06 PM EST

Actually, I don't see Intellectual Property as a dumb idea. The problem comes from companies that throw things into employee contracts that make anything an employee creates, even if on personal time, not using any company resources. That is where a line needs to be drawn, and where things just get downright silly. I have a right to do whatever I want to with whatever I create (unless it is for my company, or a client, during company time, using company resources).

Almost everything is owned by somebody. It doesn't matter if it is easily copyable or if it takes the person 40 years to make something, if somebody owns something, they can sell it if they so desire. If a person wants to sell their MegaSword of dEAtH they got on a MUD or some RPG, so be it. If the owner of that mud will take $100 and give you any 5 items you want, then so be it. It doesn't matter if it is an elven long sword in a MUD, Bubba's idea for a way to make chewing tobacco make people spit more, a chunk of land, or my dirty underwear, it is all property, and the owner can do whatever he/she/it wants with them.

[ Parent ]
Virtual Property? | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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