Copyright, Culture, and Community in Virtual Worlds

Dan Burk
2016 Laws  
Communities that interact on-line through computer games and other virtual worlds are mediated by the audiovisual content of the game interface. Much of this content is subject to copyright law, which confers on the copyright owner the legal right to prevent certain unauthorized uses of the content. Such exclusive rights impose a limiting factor on the development of communities that are situated around the interface content, as the rights, privileges, and exceptions associated with copyright
more » ... ed with copyright generally tend to disregard the cultural significance of copyrighted content. This limiting effect of copyright is well illustrated by examination of the copying of content by virtual diaspora communities such as that formed around the game Uru: Ages of Myst; thus, the opportunity for on-line communities to legally access the graphical elements on which those communities are built is fraught with potential legal liability. This presents the reciprocal situation from efforts to protect the cultural properties of indigenous communities as traditional knowledge. Reconsideration of current copyright law would be required in order to accommodate the cohesion of on-line communities and related cultural uses of copyrighted content. Laws 2016, 5, 40 2 of 12 it poses a particular problem for such communities. In this article I illuminate this problem by means of a case study, by following the migration of copyrighted content away from the defunct on-line game Uru: Ages of Myst to Second Life to other venues. Copyrighted graphics from the Uru game were reproduced by departing players attempting to maintain their distinctive virtual community and culture through shared iconic images. The unauthorized appropriation of content from the Uru game was crucial to maintenance of the virtual community but, as I show here, almost certainly constituted copyright infringement. I relate this problem to other aspects of cultural consumption that have received intense recent attention, but show that the question of consumption by virtual communities raises its own unique and distinctive issues.
doi:10.3390/laws5040040 fatcat:il4g5csd45ej5iabs7orq5vl7e