Friday, March 23, 2007

Who has the Rights?

This is an interesting arguement cited from

RIVALROUS CONSUMPTION AND THE BOUNDARIES OF COPYRIGHT LAW:
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LESSONS FROM ONLINE GAMES
by Andrew D. Schwarz, Robert Bullis


A section of this article questions the many gray areas game developers prey on to "preserve" gaming experience of their online virtual worlds/ games.

Principle of the first sale doctrine:
  • A copyright holder who sells to a wholesaler could not bind a downstream retailer to selling at a given price, even if the book itself explicitly included such a price-maintenance claim.
  • The purpose of the copyright laws was to prevent unauthorized copying of the work in question and to grant the sole right to sell the copies into the market, but "[t]o add to the right of exclusive sale the authority to control all future retail sales, by a notice that such sales must be made at a fixed sum, would give a right not included" in the copyright statute.
And so the classical example of Napster being sued for infringing music publishers' right to control the reproduction and distribution of their copyrighted materials clearly explains this law. Purchasing copyrighted content does not mean you own the content, it only means you licensed it and have the rights to use it. For this scenario, duplication of copyrighted content from one computer into the next allows someone else to use the content and redistribute it for free again and again outrightly violates the laws of copyrights.

Here comes the question, does this really apply to intellectual property (IP) in the online games? Virtual items sold in these games, do not work the same way. Once the virtual item is sold, the seller no longer has it and will have to commit to dedicate time to develop or look for this item again. Like passing on a physical item, no duplication is involved here unlike file-sharing in the case of Napster, the distributor still retains his/her copy of the original file.

Say a physical object example a book. The book can change hands and resold over and over again, what matters is that at each point in time only one person can have the given copy of the book. This makes it questionable for online game developers to say players infringe their IP should they sell an virtual item for cash and then there is also no way to justify the facts that giving these items away for free do not violate the law.

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