The question of whether video gamers acquire real-world
legal rights for their in-game property has spilled over into
the US Southern District Court of Florida. A longtime player of
World of Warcraft commenced a class action lawsuit against
Internet Gaming Entertainment, Ltd. (IGE), claiming IGE
License Agreement (EULA). He accuses IGE of "gold
farming" — it allegedly pays workers in
developing counties to amass currency in the game, which it
then sells to other users for real money. In January, IGE filed
an answer to the suit, denying the allegations. The action has
yet to be certified.
The player is upset with IGE, asserting that its actions
negatively affect the gameplay by devaluing currency, putting
players who do not infringe the EULA at a competitive
disadvantage and reducing the enjoyment of playing the game. In
his claim, he accuses IGE of a host of contractual and tortuous
ills from breach of third-party beneficiary contract and
violation of the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to
trespass to chattel.
The player bases his allegations on his assertion that the
game "has a property system with all the familiar
real-world features, such as exclusive ownership, persistence
of rights and a currency to support trade."
McCarthy Tétrault Notes:
If this case proceeds, it would present an opportunity for
the courts to rule on the nature of virtual property compared
to real-life rights. Such a decision will have important
implications for individual users, as well as for companies
that wish to promote themselves and their wares in an emerging
Currently, hundreds of companies, including adidas, Reuters,
L'Oréal, Dell, IBM and Toyota, have created
presences in virtual worlds such as Second Life, where they can
promote their company and sell virtual wares to in-game users,
as well as sell real-world products to in-game users for
Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life, has notably
recognized the right of Second Life users to "retain full
intellectual property protection for the digital content they
create in Second Life." It has gone so far as to respond
affirmatively to takedown notices under the US Digital
Millennium Copyright Act.
At the same time, in-game creations such as the
"CopyBot" have allowed users to make unlimited, free
copies of property theoretically covered by the same
intellectual property rights that cover real life.
While there have been a number of settlements and consent
judgments in cases involving copyright infringement, neither
Canada nor the US has had a ruling deciding the nature of
virtual rights compared to real-life rights. Given the growing
popularity of virtual worlds, the competing interests at stake
and the amount of money involved, we expect to see an increase
in litigation in this area in the future.
The content of this article is intended to provide a
general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should
be sought about your specific circumstances.
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The Law Society of British Columbia’s Cloud Computing Working Group issued its Final Report on Cloud Computing on January 27, 2012, amending an earlier consultation report approved by the "Benchers" on July 15, 2011.
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