This work aims to make the case for recognising the contributions of users to MMORPGs and Virtual Worlds. These environments are software entities which are protected in England and Wales by copyright. These online environments require input from numerous sources, including users, in order to retain their user base. Users therefore interact, create and develop these spaces with both in-game items such as characters, swords and clothing, and items developed outside of these environments. However, users frequently do not receive proprietary interests in any of these game items. The current paradigm of copyright and contract provides not just the framework for the allocation of claims to in-game items and the underlying software code, but also the governance constructs in these online environments. Contractual provisions are the dominant mechanisms of control, displacing automatically arising proprietary interests, and are required before any user can access an online game or Virtual World. It is argued that the current situation whereby contractual agreements restrict user claims whilst seeking to govern every aspect of MMORPGs and Virtual Worlds does not provide a “fair” system for users, or their interests. It is concluded that End User License Agreements (EULAs) displace user rights whilst copyright and philosophical justifications indicate strong theoretical claims in support of users. As such, these EULAs ought to be considered in light of unfair contractual terms provisions to challenge the positions they adopt. There is a need to challenge the EULAs to validate the claims of users to items in online games and Virtual Worlds. This challenge must also indicate that there ought to be an appropriate governance system reflecting a balance between the interests of users and developers whilst providing a system whereby disputes between users, and over proprietary interests can be settled.
|Date of Award
|27 May 2015
|David Poyton (Supervisor) & Ruth Atkins (Supervisor)