Claiming Ownership, but Getting Owned: Contractual Limitations on Asserting Property Interests in Virtual Goods


Virtual worlds, and the subset known as massively multiplayer online games, have grown in popularity to encompass tens of millions of participants and billions of dollars in revenues per year. Participants make sizable investments of social, human, and economic capital in these virtual worlds, often with the questionable expectation that the items they have collected and creations they have developed are their property. This Comment builds on previous scholarship by looking past abstract theoretical possibilities of whether property can exist in a virtual world to perform a systematic analysis of how end user license agreements actually allocate the property rights of use, exclusion, and transfer among virtual-world providers and participants. While there are some small differences from agreement to agreement in the commensurability of virtual goods and in the ability of participants to recognize profit from their virtual creations, the agreements consistently give providers the plenary ability to impose sanctions on participants and to change the terms of the agreements. This uncertainty severely curtails the ability of participants to enjoy the fruits of their investments. This Comment proceeds from this analysis to explore assertions of a reasonable right of access, contract claims, consumer protection claims, and possible legislative action that might help participants to protect these investments and encourage continued growth on this innovative frontier.

About the Author

Senior Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 54. J.D. Candidate, UCLA School of Law, 2007; B.S., Northwestern University, 1999.

By uclalaw