Authorship in Virtual Worlds: Author's Death to Rights Revival?

Roncallo-Dow, Sergio; Uribe-Jongbloed, Enrique; Barker, Kim and Scholz, Tobias (2013). Authorship in Virtual Worlds: Author's Death to Rights Revival? Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 6(3)



In Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) and virtual worlds, the idea of authors seems to have ‘died’ or been ‘wiped out,’ at least from the perspective of users. The concept of authorship does not receive adequate attention or recognition in MMOs and online games in particular appear to deprive authors of their rights, both legally and morally. Users of MMOs are required to consent to the deprivation of rights in both authorship and intellectual property before they can access multi-user environments. This deprives users of their rights as authors. This paper will show that currently acceptable practice is problematic and leads to a decrease of innovation. Furthermore, it will consider a fresh approach to such issues, in light of the idea of authors as producers and as a vivid force for innovation. In addition to this, consideration will be given to the idea of collective authorship. Rather than a strictly legal analysis, this paper will explore a legal and media approach to authorship in MMOs.

The concept of authorship will be considered initially from three vantage points: Barthes’ death of the author, Foucault’s author as a function, and von Hippel’s concept of democratic innovation. These considerations will be developed to present our perspective that the author goes beyond the producing subject to become a function of a process of collective construction. The function of the author within an MMO follows the process the author assumes in this virtual world. Hence, the moral rights upon the creative production remain with every author, whereas the collective compilation becomes an untraceable product, which dissolves within the collective process of production itself. As such, authorship, once collective, cannot be disentangled into specific parts of the whole. Copyright and moral rights in virtual worlds and MMOs must reflect this - otherwise what is the underlying purpose of copyright? At the very least, the notion of authorship ought to be acknowledged and rights attributed to those who are responsible for the creativity. Furthermore acknowledgement of the author is necessary to signal to other potential authors to distribute their ideas to these virtual worlds and thereby share innovative ideas within the virtual worlds. The motivation to contribute ideas is linked with any form of recognition for the work. After all, these online spaces are persistent and ever developing, and this cannot happen without the user base, or as we argue, the authors.

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