No more physical sales of digital artefacts?

From the Observer

A ban has been imposed by eBay on auctions of virtual items from online games such as EverQuest. For years, players have sold virtual items that can give an edge. On eBay last week a pair of EverQuest game accounts had a first bid of $200 before they were removed.

‘Our standpoint is that everything in our games is the property of Sony Online Entertainment,’ said Greg Short, director of web development at Sony, which publishes EverQuest. ‘We can’t say definitely if it’s illegal,’ said eBay spokesman Hani Durzy. ‘It’s complex. And when something is complex like this, we have a history of disallowing the items.’

It’s interesting that ‘virtual’ items can be so highly valued in ‘real-world’ monetary terms, but of course this is nothing new. Work on RPG characters has been advertised in geek-mags between players for years and years, but with World Of Warcraft and Second Life growing so enormous, the practices are certainly more noticable.

…Particularly to the companies who own these worlds. Note that Ebay is not cancelling these auctions because they’re ridiculous (I don’t think they’re ridiculous, but admit it – you know lots of people who would) but because the owners of the world concerned regard all objects in those world as their own and not for sale. So, if you pay to use a workshop out here in the physical world, are the things you make there your belongings, or do they have to stay in the workshop when you leave? Tricky. I think most people’s initial reaction would be that they belong to you – you paid fairly for the time and the use of tools, and the workshop owners didn’t make the artefacts, did they?

On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of examples where just the opposite is true. All my design work for my university degrees, for instance, does not belong to me. The university retains intellectual property over all of my work, and it’s olnly through an understanding of fairness that I’m allowed to even put a portfolio together at the end of my years of blood, sweat, tears and poverty.

‘Ownership’ and ‘property’ are ideas which are much more complex than we realise, and I think most of us believe we own much more than we really do. I, like many, think IP law is in dire need of re-assessment. Expect to see more about this.

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