Home > BCS, Conference, Event, Innovation > Virtual Policy ’08: A conference on innovation and governance in virtual worlds…

Virtual Policy ’08: A conference on innovation and governance in virtual worlds…

…which took place last week was very much focused on the “global virtual worlds sited in a European legal and regulatory context”. It explored a lot of the complex issues and potentially unfathomable consequences of virtual worlds and their relationships with governance mechanisms. And about time too, I think.

The two day event was organised by: the Virtual Policy Network (tVPN), the Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and The UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO), and it covered key policy themes like: Intellectual property rights, Financial transactions, Children online & education and Governance frameworks & innovation. As perhaps befitting an event of this nature, there was live coverage of it all on Second Life, and below is a short summary of the sessions I attended:

Intellectual Property Panel Session

This session addressed the following:

  • The use / abuse of copyright material in virtual world (e.g. vast potential for infringement of copyright / ancillary rights / design rights via various ‘in world’ activities like the use of characters from Star Wars or the content of video walls)
  • The collision of IP rights versus contractual rights in examples like Bragg versus Linden lab (creators of second life) or MDY versus Blizzard (owners of World of Warcraft)
  • What are the real user’s rights in the virtual environment (avatars do not have any rights)?
  • The implications of platform termination by operators – (even if users own the IP rights to their creation, the platforms / operators could still shut their services and render these creations unusable)
  • Impersonation and infringement of personality rights (i.e. the vexed question and cases of celebrity impersonation e.g. Lady Kier versus Sega or Oliver Kahn versus Electronic Arts)
  • IP laws in virtual worlds (i.e. the need to re-design IP laws, some of which are inadequate to deal with the virtual world, e.g. implications of trademark on virtual assets which, it could be argued, are neither goods nor services)
  • The contracts signed by users to create IP based content (or licensing schemes for User Generated Content which include: Closed Licensing e.g. Home,  Potential Overlap e.g. City of Heroes, Semi Open Licensing e.g. World of Warcraft, UGC Licensing e.g. Microsoft’s game content usage license, and Open Licensing – e.g. Second Life)
  • There was the suggestion for new licensing provision for Fan Art or Fan Applications which are not catered for under current copyright regimes.

Intellectual Property Closed Door Session

The main objective of this closed door session, held under the Chatham House Rule, was to discuss the issues faced by IP in the virtual world, and the levers and next best steps to address them. The outcome of this session would go into an IGF (Internet Governance Forum) whitepaper for presentation at the next conference in Hyderabad in December. Major points raised include:

  • The existence of implicit DRM (or DRM like capabilities) in the very fabric of virtual worlds.
  • Issues with operator liability for content infringement by their users (similar to the proposed 3 strikes rule for ISPs)
  • Regulatory assumption that the virtual world can be treated like an actual ‘place’, (and issues with this assumption, given the current difficulties faced by the content industry in translating traditional geographic / territorial restrictions into the digital domain)
  • The risk that heavy handed legislation could end up driving users and their innovations deeper underground
  • The consensus for adopting broad brush legislation alongside more rapid and iterative “codes of best practice” that could keep up with the rapid pace of technology change.

Finance Panel Session

This session discussed the idea of virtual world currencies which are described below according to their relationship with a real world currency:

  • Neither exchangeable nor redeemable currencies – e.g. World of Warcraft’s Gold
  • Exchangeable bit not redeemable – e.g. Second Life’s Linden Dollars
  • Exchangeable and redeemable – e.g. Entropia Universe’s Project Entropia Dollar (PED)

The speakers also talked about: issues with virtual currencies (e.g. banking, securitisation and taxation); the characteristics of “in world” money; as well as fraudulent practices with respect to any saleable item of value (e.g. currencies, in world items, game levels, characters or property)

PS. I also got a brief demo of a 3D platform (Forterra’s OLIVE platform) that can be used, by customers, (e.g. emergency services, government or companies), to create their own private or public virtual world.

In conclusion, the sessions I attended were rich with content, and the speakers were very knowledgeable about their topics. However, this event could only be deemed truly successful if, in my opinion, the outcome helps to create a situation where all relevant stakeholders are equally involved in the creation of any future governance policies.


Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.


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