Virtual Property in Virtual Worlds

Virtual Property in Virtual Worlds

Angela Adrian (University of Bournemouth, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-795-4.ch005

Abstract

Digital technology is detaching information from the physical plane, where property law of all sorts has always found definition. Throughout the history of intellectual property law, the proprietary assertions of thinkers and inventors have been focused not on their ideas, but on the expression of those ideas. The ideas themselves, as well as facts about the phenomena of the world, were considered to be the collective property of humanity. One could claim franchise, in the case of copyright, on the precise turn of phrase used to convey a particular idea or the order in which facts were presented. Law protected expression. To express was to make physical. One did not get paid for the idea but for the ability to deliver it into reality. The value was in the conveyance and not the thought conveyed. In other words, the bottle was protected, not the wine. (Barlow, 2004)
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“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thing power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulge, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He, who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his tape at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”

Thomas Jefferson, 1813

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A. The Acquisition Of Virtual Property

A quick review of how one acquires virtual property might be useful, because everything your avatar will need costs money. (Salem & Zimmerman, 2004; Bartle, 2004) Not only will you have to furnish your avatar’s tables, chairs, grape arbour and a toilet, but all of the objects and chattels in your place are subject to wear and tear. If you want to keep attracting guests, you will have to refresh the buffet, unblock the toilet, and fix the broken pool table. All of these services have a price. Property in today’s virtual worlds is not confined to virtual realty. Houses are merely one aspect along with weapons, suits of armour, pig iron, lumber, tables, chairs, plants, magic scrolls; or any other virtual item a virtual character of Britannia might want or need which can be bought at auction. A pair of sandals starts at $5; an exceptionally badass battle-axe goes for $150; and a well-located fortress would be priced at about $1,200. (Dibbell, 2003) A simple calculation puts the total of these transactions at approximately $3 million per year. (Castronova, 2002)

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