For Discussion: Property Rights in Virtual Markets
I’m no expert on this, so I’m offering it for your consumption. How do you define property rights for a virtual store, selling virtual wedding gowns, to virtual people, in exchange for virtual money?
Veronica Brown is a hot fashion designer, making a living off the virtual lingerie and formalwear she sells inside the online fantasy world Second Life. She expects to have earned about $60,000 this year from people who buy her digital garments to outfit their animated self-images in this fast-growing virtual community.
But Brown got an unnerving reminder last month of how tenuous her livelihood is when a rogue software program that copies animated objects appeared in Second Life. Scared that their handiwork could be cloned and sold by others, Brown and her fellow shopkeepers launched a general strike and briefly closed the electronic storefronts where they peddle digital furniture, automobiles, hairdos and other virtual wares.
“It was fear, fear of your effort being stolen,” said Brown, 44, whose online alter ego, Simone Stern, trades under the name Simone! Design.
Brown has reopened her boutique but remains uncomfortably aware that the issue of whether she owns what she makes — a fundamental right underpinning nearly all businesses — is unresolved.
My knee-jerk reaction would be that these virtual markets are the “property” of the software designers who create the software, and they can define their own property rights for their users based upon their license agreement. The cost of entry and exit from a virtual marketplace is a lot different than, say, a physical one, so the idea of competing governments and property rights structures seems to me to be ideal.
As a whole I don’t know that I support government getting involved in regulating virtual property rights. But given that I’m wholly unfamiliar with these sorts of games, never having played any of them, I’m not sure that I’m qualified to offer an opinion.
What are your thoughts?
(random snark below the fold)
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