Non-Tangible Security

artifact.jpgeBay is stopping all sales of “virtual artifacts.” Maybe.

This story comes from a Slashdot article in which Zonk talks to Hani Durzy, of eBay about it. They are handling this by merely enforcing an existing policy which says:

“The seller must be the owner of the underlying intellectual property, or authorized to distribute it by the intellectual property owner.”

This leaves into question some virtual artifacts where the seller is the owner of the intellectual property, but is clearly a virtual artifact. Expect debate.

I can’t say as how I blame them. It’s disappointing, but there are headaches that I wouldn’t want either. Some virtual artifacts, like things in Second Life, arguably fall outside that rule. Nonetheless, what resembles an economy in Second Life is hard to understand. The media love affair with Second Life seems to be turning into a hangover. Valleywag is a great place to see some of the backlash. Subscription numbers may be overstated. What passes for an economy isn’t as efficient as people might like. It isn’t very fun. Maybe it’s too much fun.

Some virtual artifacts fall into the eBay ban rule, but might still be okay to sell. Some games permit the resale of objects, but you can claim the people aren’t authorized to distribute, because there’s no explicit authorization of them as a sales channel. It’s definitely a gray area, especially if we consider the first-sale doctrine, but stores are not obligated to sell things they don’t want, and if eBay wanted to stop the sale of used books and records, it would also be disappointing, but within their liberty.

Some other virtual artifacts are not supposed to be sold. World of Warcraft, for example, has it as part of their terms of service that you’re not supposed to sell the game’s virtual artifacts. I think that such bans are not only ineffective, but the best way to fight a black market is to set up your own that undercuts it. But it’s their concern.

The real problem that eBay has to deal with is that when you’re selling stuff, as opposed to merchandise, the major problem is that of provenance. You have to know where those jewels came from. Did those artifacts leave the country legally?

There are a number of cases where bad people have hacked into VR accounts and sold the virtual goods. I can understand eBay’s conundrum. If someone wants to sell five sheep, a gnome, and a staff of domination, how do you know they have the right to do that, whatever the heck that means? I don’t blame eBay for deciding that it’s just too hard and they opt out. It’s a pity that they aren’t stepping up to figure it out, but I don’t blame them. Pioneers are the ones with the arrows in their backs, and after being a pioneer for a while, farming looks good. Of course, the problem is that software is a virtual artifact, even when it comes on a CD. So this is far from settled.
photo is Egyptian Temple, courtesy of iconolith.