Digital games have evolved considerably in recent years, but from an IP perspective, one of the most interesting and significant shifts has been the introduction of user-generated content (UGC) into corporately-owned digital games and virtual worlds. Early evidence of the legal implications of UGC (also referred to as “user created” and “user contributed” content) first emerged in the form of a debate about ongoing (and as yet unresolved) conflicts between game operators and game players over who could legally (and ethically) claim ownership over virtual items and characters (avatars) produced by players within massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). While this debate and the questions it raised attracted a lot of interest from legal scholars and academics (see, for example, Terra Nova’s “Virtual Law Bibliography”), the conflicts themselves really only directly impacted the small proportion of gamers who both played MMOGs and engaged in virtual item exchange.
Today, however, tools for social networking and collaborative cultural production are being integrated into a much wider diversity of titles and game genres, and UGC is quickly spreading from niche markets made up of MMOG players and hobbyist programmers into “mainstream” markets as well. In some cases, even “casual players” can now produce and distribute their own game content. Accordingly, questions and concerns about IP rights and the legal status of UGC, as well as how players‘ rights will be articulated and protected within predominantly corporately-defined virtual game environments, are attaining a much broader relevance - both within the entertainment software industry and among the increasingly large segment of the population that plays digital games.
You can read the whole post here. Thanks again to Rex Shoyama for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this excellent new resource on all things IP and technology.