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virtually ethics

Sunday, August 17, 2003
Conference and Papers

There has been no blog recently as I’ve been too busy doing, to write about it. Mainly I’ve been working on my paper for Digital Games Industries:
Developments, Impact and Direction
in Manchester this September. My paper is called: Hands of My Avatar ! (a draft can be seen here). There have also been events: Power-Up in Bristol (a conference on computer games and ideology) and After the Act at Oxford (a conference sort of on the new UK communication act but more about media and ethics type things).

At power-up I thought that two themes started to come through. First, the nature of agency of the player; second, the status of game play acts i.e. are they political \ ideological acts. It’s very interesting to see that the game studies world seems to have passed the whole real \ virtual debate that has hung over other areas. Maybe it is because the reality of play gives a lie to the distinctions that others try to draw.

I’m now working on the next two papers, on for a legal journal and one for AoIR 4.0 in Toronto.

In this research I’ve been going though a few interesting books. Expanding the Boundaries of Intellectual Property (Amazon) is a fascinating set of essays on the cutting edge of IPR, and Copyright Law and Computer Programs is a phd thesis turned books which takes a very odd look at IPR kind of through Giddens’s theory of structuration. As IPR has always been a nexus of power struggles I’m looking forward to this one.


Sunday, May 11, 2003
The question of Property

I’ve been reading a couple of books on property recently. John Christman’s The Myth of Property: Toward an Egalitarian Theory of Ownership (Amazon) and Carol M. Rose’s Property and Persuasion: Essays on the History, Theory, and Rhetoric of Ownership (Amazon).

Rose’s book is a collection of essays that tackle the very meaning of property. The Essay I found the most interesting is called Crystals and Mud in Property Law – this starts from the idea that creating well defined laws around property (crystals) has an economic cost hence it is worth examining whether the benefits are worth the cost or whether it is beneficial to leave things less clear – clear as mud in fact. The essay then starts to look at the rhetoric implicit in crystals and mud and the wider meaning of this type of property talk.

I keep thinking that I have the titles of the two books mixed as actually The Myth of Property seems a much better title for Rose’s book. Whereas the point of Christman’s book is not to undermine the idea of property but to re-vitalize it. His project it to construct a defensible liberal theory of property that squares with the evident injustice of ownership. Chapter 1 ‘What if anything is ownership ?’ is an interesting analysis of the nature of property. My focus though was Chapter 8 ‘Self-Ownership’, here Christman contrasts Lockean and Hegelian motivations for ownership. The Lockean view he characterises as a –ve right of non interference, whereas the Hegelian view he suggests is a +ve manifestation of personality and the will. These views he suggests have very different implications. The –ve right he takes to support a trade of labour for property and sees as providing few claims on society. The +ve right, on the other hand, he sees as being more problematic as it does not allow for the same degree of alienation and seems to put requirements on society to provide certain social goods.

It’s an interesting view.


Monday, May 05, 2003

Addicted to Addiction

This months PC Zone just plopped though my door – yay. OK so the Zone has never quite been the same since Charlie Brooker (see TV Go Home – warning content not for the easily offended) left. But its still a good games review zeen. So I was surprised to see a grittily illustrated feature on Games Addition called Just One More Go, my surprise was compounded when I noted that the UK paper The Guardian ran an almost identical piece, with the very same title, about a month ago.

OK now for the rant. I have two problems with these pieces: the factual errors and the complete lack of reflection. First to the facts:

Both pieces stated that EverQuest is “the worlds biggest online RPG” (this assertion has been made in PC Zone previously). It is not. EverQuest has around 400,000 subscribers, but Lineage, developed by n-csoft has 3.2 million subscribers and alone commands around 42% of the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Game) market (source: n-csoft press release 21\02\03).

Now its almost amusing that the PC Zone piece also referenced Mothers Against Video Game Addition and Violence (MAVGA) as one of several ‘online self-help groups (the writer presumably had not come across this ‘fact’ at the time of writing the Guarding version). But, you see, its not. Ostensibly MAVGA is a campaign site against the supposed evils of video games, not a self-help group. However it is in fact a hoax created by an arts student (see here). Not only is this a well-known and widely discussed hoax; if you look at the site itself, particularly the Articles page, you will see that the titles of many of the articles are obviously a parody, what’s more there are no actual links to any of the putative pieces and if you do a search for them on Google you will find that they do not exist.

What’s worrying is that if PC Zone took the idea of video game addiction seriously, as it printed the URL of MAVAV, on would have thought that it would be incumbent on the magazine to verify the veracity of the organization, I trust that the other self help organization was verified before its URL was printed.

However my main issue with the feature was that it took the rhetoric of video game addition at face value. There is a growing body of research about the use of notions such as addition in association with games specifically (See Williams, D., The Social Construction of Video Games, presented at Playing with the future: Development and Directions in Computer Gaming, University of Manchester 2002), which of course falls into the wider literature analysing the reception of popular cultural forms.

Now the stories evidenced may indeed be true. There are in fact more alarming ones in connection with games like Lineage, but the point I am making is that the very nature and structure of the feature is a well studied artefact in itself.

PC Zone should be aware of this due to the debate that themes such as addition and ‘media effects’ in general have attracted post Columbine.

The Guardian (which has a weekly MediaGuardian section) should certainly be aware of such debates, as they are one of the main themes of contemporary media studies – I wonder if the analysis of a TV program would also have been treated with the same lack of reflection.


Friday, May 02, 2003

Who owning you baby ?

I was reading the fantastic article Whose Who ? The Case for a Kantian Right of Publicity, by Alice Haemmerli of Duke Law School published at LexisNexis. At heart, the article takes the very line of argument that I have been working on in my work on Avatars and Property rights (see my Research Project).

Essentially this is an argument from Kant that says to be free is to be human but to be free we need autonomy and for autonomy we need freedom in self and a certain dominion in the world i.e. possessions.

The link that both Haemmerli and myself are trying to establish is that certain thing can be considered self and thus are not property. As the title of the article suggests Haemmerli focuses on a developing area of US State law known as the Publicity Rights. These rights concern the commercial exploitation of certain properties of ones self e.g. Image, voice etc. Exactly what is covered and to what extent varies from state to state.

It’s an odd law. As Melissa B. Jacoby & Diane Leenheer Zimmerman point out in their illuminating article Foreclosing on Fame: Exploring the Uncharted Boundaries of the Right of Publicity (New York Law Review Vol 77 (2002) No. 5 (November)), the right started off being closely associated with privacy, however its has now become almost entirely a property right. This leads to the bizar situation suggested in the article that a creditor could conceivably own the Rights of Publicity for a bankrupt celebrity.

Yet again, perverse, but legal.


Thursday, May 01, 2003

Data Control

Phew, just about completed my second contribution to the IGDA white paper on Intellectual Property Rights. In this short essay I had a go at looking at whether player-characters really are a subject of copyright separate from an overall MMORPG game.

It’s an interesting question as it focuses on two interesting aspects of copyright. One is the simple question – what is software and what is not ?

You’d think this was simple but nether the US Code (Title 17) or EU copyright law really define software or ‘computer programs’ in any really meaningful way. What’s more, in the EU there is a separate sui generis object in the legal ontology – the database. To quote the relevant texts, the EU define software in the following way: “the term 'computer program` shall include programs in any form” Where as the US Code states: “A “computer program” is a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result” (a good over view of US law can be found at here at Ladas & Parry)

Okay, so what’s data ? It is software or not. I err on the side of not, but this really comes down to interpretation rather than the texts of acts.

This however leads to the second question. If there is a distinct copyright different between software and data that it is used to create i.e. if they are separate works, to what extent can the copyright holder of the software control the data it is used to create. One would think that as there are separate Authors then one has no control over the other. But is this really the case. Software is licensed for a given use, and if the data can only be used with a specific program then a software company can, in theory, control the market for those data though licensing. Suppose that the licences for a popular word processing program states that only data created with that particular copy of the program can be used – even though it might be file compatible with every other copy of the program, then without making any copyright claims on the data they effectively control its trade. Or have I missed something here ?