The Big Bang theory fans, would remember the episode where Sheldon’s Ostrich from the game World of Warcraft was stolen and Penny and the boys had to go and get it from the person who stole it. Cutting the long story short, in this age of virtual reality what we create online is something that we feel belongs to us with a sense of possession. Though they are not real property and have no monetary value (on the face of it), it does involve the skill of the player, the time taken to develop the character and at times even money through in game purchases. This article will shed light on how Intellectual Property Rights could help virtual property rights.

Imagine if you put days, or even months building a character in a game and acquiring and creating wealth (in the game) and one day it gets stolen, wouldn’t you think that something that was yours was stolen? You did spend real time, effort and even money on the virtual world. As major tech companies hail Virtual Property as the future, it is but pertinent that Virtual Property be treated in the similar footing as tangible property. The easiest way to make the owners and creators of Virtual Property the owners would to provide IPR rights to things created in these massive online role playing games. Games such as Second life, GTA, and the World of War Craft. In these games or (MMORPG) Massive Multiple Online Role Playing Games, you can build characters, places, acquire property and even get married or divorced.  If you think that the question of virtual property rights is not that serious, then let me tell you, that in 2011, a person called Qiu Chengwei murdered his friend who had sold Chengwei’s online sword, after which when he reported to the Police, the cop refused to consider theft of virtual property as real theft, he took the law into his own hands and murdered his friend.

An interesting case that put the whole virtual property into perspective was the Bragg V Linden case. In this case Marc Bragg through his online character brought some land in violation of the Rules of Second Life, an online role playing game. When Linden Research the owners of the game came to know of his illegal actions, they disabled his accounts without giving him an opportunity, stating that he had violated the Terms of Service by engaging in URL-hacking. Though the case was settled for an undisclosed sum, and Mr. Braggs account was restored the US District Court did pave the way for a possible legal importance of virtual property rights. Stating that the Second Life Terms of Service’s which imposed mandatory arbitration provision was unenforceable; and that interaction with a person in a virtual world can satisfy a State’s “minimum contacts” requirement for personal jurisdiction.

Indian Copyright Act and Virtual Reality:The Copyrights Act defines an author of a computer generated literary, dramatic or artistic work to be the person who causes the work to be created. Hence putting this definition into the virtual world, the owner of a virtually made thing could be the player or the company. The player does create the work, but at the end of the day the company is the one who provides the codes and the platform for a person the create the virtual property. Though in the true sense the owner of the work ought to be player as he makes a piece of art by making use of the codes, the idea and the effort is truly his. Making the company that owns the game the owner would be like making the owner of the land from which the mud was taken for a sculpture to be the artist of the sculpture.

What about trademarks? The question of trademarks also arises on how could brands protect infringement of their trademarks in the virtual world. As brands such as Adidas and Reebok have started selling virtual merchandise in games, it is not impossible that there would be many such infringers, as it is much easy to make a virtual copy of anything. Though what about the products that are not in the virtual world? Trademark infringement is defined as a trademark which is identical or confusingly similar to a registered trademark owned by another person, in relation to products or services which are identical or similar to the products or services which the registration covers. When the trademark for say a clothing brand in the real world is infringed by a person in the virtual world by having a virtual store selling under the trademark, but registered in class 9 or 42, would it still count as infringement?

Adding virtual property into the old property laws of for the sale of property is not impossible but it is very difficult and tedious task. The easiest step would be to add it to Intellectual Property, and add provisions for theft of virtual property. Hence there are many questions that need to be given a clear cut answer before we take a serious plunge to virtual reality. The easiest and the first step would be to link it to Intellectual Property Rights, as virtual property is nothing but intellectual property.

This article has been authored by Shwetha, an IP Law practitioner.