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Is Online Property Real? Lawyer Says Sort-Of

Unknown Lamer posted about 3 years ago | from the i-paid-10-btc-for-this-dire-wolf dept.

Games 128

Bob the Super Hamste writes "The St. Paul Pioneer Press is reporting on an analysis by lawyer Justin Kwong in the William Mitchell Law Review about virtual property and ownership. Justin Kwong asserts that virtual items are not real items (PDF) and that you do not own them but only have a license. The analysis stems from a 2008 case of a Blaine, MN man who filed a police report for the online theft of approximately $3800 of virtual goods. Justin Kwong compares virtual items to a mug club at a bar where patrons purchase rights to a specific numbered mug but cannot remove the mug from the premises. He does note that if in game items are purchased there needs to be clear language stating: 'the transaction is a license, not a sale, and that traditional consumer protections afforded by sales of goods do not necessarily apply.'" Justin Kwong also made a weblog entry responding to misconceptions expressed in comments on the St. Paul Pioneer Press article.

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Of Course! (1)

wwbbs (60205) | about 3 years ago | (#37817048)

As long as someone finds value in the item and is will to either pay for it or labor for it then it has an intrinsic value so it is a real entity. Be it one you can not yet physically hold.

Re:Of Course! (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37817400)

According to the example given, I'd also have to conclude that land is not real property either. After all, I cannot just take my land and put it elsewhere.

Re:Of Course! (3, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | about 3 years ago | (#37817512)

Actually you are correct. Because Land is actually not owned by you but by your government. your DEED is not to the land but a use of that land.

Your local city/county/state/country holds true ownership of your land.

Re:Of Course! (2)

snowgirl (978879) | about 3 years ago | (#37817690)

Actually you are correct. Because Land is actually not owned by you but by your government. your DEED is not to the land but a use of that land.

Your local city/county/state/country holds true ownership of your land.

As with all hard questions, the answer is actually "it depends".

Freehold (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37817696)

What are you talking about? Freehold land IS owned by you.
In communist countries, the land is owned by the government, but often they create legal devices to emulate freehold.

Re:Freehold (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37818024)

In America, the government owns the land. Try to not pay the annual rent which the government charges on it (i.e. property taxes) and see what happens.

Re:Freehold (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37818044)

What are you talking about? Freehold land IS owned by you.

The GP is talking about eminent domain. When the government can decide that your land would be better used as a shopping mall and can force you off, you can't claim that you own your land.

Given the recent SCOTUS decision on Kelo vs City of New London, there is definitely no such thing as private land ownership in the US.

Re:Freehold (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37818196)

This is most inaccurate.

The United States is one of the few countries on Earth to ever enjoy the privilege / right of free-hold land. In the Westward Expansion of the 1800s, one could actually freehold land, obtain a land patent, and have full and irrevocable rights to do with that land and air as s/he saw fit.

In 21st Century America, Canada, Europe, Asia, Latin America and most places in Africa (exception: Somalia), the government does hold the land patents (in the U.S., this is the county level and very rarely the state, unless it's federal land). You have a use license (deed is a certificate of that license) for JUST the land. This is why you can't put up stuff above your house (FAA) or if you find gold under your house you cannot dig it out w/o an additional deed/license.

You think you own that car? Nope, just a license (and you have a certificate of a title, not the title). Think you own the house? Nope, same thing! Think you own the money in your pocket? Nope! That's a licensed contract between the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury. You're using an asset that is not your own.

Search for: They Own It All, Including You.

Welcome to the new feudalism!

Re:Freehold (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 3 years ago | (#37819734)

Try a little experiment for me, please:
1. Commit a serious crime. Make sure everyone knows it was you.
2. Retreat to your freehold land. Order the police not to come in and arrest you. Try to look smug. It's your land, after all.
3. After the police send a swat team in and hit you with a taser in, try to sue the arresting officers or police department for trespass. See how far you can get.
4. Bonus points: When they come to arrest you, defend your land with lethal force. See how that turns out.


Whatever the legal situation says, the true owner of land is always the government - because they have Men With Big Guns to enforce the law. The only exception I can think of would be regions with no functioning government, when the land is owned by whoever can afford the Men With Big Guns to guard it.

Re:Freehold (1)

PoopCat (2218334) | about 3 years ago | (#37820744)

Sounds like the MWBG actually own the land..

Re:Freehold (1)

TheCRAIGGERS (909877) | about 3 years ago | (#37821726)

This is always the case. "Rights" are nothing without the power to fight for them.

As sad as it is, might does make right in our world.

Re:Freehold (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37818346)

The land still belongs to the USA. The US bought the Lousiana Purchase from France. It stopped being part of France and started being part of the US.

But if you "buy" land in Lousiana, it does not stop being part of the US. So the US still has its ownership rights there on your land. You can't declare your land to be part of another country. (The US will use military force to stop you).

Re:Freehold (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 3 years ago | (#37819758)

Actually, the US would just use police force to stop you. They have police snipers on helicopters. Calling in the military would by excessive, legally problematic, and embarassingly respectful to the claimed independence.

Re:Freehold (1)

LandDolphin (1202876) | about 3 years ago | (#37820508)

Petoria?

Re:Of Course! (2)

Kjella (173770) | about 3 years ago | (#37818276)

According to the example given, I'd also have to conclude that land is not real property either. After all, I cannot just take my land and put it elsewhere.

The point is that the mugs only exist as long as the bar exists, the moment World of Warcraft shuts down all your "virtual property" will cease to exist but your land will not. One of the essential points of a sale as opposed to a license or service or subscription is that the item is permanently transferred into your possession and if the seller should disappear in a puff of smoke immediately afterwards, you still have your item. That is clearly impossible with "virtual property", so how can you really sell it? That doesn't mean it doesn't have value, we have plenty crimes like theft of service that deal with taking non-tangible goods. It's just a matter of what laws would be appropriate to use.

Re:Of Course! (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 3 years ago | (#37818364)

When de watah rises mon- ye land in the islands will be gone too.

Re:Of Course! (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37818568)

What about your money? In principle the government could at any time declare that the bank notes you carry in your bag are no longer money (if you think this is a purely theoretical issue: The Russian government at one time did exactly this with the 100 rouble note in order to fight inflation). Yes, the physical item would still be in your pocket, but it would not be money any more, just a worthless piece of paper (except possibly for collector's value). So do you own that money?

Re:Of Course! (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 3 years ago | (#37819058)

What about your money? In principle the government could at any time declare that the bank notes you carry in your bag are no longer money (...) So do you own that money?

The distinction between virtual and physical is rather pointless since the government can also say your land is no longer your land, we just nationalized it. It's not against the law if the government just changed it...

Re:Of Course! (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 3 years ago | (#37819074)

If you lose your WoW stuff, can't you send in a cute blonde who is an aspiring actress to kick people in the nuts? What do you mean you don't have one of those?

Re:Of Course! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37819610)

Very good explination, and summation.

Re:Of Course! (1)

bkaul01 (619795) | about 3 years ago | (#37818446)

According to the example given, I'd also have to conclude that land is not real property either. After all, I cannot just take my land and put it elsewhere.

Legally speaking, that's exactly what makes it "real" property: it can't be picked up and moved. Anything you own that can be picked up and moved is "personal" property. They're taxed separately (real estate taxes vs personal property taxes), and many jurisdictions only tax one or the other but not both.

Re:Of Course! (1)

lgw (121541) | about 3 years ago | (#37821342)

Most of my property is intangible anyway. I own stock, but I of course don't have the certificates - in fact, they're not even in my name, but in the street name of the broker.

The important distinction between "intangible" and "virtual" property is that I can transfer my stock to another broker, but I can't transfer my virtual gear to another game.

Re:Of Course! (1)

PPH (736903) | about 3 years ago | (#37818464)

And when the state decides to build a freeway across it, you are subject to a kind of rights revocation.

You can buy a box of pencils and sell them on the street corner one by one. But you can't divide your land up into smaller parcels and sell them off without the permission of the local authorities.

Re:Of Course! (2)

JazzLad (935151) | about 3 years ago | (#37819002)

You can buy a box of pencils and sell them on the street corner one by one.

Not without a permit.

Re:Of Course! (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 3 years ago | (#37819822)

I've seen many multipack foods with 'not for individual resale' labels on. What is the legal value of that? Could it actually be enforced?

Re:Of Course! (1)

tophermeyer (1573841) | about 3 years ago | (#37820426)

I think that's more about the relationship between retailers and manufacturers. For example to make sure that retailers have to negotiate a purchasing agreement from distributors, and aren't lust buying the bulk boxes of candy bars from Costco. I think the only government involvement is in mandating that packaged food be labeled with the appropriate nutritional information, and of course the license to actually function as a food vendor.

Re:Of Course! (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 3 years ago | (#37820616)

But what is to stop them from buying the bulk boxes? All they have to do is not enter into any contract with the manufacturer.

Food Labeling (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 3 years ago | (#37821312)

The issue here is food labeling. By law when you sell a package of food it must have all of the nutritional data on it. In the bulk items you are citing the nutritional data is on the bulk package - not the individual packages. That’s the issue.

Re:Of Course! (2)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 3 years ago | (#37817444)

So I'm playing an FPS and I have an average sniper rifle. I then (virtually) knife my teammate and take his above-average sniper rifle.

Have I just stolen from my teammate? Should our tax money be spent to fund my prosecution for a crime? Should our tax money be spent to enable his lawsuit against me? What remedies do my "property rights" afford me in the law?

Property isn't really property without an enforcement right connected to it.

Re:Of Course! (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 3 years ago | (#37817558)

I think you're just trying to be difficult because you can steal the ball on the football field and you can steal the ball outside the football field and nobody would get very confused about what's what. Likewise I doubt anyone would get confused about what is part of a computer game and not.

Re:Of Course! (1)

Zironic (1112127) | about 3 years ago | (#37818260)

The tricky part tends to be whether Fraud is part of the game or not.

Re:Of Course! (1)

ddegirmenci (1644853) | about 3 years ago | (#37819550)

Exactly. Case in point: EVE Online and its many fraud schemes, lately a substantial Ponzi scheme [wikipedia.org] involving $50k worth of ingame currency [slashdot.org] .

Re:Of Course! (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 3 years ago | (#37818376)

Of course I'm trying to be difficult. The problem is difficult.

You raised the issue. Now tell me how you would define what is part of a computer game and what is not?

Re:Of Course! (3, Informative)

Kjella (173770) | about 3 years ago | (#37818740)

The same way you do in a real world sport, every game would have its own boundaries based on the rules, normal behavior and context. If you enter a boxing tournament there's different rules from a football or golf tournament. Obviously if burglary or being a pickpocket is part of the game, then stealing your shit is fair game. Hacking your account is clearly not part of the game and illegal. Fraud, well there is no crystal clear line of fraud but there isn't one in the real world either. And yet the world managed to work it out fine before the Internet.

Re:Of Course! (1)

jythie (914043) | about 3 years ago | (#37818746)

I think it really comes down to the mechanics of the game. If someone gets your property via a valid game mechanic then it is now their property. If they get it through some other means then it is theft. In a way you could probably model games as a contract, as long as everyone is playing within the rules of the contract property changes owners according to the rules set forth and there is no case. Violate the contract inorder to obtain property and you have a problem.

Re:Of Course! (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 3 years ago | (#37819176)

I agree. Contracts are key to the definition of property rights in a virtual world.

Assume that a virtual world contract imposed a duty of honesty and fair dealing among the virtual world's occupants. Assume that virtual items can be purchased with real money. Then, lets assume that somebody cheats.

Are we going to devote our tax dollars to litigation over a disupte over whether a person wrongfully put a spell on another player's avatar, thereby causing that other player damage?

Re:Of Course! (2)

jythie (914043) | about 3 years ago | (#37820386)

Are we going to devote our tax dollars to litigation over a disupte over whether a person wrongfully put a spell on another player's avatar, thereby causing that other player damage?

Probably not. Police and prosecutors already ignore a lot of petty crime. Just look at the slashdot read example of email hacking. Unless you are someone important, they will probably just take a statement and then not bother looking into it. Same thing with small scale thefts. Even having your car stolen (happened to me a while back) they will take a statement but not actually invest andy resources into it unless, again, you are someone or are part of a group that gets better service.

So within this context, I would wager that they would not do anything with such a case unless there was significant money/publicity involved (such as a tournament) or the victim was someone famous and thus has some political pool.

Re:Of Course! (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 3 years ago | (#37821518)

Not just prosecutors, though. It's about whether we are going to spend our tax money to support civil litigation.

In other words can the virtual victim sue the virtual thief for real damages that can be enforced by real sheriffs in the real world. All that stuff costs money too.

Re:Of Course! (2)

grumbel (592662) | about 3 years ago | (#37819698)

You make it sound easy, but the line can get blurry the more complex the game gets. Take Eve Online, people have been running pyramid schemes and other frauds in that game. Is such a fraud real or just part of the game? Even in sport the line can get blurry, as not every foul, is just a foul, sometimes it might be a case of battery if it gets to extreme to be considered part of the game.

In most cases you will of course have a clear distinction about what is part of the game and what is not, like stealing things from the game character is ok, stilling the account password probably not. But with all the Facebook and Twitter integration I expect the lines between "game-action" and "realworld-fraud" to get a good bit more blurry.

Another interesting thing with these cases: The game developer has an undo switch. So while a fraud might be real, the damage is not and can be undone by the developer without much problems in most cases. But the developer is a third party that neither had the damage nor did commit the fraud, can a law force him to roll back a character or give equipment back?

Deeply wrong approach! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37818610)

Actually, even physical property is not really really real. It's just a social contract. If nobody cares, it's meaningless.
Let me explain:

Ownership is not defined by value. At all.
It is defined by control. (Yes, I'm an expert. More than that lawyer, who just says whatever gives him the biggest profit.)

The concept or ownership started, when people were able to keep control over things. And it became set in stone when there was a form of government enforcing it. But when you ever are in the lawless jungle with another person who then takes your stuff, try saying that it's "yours". It's now his. Period. Until you can take it back.

The thing is, that with physical objects, this works. But information is NOT a physical object, and does NOT adhere to the same laws. E.g. copying is lossless and free. And the most important fact: When you pass it on, your control over it becomes equal to the control you have over those you passed it on to. Which for a sufficiently large amount of people becomes zero.

The whole concept of "IP" is deeply fucked-up because of this mixing up of physical matter/energy with the structural properties of that matter/energy (aka "information"). They are not the same!

An the best of it: I you look at the whole freakin' point of the whole concept of "property" and of something being worth something, you'll notice, that any physical object that we call a "good", is just some natural resources (which nobody can own since earth belongs to us all) + a series of works done on it.
With information, it's the same, except that there are no resources. It's just work.

This is where the worth comes from: The work!

And how do we call work that you get paid for? A SERVICE! DUH!
A more realistic view is, that you can ask money for the service. NOT for the result! No matter if it's information or physical matter/energy.
It's just that with information, there is no showing it to others without a transfer. So showing = passing on = too late to want something in return!

Conclusion: If you want money for you work Demand it on the very first exchange!
Otherwise STFU and go hang yourself, since you FAIL at life.

So everyone please stop living in the delusional propaganda world of the media mafia and their racketeering model! All they want, is to get more money without doing any more actual work! (A copy is no work, but is sold like it required work!)
It's a crime. They belong to jail!

Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37817078)

You mean I can't take my mount out of WoW? How will I get around the real world without it?

Re:Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37821360)

You mean I can't take my mount out of WoW? How will I get around the real world without it?

You might qualify for a rascal through medicare.

Online property is as real as intelectual property (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 3 years ago | (#37817192)

And the winner is - the lawyers

Re:Online property is as real as intelectual prope (1)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 3 years ago | (#37817624)

It strikes me that "property" in the legal sense is as much a fiction as "intellectual property" - over time, and in different cultures, we have established complex legal concepts of "ownership", whereby the legal right of "ownership" amounts to a web of in personam rights, particularly the right to exclude.

I may hold a copy of a book in my hand, but, absent a legal construct of property, I have no clear right that means that you cannot take it away from me. Equally, there is no obligation on me to give it to you. If you want it, you will have to take it from me - absent you taking it, I have possession. If you take it, I can try to take it back from you, just as if we were dogs fighting over a bit of meat.

In different ways in different societies, we have evolved the notion of "ownership"; we impose a legal construct of "property" and of "ownership" on top of this physical existence, meaning that you require my permission to take the "property" in question away from me, or else face the legal consequences.

Perhaps intellectual property takes the notion too far, but, fundamentally, I am not sure I see a difference between the "imaginary" (legal construct only) right of ownership of something which does exist, and of something which does not - both are artificial legal constructs.

Re:Online property is as real as intelectual prope (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37818076)

The difference between real property (objects) and intellectual "property" (information) is that physical objects cannot be used by arbitrary people at the same time. Therefore it is of vital importance to have rules telling who has the right to use which object at which time. The concept of property is one, very successful, way to do this. However, intellectual "property" does not share this characteristic. There's nothing stopping some person in China to listen to the very same song you currently listen to at the very same time. Nor is there something stopping some African to use the very same idea to make things as you do. That is, unlike physical objects, information has no intrinsic restrictions on use which need to be regulated.

In your example, if someone takes the book you are currently reading in, you cannot continue reading this specific book. On the other hand he cannot read that very book unless he has it. Thus your interests of reading that specific book conflict, and therefore there have to be rules which tell who has the right to have that book. However, no such restrictions hold for the text in the book. If you can read the text in your book, he can still read another copy of the same text in another copy of the book.

The property concept is made for things with naturally exclusive use, which is why you need exclusive rights for their use. The intellectual property concept tries to use basically the same rules for something which doesn't have the natural property of exclusive use.

And no, the concepts are not the same just because both are legal constructs. Otherwise you could say that capital punishment and community service are the same because they are both punishments.

In that case, an Internet server isn't property (2)

tepples (727027) | about 3 years ago | (#37818290)

The difference between real property (objects) and intellectual "property" (information) is that physical objects cannot be used by arbitrary people at the same time.

I'm leasing space on a web server. This server is used by over 1,000 people at once, and at any one time, it's serving pages from several different customer's sites to several viewers. So is a server not property?

Re:In that case, an Internet server isn't property (1)

icebraining (1313345) | about 3 years ago | (#37818356)

Actually the property (a CPU core) is only being used by one person at a time, it just cycles very rapidly between them.

Same for memory or disk space: each sector can only be used by one person at a time.

compcache (2)

tepples (727027) | about 3 years ago | (#37818684)

Actually the property (a CPU core) is only being used by one person at a time, it just cycles very rapidly between them.

Hyperthreading.

Same for memory or disk space: each sector can only be used by one person at a time.

The compcache [google.com] project aims to compress disk cache and swap files, as a modern-day spiritual successor to Connectix's RAM Doubler: "With compcache at hypervisor level, we can compress any part of guest memory transparently - this is true for any type of Guest OS (Linux, Windows etc.). This should allow running more number of VMs for given amount of total host memory." If data from multiple hosting accounts gets compressed into the same sector, then multiple people are using that sector.

Or to put it another way: Multiple people can be watching the same TV set showing the same movie at once. Therefore, a disc with a movie on it is not property. What did I miss?

Re:compcache (1)

icebraining (1313345) | about 3 years ago | (#37819522)

Yeah, parent's definition is probably bollocks.

But are people actually using the disc, or just a copy of the information it holds?

Re:compcache (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 3 years ago | (#37819526)

Hyperthreading is not truely multithreading. There is still one execution core, Hyperthreading basically gives it too execution pipelines so one can fill its cache and load data while the other is executing, and then switch to the other. Its just an optimization to deal with some shitty performance of the massively oversized pipeline that intel created.

Re:In that case, an Internet server isn't property (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37820144)

So is a server not property?

Of course it is. and you're missing the point, a server isn't an unlimitted resource.

Re:In that case, an Internet server isn't property (1)

tepples (727027) | about 3 years ago | (#37820186)

and you're missing the point, a server isn't an unlimitted resource.

Or perhaps my point missed you, that maxwell demon's "cannot be used by arbitrary people at the same time" criterion isn't a viable way to distinguish limited from unlimited resources.

Re:Online property is as real as intelectual prope (1)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 3 years ago | (#37818304)

The property concept ... The intellectual property concept ... the concepts are not the same just because both are legal constructs

The rationale for property is, as you say, different to the rationale for the extension of property rights to different intellectual things - such as copyright - but there is no meaningful difference in the law of personalty between the ownership of a book, and the ownership of copyright, since both are property rights at law. They are the one and same thing. (The non-meaningful difference would be tangible v. intangible personalty.)

(If I had mod points, I'd mod your post up, FAOD - it's insightful, in my book.)

Re:Online property is as real as intelectual prope (2)

icebraining (1313345) | about 3 years ago | (#37818324)

The difference between real property (objects) and intellectual "property" (information) is that physical objects cannot be used by arbitrary people at the same time. Therefore it is of vital importance to have rules telling who has the right to use which object at which time. The concept of property is one, very successful, way to do this. However, intellectual "property" does not share this characteristic. There's nothing stopping some person in China to listen to the very same song you currently listen to at the very same time. Nor is there something stopping some African to use the very same idea to make things as you do. That is, unlike physical objects, information has no intrinsic restrictions on use which need to be regulated.

Sorry, but that's not so clear. That's true for a song or idea, but there is in fact a limited number of certain "digital artifacts."

Items in an MMORPG are a clear example: I can copy the bits that make up the representation of a certain object (let's say a sword), but that's not the actual object; it's akin to taking a photography of something.
In reality, short of hacking the server (which is illegal by itself, for obvious reasons), there's no way that I can use someone's "digital sword" without depriving the other person of it.

Re:Online property is as real as intelectual prope (1)

tepples (727027) | about 3 years ago | (#37820158)

Items in an MMORPG are a clear example: I can copy the bits that make up the representation of a certain object (let's say a sword), but that's not the actual object; it's akin to taking a photography of something.

So the valuable part is not the description of the object itself but instead the service of inserting the description of the object into the game's simulated world.

Re:Online property is as real as intelectual prope (1)

icebraining (1313345) | about 3 years ago | (#37821324)

Well, that, and preventing others from obtaining similar objects without paying. After all, they're often status symbols and who'd pay for a status symbol if everyone else could have them?

Re:Online property is as real as intelectual prope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37818120)

"Property is theft." [wikipedia.org]

Re:Online property is as real as intellec property (2)

schwit1 (797399) | about 3 years ago | (#37817976)

That's the reason for "sort of". When the answer is cut and dried there's no need for lawyers.

Getting looted (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 3 years ago | (#37817196)

So does getting killed and looted now count as online robbery?

Re:Getting looted (5, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 3 years ago | (#37817358)

Participating in an online came could be taken as an agreement to abide by the rules of that game, including those governing means of taking one's property. In which case it could only be counted as robbery by any stretch if a person used means outside of the game rules - ie, cheating. Plenty of ways to do that, from credential-theft to DoSing the opposing players in PvP. Fraud perhaps as well, but only if it takes place outside of the accepted rules of the game - there are some games (EVE is famous for it) where dodgy dealing is part of the appeal, and in-character con artist considered a perfectly legitimate career choice and endorsed by the game operators.

Re:Getting looted (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | about 3 years ago | (#37817416)

Most modern MMOs don't allow for that sort of thing. The only ones I can think of off the top of my head are Darkfall and Eve Online.

Most modern MMOs don't really punish the loser when it comes to pvp except maybe by a run back to where your body died. The no consequences pvp seems to be really popular with a majority of online gamers which shouldn't really be all that surprising. Though I find the risk of actually losing my items, experience or what not adds to the rush of Pvp. Not everyone feels that way though

Re:Getting looted (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37817540)

I'd say it depends on whether it's part of the intended gameplay.

As an analogy, if you shoot at me with a paintball gun on the street, I can demand compensation for my clothes you damaged with your colour. If you do the same during a paintball game I take part in, I can't -- after all, if I didn't want those clothes coloured, I shouldn't have worn them at the paintball game.

IANAL however.

Re:Getting looted (1)

vlm (69642) | about 3 years ago | (#37817646)

I'd say it depends on whether it's part of the intended gameplay.

As an analogy, if you shoot at me with a paintball gun on the street, I can demand compensation for my clothes you damaged with your colour. If you do the same during a paintball game I take part in, I can't -- after all, if I didn't want those clothes coloured, I shouldn't have worn them at the paintball game.

IANAL however.

Stealing a base in baseball has an obvious monetary value... should not be too hard to figure out on a league average basis how much a players annual salary changes both for stealing a base and for being a good base-man and pitcher and not getting a base stolen.

Another great example is intercepting a pass in american football (or I suppose, in real football)

If I shoot you with a paintball gun to distract you while you're trying to steal a base, is that a criminal matter, or a civil matter, or a gameplay matter?

Re:Getting looted (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37818306)

I'd say it depends on whether it's part of the intended gameplay.

As an analogy, if you shoot at me with a paintball gun on the street, I can demand compensation for my clothes you damaged with your colour. If you do the same during a paintball game I take part in, I can't -- after all, if I didn't want those clothes coloured, I shouldn't have worn them at the paintball game.

IANAL however.

Stealing a base in baseball has an obvious monetary value... should not be too hard to figure out on a league average basis how much a players annual salary changes both for stealing a base and for being a good base-man and pitcher and not getting a base stolen.

Another great example is intercepting a pass in american football (or I suppose, in real football)

If I shoot you with a paintball gun to distract you while you're trying to steal a base, is that a criminal matter, or a civil matter, or a gameplay matter?

It's IMHO definitely not just a gameplay matter because the baseball rules don't include paintball guns (however there may be gameplay matters involved as in what effect it has on the scoring of the game, or if the game is considered valid in that case) and being shot with a paintball gun has effects on me and my clothes beyond those to be expected when playing baseball. Whether it's a civil or a criminal matter, I don't know, I'd guess civil.

Re:Getting looted (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 3 years ago | (#37819880)

"It's IMHO definitely not just a gameplay matter because the baseball rules don't include paintball guns"

No, but I think you are on to an idea there.

Re:Getting looted (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about 3 years ago | (#37818508)

If I shoot you with a paintball gun to distract you while you're trying to steal a base, is that a criminal matter, or a civil matter, or a gameplay matter?

Why would those be mutually exclusive? If I break your leg in a way totally unrelated to the game I'd expect criminal assault charges, a civil tort and an immediate expulsion from the game.

Re:Getting looted (1)

Asclepius99 (1527727) | about 3 years ago | (#37818686)

Stealing a base in baseball has an obvious monetary value... should not be too hard to figure out on a league average basis how much a players annual salary changes both for stealing a base and for being a good base-man and pitcher and not getting a base stolen.

I don't really think stealing a base is a good example here, as you're not actually taking the base with you. Nor does Team A having a player on the base stop Team B's outfielders from their use of the base.

If I shoot you with a paintball gun to distract you while you're trying to steal a base, is that a criminal matter, or a civil matter, or a gameplay matter?

I'd imagine this really depends on what level you're playing the sport as. If it's just a couple of people playing a pick up game of baseball and one of the players decides to bring his paintball gun and shoot another team's player while he's stealing a base (or even just do anything that's not outside usual game play) I would think that it would probably end up as a civil matter. Perhaps if the person shot was injured enough from it (get hit in the eye or something), they might decide to press charges and make it a criminal matter.

I'd assume that if we're talking about professional baseball players, then it would probably be more likely to be a criminal matter. But that's most likely superseded by a clause in the players' contracts saying that anything that happens on the game field is to be settled by binding arbitration set up by the league.

IANAL, but that's what makes the most sense to me.

Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (5, Interesting)

krygny (473134) | about 3 years ago | (#37817448)

All the money I have in the bank and my 401K ... is ... well, ... "virtual".

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (2)

Dyinobal (1427207) | about 3 years ago | (#37817508)

Big monies free citizen reeducation agents will be to your house shortly to address this erroneous belief of yours. Please wait quietly and do not attempt to flee.

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 3 years ago | (#37818580)

That really isn't money, just debt notes. History proves the value of such things can drop to zero in a short period of time. We stopped using real money, because the banking cartel parasites seduced the government into that situation over a period of half a century.

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (1)

orgelspieler (865795) | about 3 years ago | (#37821284)

To all of you "bank notes aren't real money" people, I have a question: What do you consider to be "real" money? Gold? Diamonds? Platinum? Carbon credits? Bitcoin? The value of those things can change suddenly, too. Any form of currency is only worth what people agree that it is worth.

If I have a bunch of friends that I can trade Monopoly money with for other goods, then Monopoly money is real enough among us. There are modern on-line communities that use barter, or other non-cash value exchange. I'd consider a Boba Fett minifig (with printed arm pattern) to be a legitimate payment of debt, but I wouldn't take gold.

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (1)

Cro Magnon (467622) | about 3 years ago | (#37821514)

To me, if I can take it to a grocery store, gas station, or a computer shop and exchange it for their product, it's money. For better or worse, that includes that dirty green paper with dead presidents, credit cards, and possibly checks (though I know of places that don't accept those), and excludes gold and bitcoin.

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 3 years ago | (#37822162)

When you wake up one morning and it takes a wheelbarrow full of the "dirty green paper" to buy a loaf of bread, will you still be happy with it? This has happened in history to other countries on the same trajectory we are currently pursuing. Paper notes backed with something of value is real money, we used to have that.

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 3 years ago | (#37822122)

Paper and electronic money is fine, if backed with something of value. We used to have that. The value of the "money" we have now can plummet in value to near zero overnight.

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37819710)

Maybe the better way to say this is, "All the money in the bank is virtual". Since it isn't actually real money, just debt instruments (promissory notes, specifically), then by the lawyer's logic, this "virtual" money isn't real, so when a bank gets robbed, they have no call for prosecution, since no "real" theft occurred?....Fascinating.

Re:Oh, Re-hee-hee-heally!! (1)

MMC Monster (602931) | about 3 years ago | (#37820430)

You should really consider moving some of your retirement money out of Bit Coins.

The gains are impressive, but I'm not sure how liquid they'll be in the future.

Appealing to wrong people (2)

esocid (946821) | about 3 years ago | (#37817488)

If you lose a virtual item to "virtual theft" you appeal to the people running that game, not the police. There are no virtual police, and likewise, the virtual police can not come into the real world and arrest people for trolling.

Re:Appealing to wrong people (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 3 years ago | (#37819144)

Quite right, it's just abstract numbers in a database with no real intrinsic value, and you can't "steal" an intangible that only ever existed in the imagination. Just like with bank accounts, right?

Virtual Property With Real-World Analogues (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37817602)

I'd make a snide remark about the stock market, but my bitterness will fade in time.

Here's what I consider virtual property: stuff that has a mirror in real life. Everything else is just bits and bytes, what I would instead term "ownership privileges" as anyone that's admin'd a network would understand. Level one becomes one million, one item model turns into another, you're granted ownership of foo_bar, and so on and so forth. Just look at Second Life if you don't believe me.

If you spend money on a virtual item you are getting nothing tangible in return and you must accept this.

Leaving aside the complicated and thorny issue of copyright and artificial scarcity in the face of the reality that almost all virtual property is infinitely available (and thus should never cost you money), I'd turn my attention to the biggest issue in online property: creative works. Games, art, videos, writing -- all of these are virtual property online. You "own" your work, but yet this isn't necessarily true on the Internet, because there are no property laws and no national borders to enforce them. Instead you own access to your virtual property. This is why everyone starts talking about licenses when they discuss virtual property.

Now when it comes to those licenses, hoo-boy. Who "owns" the license? What happens when the owner of the actual virtual property you're licensing decides to revoke your license, resulting in what amounts to a theft of your money? (See: Music DRM revocation, video game account bans, content site account bans) There isn't a court in the land that actually understands how that process works, and there isn't a consumer that truly understand the enormity (and legality) of those signature-less EULAs every single commercial website and virtual product requires you to agree to. I foresee a much bigger challenge to EULAs down the line, which will decide whether they're legal once and for all.

Re:Virtual Property With Real-World Analogues (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 3 years ago | (#37819570)

So it is just like real money, it is artificially scare (you can print it very easily and cheaply and the government can and sometimes does print it large amounts) and it only has any value because everyone believes that it does.

mmmmmm makes you think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37817722)

And how about the federal reserve ?

Gamecompanies don't want to be banks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37817732)

As soon as there is a direct conversion from virtual asset to money, instead of just the converting dollars to virtual (buying items).
Then the owner of the game becomes a bank with all the rules concerning a bank. Also all of the actions players do ingame that generate assets that can be converted to money become taxable. They're not playing a game anymore but working.

Re:Gamecompanies don't want to be banks. (1)

PPH (736903) | about 3 years ago | (#37818202)

They're not playing a game anymore but working.

They are working when their mom stops opening the basement door yelling, "Get a job!"

Is this late in coming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37817978)

This article strikes me as a little late in coming and clearly muddles even deeper just what goes on here on the internet. Almost 2012, we are reading about a lawyer who is just now attempting to define what virtual ownership actually is as it compares to real property? This is a little funny in that he tries to make a point and doesn't clearly make any point. Just what is the point here? Maybe I missed it. Is he attempting to create a plethora of new litigation which will need new court rulings here to perpetuate more litigation and more rulings?

This is my question posted on Slashdot. Does that mean I don't own the question or that I own it, sort of? I have posted it anonymously, sort of, and don't want to own this comment, but someone may tell me to own up to it. As it has definitely taken up virtual space on the internet, letter by letter, word by word, just what does that mean? Commercial virtual real estate has a new thought posted on it. Who owns it? This article begged this comment, so signing it was not as important as making it in my cowardly anonymous, sort of, estimation.

No license language = sale (1)

residieu (577863) | about 3 years ago | (#37818250)

So since there ISN'T that language, the items really are sold?

Edward Castronova... (1)

TenDollarMan (1307733) | about 3 years ago | (#37818602)

... said: "Being an elf doesn't make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain."

But I agree with the license part. Since any virtual property is a construct dependant on the underlying servers (eg Everquest, Second Life etc), then you are bound by the EULA, which usually dresses everything up as a license which can be withdrawn at the whim of the owner of the server.

No. It isn't. (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | about 3 years ago | (#37818722)

Those games? Those are imaginary. Even this comment is imaginary.

Property isn't just a concept, after all...

Re:No. It isn't. (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 3 years ago | (#37819622)

And you know that number in your bank account and those bills in your wallet that are only made valuable because everyone believes that they are, they are also imaginary and just a concept.

Keyword: "Virtual" (1)

rnturn (11092) | about 3 years ago | (#37818912)

Virtual != Real

If you believe that virtual "property" has any real monetary value, you probably believe that the $70+ trillion in derivatives that are floating around the financial system -- larger than the real GDP of the entire planet -- have real value, too.

Of course, the bankers/gamblers will argue that they do but they have just a little bit of a conflict of interest in the matter. One would suspect that having an eight-figure bonus that depends on their having real value is the most important thing on their minds and not whether these financial constructs actually have any real meaning in the world.

Justin Kwong. Justin Kwong? Justin Kwong!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37819488)

Justin Kwong, Justin Kwong Justin Kwong. Justin Kwong! Justin Kwong.

The article didn't contain NEARLY enough Justin Kwong's for my taste.

Perhaps it should be illegal. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37819576)

* If virtual property theft were legal - people could maybe steal your $1000 collection of iTunes tracks or your license to use Microsoft Word or something...that kind of virtual property theft should be illegal.
* If virtual property theft were illegal - people could not steal virtual property from each other in online games - which would greatly destroy the fun of those games - so that kind of property theft should be fully legal.

So what should happen (IMHO) is to make virtual property theft illegal - but to have online games where virtual property theft is a part of that game include a line in their EULA that says something like "By parking virtual goods on our servers, you are granting us the right to permanently transfer those goods to other players in the game as a direct result of interactions within the game environment". In other words, you grant permission for your virtual stuff to be stolen within the game world.

That would allow you to prosecute a hacker who broke into the game server and transferred your stuff out of there without doing it in-game - yet allow an in-game thief to steal the exact same stuff with complete impunity.

The police were right since this is Final Fantasy (1)

Cito (1725214) | about 3 years ago | (#37819810)

Final Fantasy mmo TOS clearly states that characters and items in their game are not owned by the player and that square reserves the right to delete items/character at will. the player is only paying for access to the game and not ownership of character/items.

so he's screwed, the police were right to laugh this idiot off. now if it were a game like second life that has provisions in their TOS for item ownership and copyright protection then he'd have a civil case, the police still will laugh you off if you got stolen from in second life or project entropia 2 games that have a large money transfer system.

but in final fantasy noone ones items or characters but Square, reminds me of the guy whining back when Dark age of Camelot was popular how someone stole his cloudsong and was gonna sue... it became a 'meme'

Shenanigans! (1)

poofmeisterp (650750) | about 3 years ago | (#37819912)

Justin Kwong compares virtual items to a mug club at a bar where patrons purchase rights to a specific numbered mug but cannot remove the mug from the premises. He does note that if in game items are purchased there needs to be clear language stating: 'the transaction is a license, not a sale, and that traditional consumer protections afforded by sales of goods do not necessarily apply.'

Don't forget that neither you or another bar are allowed to put that number on a glass in a different establishment, even if you own the glass and/or the bar, because you're violating copyright and/or DRM by re-using that magic number.

/snark

Is Online Property Real? It can be. (1)

Requiem18th (742389) | about 3 years ago | (#37820142)

Ok so virtual properties are not real, that's the very definition of virtual. This has two implications. One, it means that when the company disappears so does your property. Two, it means that if you are the victim of robbery, you end up asking the police to help you get your pretend money back.

In both instances, the game company is the key factor in the reality of your property. In the former case, virtual robbery, it is the game company which has a stand to sue the thief, since the thief basically committed an unauthorised system access.

Also, and much more interesting, is that there isn't a reason why virtual property must evaporate when the game company closes shop. The game company may as well refund your investment in a variety of manners. While this might sound like financially unsound, it can actually have a huge marketing boost.

For instance, let say a popular game, like Team Fortress 2, is closing shop. You have bought a large number of items purported to be placed in the general area above yourself. Rather than just singing So long and thanks for all the fish, they may decide to give you a (similar but reduced) refund in the form of furniture for the The Sims. EA for its part, while seemingly losing money in the deal has basically acquired an entire user base of known-to-pay gamers.

So while I understand that you can't expect to get your money back, an smart company might decide to use virtual property as an asset before getting closed.

Distributed virtual property (2)

Animats (122034) | about 3 years ago | (#37820208)

It's technically feasible to have a virtual world with property owned by the users. But it's not as profitable.

No one has yet built a distributed virtual world on the scale of Second Life. I'm surprised this hasn't been done in some place like Singapore, where there are a lot of high-bandwidth end users. Conceptually, you could have a system where a DNS-like service handles "land allocation", so that activity relative to some area is sent to the owner of that area of land. Each landowner then runs the server for their area.

Movable objects, including avatars, would be digitally signed by their owners. They could be made unique but transferable, if desired, by using something like the Bitcoin block chain, which catches attempts to "double spend". (Bitcoin is an failed financial system but a useful technology.)

Technically, this could work, but it's not easily monetized. And, technically, a virtual world will work better if all the servers have really high bandwidth server farm backbone connections between them. Distributed, it's going to suffer from lag.

confusion of "context" i think (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 3 years ago | (#37821780)

Given the "realm" of SecondLife if i "owned" a set of 9 regions (and various buildings and items on said island)
WITHIN THE SL GRID CONTEXT i own everything on those regions (unless they are owned by someone else) and can eject anything and anyone that is on those regions without my permission. Now if i find out that somebody is running some sort of scam on my regions (or making/selling porn) then i AM REQUIRED BY REAL WORLD LAW to eject that person.

Most of the time the Real World Authorities DO NOT CARE what happens in "virtual space" but if a nontrivial amount of money gets involved then they start taking notice.

if somebody "steals" a SecondLife lamborgini then they are not liable for GTA but if somebody is using said lambs in a Money Laundering Scheme then LL can and will get very friendly with the SS or the FBI or any TLA that wants to/ has jurisdiction make things very very unpleasant.

Heck if i was part of any of the TLAs i would have a region or 2 as an outpost just for those times.

Oh and a lot of the SL TOS/Community Standards cover exactly how SL/RL law intersects.

(of course if i had any serious virtual property i would make it using an OpenSim SandBox and then use Phoenix to Import to the SL grid)

Not A Good Approach (1)

msobkow (48369) | about 3 years ago | (#37822034)

The interpretation of virtual goods not being subject to property law is dangerous as more information is moved to the cloud. It implies that you have no recourse, should somebody steal that information. It implies that the media you "buy" online can have it's lease revoked at any time, without recourse.

I could care less about people who spend real money on in-game items. It's a game. Your priorities are screwed up.

What about the IRS? if in game has monetary value (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 3 years ago | (#37822048)

What about the IRS? if in game has monetary value then you may have to pay tax even if it's 100% in game and you don't cash out.

Red herring (1)

Drunkulus (920976) | about 3 years ago | (#37822176)

This poor guy was indeed robbed. The theft occurred when the $3800 was handed over.
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