By Eom Yoon-ryung
Computer games, which used to be regarded as simple amusements, have evolved to offer a whole other world to the players of today.
Along with these developments, there has been a change in the perception of in-game items (or virtual goods), which once were lost forever when the machine was turned off. Players now seem to recognize in-game items as individual products owned in the real world.
In this light, the relationship between game service providers and game players, and even the policy toward the gaming industry will be affected.
How do Korean laws interpret in-game items? Broadly speaking, there are two main positions: “Things” and “Right to use.”
According to the former view, virtual goods are exclusively “owned” by players. The concept of possessing things legally means that they should be exclusively owned without interference from others.
his view is in line with the intuitive view that modern day game players have of such items. However, it is difficult to justify the above position, given that an in-game item cannot be used without services provided under the control of the game provider.
Therefore, Korean law does not recognize game items as separate “things’,” but rather as “the right to use game services.” In other words, game items are just a kind of intellectual property in the form of digital data. Therefore, game users do not “own” game items, they are simply using a service that makes them appear “owned.”
Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Korea judges that even if a game player steals someone else’s game item, it does not constitute a theft that occurs when someone steals a physical object. However, such acts are punished in accordance with the provisions prohibiting fraudulent use under the Act related to Information and Communication.
This perception of in-game items is consistent with the legal logic structure, but it can be problematic in that the players cannot receive strong legal protection at the level of ownership.
For example, in general, game companies claim all rights, such as intellectual property rights through the terms and conditions of use, and players cannot use them in any way other than the method specified by the company.
Therefore, if a game service provider has a policy that prohibits the private sale of in-game items, then players cannot sell virtual goods to others, and if the game service provider stops providing game services, they cannot claim any rights, even if in-game items disappear.
However, along with the development of the awareness of game items in Korea, various policies are being used to resolve problems despite the above legal limitations.
For example, the relevant authorities prohibit unfair terms and conditions to players, such as banning the sale of game items, and require the game provider to give advance notice of the end of the game service prior to a certain period so that players can prepare even if provision of game service is to cease.
The game industry is now taking a step closer to reality through virtual reality and augmented reality technology. I think the perception of in-game items will also enter a new phase.
Hopefully, a mature view of in-game items will accelerate the development of the gaming industry.