June 30th, 2008 by Benjamin Duranske
This one may make your head hurt a little bit, but it highlights a problem that is coming faster than you might think. Three steps to the analysis…
1) 3D games like the upcoming Spore (and, of course, free-form social environments like Second Life) let users create some pretty cool stuff. For example, I created this little guy to the right in about five minutes using the trial of the Creature Creator tool for Spore.
The ability to create cool 3D stuff is going to become more prevalent in games and virtual worlds because users now demand customization options. Even where you’d not expect it — like Madden ’08 or a racing game — a lot of players spend a lot of time customizing. Madden players create custom uniforms and accessories, and the car customization in Forza Motorsport 2 appears to trump actual play for some users. Wherever there is customization available, potential trademark and copyright infringement is fairly common — as the links above demonstrate.
2) In most games, you agree — via a clickthrough screen — that you have no ownership over the cool stuff you create. Even if you aren’t ripping off Lost or Nike (see links above) and are only doing original creations, you have to be careful about intellectual property issues. Sometimes (like in Second Life) the Terms of Service allow you to retain ownership of the intellectual property in your in-world creations. For most games, though, the Terms of Service and End User License Agreements say you own absolutely nothing.
For Spore’s “Creature Creator,” for example, you have to agree that:
EA owns all of the right, title and interest in the Spore Creature Creator, the assets included in the Creature Creator for building and animating creatures and for creating backgrounds and video clips, and all derivative works comprised of those assets, including the Spore creatures that you create, animate, and capture in screen shots or video clips using the Spore Creature Creator.
And here’s where it gets interesting…
3) We’re getting close to consumer-level 3D fabrication technology, which will let you make plastic 3D models (a.k.a. professional-grade home-made toys) based on that cool stuff you create on your computer. The technology is already reasonably priced for small businesses, and in fact, one company, Fabjectory is already selling plastic versions of Second Life avatars.
I’ve just started to wrap my head around this, but I see at least a couple of legal issues here right off the bat. The obvious one is that people are going to be able to “print” (and sell) Spore and other game creations in violation of the games’ Terms of Service and EULAs. The less obvious one is that this raises the stakes for copyright and trademark infringement in open-creation spaces — a lot. Once people are “printing” Batman and Harry Potter toys they’ve created in Second Life (rather than buying the ones DC Comics and Warner Brothers have licensed for sale at the mall) license holders will be further motivated to pay close attention to how their intellectual property is being represented in-world.
Thanks to reader C. Sven Johnson for the heads-up on this. Sven maintains the thought-provoking reBang weblog, where he covers product design, mixed reality, and lots of other cool stuff.
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