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Avatar: From Deity to Corporate Property

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The focal point in this paper is our virtual selves, the avatars with which we interact with others in online virtual environments. The dispute is growing as to whom these digital manifestations belong to. The dispute is in part due to the ability of the technology to transfer the avatars and also in part on the desire of the software manufacturers to enforce the end user licence agreements. These licences do not follow contract theory but have been enforced by the courts. Despite the actions of the court their validity as a whole is still questionable. This paper contains descriptions of the disputed objects and presents the arguments of both sides. There is also a presentation of the law regulating the area and its rationale, strengths and weaknesses. Then there follows a critique of the law as it is and a presentation of what the law could, and indeed in some cases, should be. In the conclusion this work both describes the importance of this issue and what is at stake if an equitable and reasonably balanced solution to the collective rights cannot be found.
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Keywords: Eula & Shrinkwrap licence; MMORPG; avatars; computer games; intellectual property rights; law

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Informatics, University of Goteborg, Box 620, 405 30 Goteborg, Sweden

Publication date: 01 September 2004

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