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Can You Own An In-Game Item?

Date: Dec 01 2011 02:14:46 Source: Gamesutra Views:
KeyWord: Rutgers University, Greg Lastowka, In-Game Item, Virtual Item, Legal Property, Mickey Mouse, Dragon Saber

Rutgers University law professor Greg Lastowka looks at whether virtual items can legally be considered property in the U.S., noting "many legal statutes today define property as 'anything of value.'"

He poses an interesting question:

"In the United States, the law would seem to be on [the player's] side, since we already recognize many forms of intangible property. Mickey Mouse is a form of legal property. Game software is a form of legal property. Electricity can be legal property. Some courts have found that internet domain names are property as well. The money in your bank account is property, even though it is nothing more than bits of data stored on a computer. So why should a valuable virtual sword be invisible to the law?"

The problem, he argues, is that just because it's possible doesn't make it the right decision:

"However, even if virtual property is theoretically capable of legal recognition, that doesn't mean that recognizing it is good policy. If you own your virtual Dragon Saber, for instance, that seems to imply that you should be compensated for its loss if the game company decides to shut down its servers."

"Worse yet, you might even make a legal claim about a nerfing patch. What game company would want to create an MMORPG if the legal environment constrained their freedom to devalue the virtual property of players?"

The full article, in which Lastowka -- author of Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds -- examines further wrinkles in this complex issue is live now on Gamasutra.

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