How real is your virtual world? Do you have any rights to the virtual property you've purchased, whether it be items, gold, or land?
One of the most contested trends in multiplayer online gaming is the ability to trade real-world cash for online goods. But do you really own those goods, which don't exist as much more than digital information?
Attorney Marc Bragg seems to think so, which is why he's suing Linden Labs, creators of Second Life, a popular Massively-multiplayer Online (MMO) game. Bragg alleges that Linden has denied him access to his virtual assets. The attorney has posted a press release about the suit on his website.
Bragg v. Linden Research, was filed May 1 in a local district court in West Chester, Pennsylvania. According to Wired, Bragg filed suit after Linden cut off access to his virtual estate (his "sims" or virtual land plots), which includes several nightclubs, and denied him access to his supply of Linden dollars (virtual cash), worth about USD $3,200.
The incident started when Bragg gained access to several sim auctions, by entering in URL's other than those listed on the auction site. This allowed him to access auctions for land not yet technically up for bid, which had no minimums and few bidders. Sim plots usually start at 1,000 Lindens, but Bragg managed to get several for 300. Following this, Linden Labs froze his account, presumably for being in violation of their Terms of Service (ToS).
Bragg however, argues that since the auctions were allowed to finish, they should be accepted.
"If they're not running their auctions properly to begin with ...
the onus is on them... If I take a sim and price it at 1 or 10 when I want 100,000, and it sells, (Linden's) answer is tough luck, you sold it and it's your fault."
Freelance journalist and Second Life blogger Tony Walsh noted that this case could set precedent, and will be keenly watched by business, legal, academic interests and virtual-world residents alike.
Several Second Life residents feel that because Bragg used an exploit to essentially cheat the system, he doesn't have a leg to stand on. Others, such as Joshua Fairfield, a professor at Indiana University Law School and a specialist on the law and economics of virtual property, think that the issue isn't even about a virtual property dispute:
"As I understand how Second Life is set up, land is (the equivalent
of) bandwidth. They're selling bandwidth, no different than AT&T selling the bandwidth that allows me to talk to you... This (suit) is more like airline mistake cases, where people snap up cheap tickets and try to keep the tickets."
While Bragg's supply of Lindens is only worth USD $3,200, he is asking for $8,000 in damages.
CM: This is certainly a tricky issue, but a lawsuit doesn't seem the best way to settle it. Although the ToS does specify that anything Bragg creates in-game is his own property, the issue here is more whether Bragg used less-than-legal methods to acquire said property, or whether Linden Labs is pulling a double standard with regards to bad sales.
The fact that Linden merely froze his account likely means that they are looking into the issue, and deciding whether to close him down completely, or just cancel the land purchase. So far Linden Labs hasn't commented publicly.
-Reporting from his local real estate office, where he's hoping to score some cheap land before anyone notices, GP Correspondent Colin "Jabrwock" McInnes
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