Reading through the article "A Brave New World for Intellectual Property Rights" in the Journal of Law, Information and Science rekindled my interest in Virtual Property.
The concept of virtual property is simple. It is:
- In a virtual world (be it an online game, forum, etc.)
- Persists with a given user account
- Has value because of certain effects (improved gameplay, improved social value, etc.)
As future lawyers, we're not interested in the economics of it all. We're interested in what happens when there's a conflict arising over a piece of virtual property?
We know them and we love them. They can range from simple breaches of contracts of sale (what if your online friend jumped out on you?) to massive infringements of copyrighted virtual property (see Second Life), or from simple theft to homicide over an online sword.
So who you gonna call? Not a lawyer!
In the first place, there is the problem of Crossing the Jurisdictions (tm). Your buddy lives in China. Your item is stored in a server in Australia. Your game is owned by a company in California.
Secondly, the virtual world's EULA/Terms and Conditions will most likely disclaim the developer from liability, or will outright provide that all your base are belong to us, the developers.
And also, Philippine law arguably does not recognize virtual property. For something to be legally called "property," it should be (1) useful, (2) separable, and (3) capable of appropriation. And when an agreement is entered over something that does not have all of these properties -- that is, outside the commerce of man -- the courts just won't do anything.
In conclusion, all is not lost yet. One remedy is to hard-code inherent limitations in the virtual property, making transfers enforceable or rescissible by the virtual world's administrators themselves. Another remedy, and one connected with the first, is to establish an online dispute resolution system.
As for any other legal, lawyer-related remedy, that's for to us to think about.