Stop in the Name of IP Rights
Since the intangible intellectual property discussed herein has real world value, the question arises as to what legal standards should be applied. The answer to this question will potentially depend on whether a player is actually allowed ownership of virtual items they obtained or created.
If a player leaves one game or virtual world to play or take up “residence” in another their virtual property rights will be governed by two things, the EULA and the code.
If a player is leaving an “open world” they likely have ownership of certain intellectual property which they may choose to bring along with them and utilize in another virtual world. This may take the form of copyright, trademark or other rights. However, if the player is leaving a “closed world” the developer theoretically retains ownership to all the intellectual property that exists in the game and the player’s license to use it would likely terminate. Therefore, any future use of the intellectual property in the context of another game, virtual world, or elsewhere, would likely be an actionable infringement. In most jurisdictions the courts have not yet reached a determination as to treatment of virtual assets, however, this will likely soon change. Courts around the world have begun hearing various virtual property cases involving infringement, theft and other matters. It is likely in the next few years we will have a greater body of case law to shine light on these issues.
Putting aside the above, even if you do have ownership rights to virtual property it may have little or no value or use outside of the particular game or virtual world. As some legal scholars have said, “code is law”. However, as of today there is no one specific platform or code language that is being used to build all games or virtual worlds. Given this fact, there is not currently a way to insure that virtual property could be taken out of a particular game and ported to another world. Without the specific platform that the game or world was built upon all the player has is arguably a string of meaningless code representing the asset which would not be accessible. This may change in the future if code and standards becomes more mainstream then there may be a greater opportunity for virtual property to be transported.