Virtual Property: Protecting Bits in Context
Stanford Law School; Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear LLP
Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, Fall 2006
Magical swords, space ships, enchanted scrolls, and other items used in massively-multiplayer online games are the objects of over $30 million dollars in sales in the United States each year and over $100 million worldwide. Amazingly, a virtual island, featuring castles, beaches, and mutants, sold for $26,500, and a virtual space station located "amidst the treacherous but Mineral Rich Paradise V Asteroid Belt" sold for $100,000. The involved game players arguably have purchased the right to use these items within the context of the game. One is left to ponder, however, whether the game players have any other legal rights to the virtual property and, if they do, how those rights are balanced against the rights of the companies providing the games. Given game players' economic stake in virtual property, scholars believe that virtual property disputes will arise between players and game companies notwithstanding the restrictive and ostensibly governing terms of the games' End-User License Agreements (EULAs). This paper argues, as suggested by other scholars, that the terms of the EULAs that deny players any rights to virtual property might be held unenforceable. If the players are granted rights to virtual property by the courts, then there remains a question as to the scope and content of those rights. This paper suggests a framework for conceptualizing virtual property rights and proposes default rules for balancing the rights of game players and game companies.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: Virtual Property, game, contract law, property law, EULA, TOU, end-user license agreement
JEL Classification: K12, K11, K30, K40
Date posted: June 16, 2006