- - Geography

Twitter Joke Trial

On 27 June 2012, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales ruled on the case that has come to be know as the Twitter joke trial.

Paul Chambers had been convicted for sending a tweet that jokingly threatened to blow up an airport. In overturning the decision the High Court concluded that a tweet that is clearly a joke and is intended and perceived as such is not ‘menacing’ and thus is not a criminal offence.

This is an important case for basic rights of free speech and the operation of the internet as we know it.

For the details of the legal reasoning behind the judgment see below [note that this summary is not written by a lawyer and should not be taken as legal advice].

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UK Consumer Rights in Digital Content

On the 13th July 2012 the UK Government’s Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) launched a consultation titled “Consultation on enhancing consumer confidence by clarifying consumer law” *. The consultation proposes a range of options that seek to harmonise UK consumer law. What marks this out for digital industries such as social media, cloud computing, computer games and others is that as part of the consultation the UK Government is proposing options for a set of consumer rights designed specifically for ‘Digital Content’. What’s more the consultation document includes a number of examples from computer games. The deadline for the consultation is 5 October 2012.

This is not of mere intellectual interest. Some of the options proposed in the consultation will have an impact on any and all providers of digital content and / or related services available to consumers in the UK. Indeed, the consultation is quite specific that the proposed consumer rights will also apply to non-UK based services and that the consumer rights cannot be contracted out of.

The full consultation document is over 250 pages long and there are two related documents. The questions asked in the consultation are wide-ranging and detailed. They span from whether digital content should even be considered as a separate category to specific questions about remedies. The summary below points out the key elements of the digital section of the consultation. However because of its length and depth, if you are a business considering responding you are advised to read the full work and see professional advice and your relevant trade association(s), the full set of links for the consultation and response options are as follows:

tVPN will be putting together a response to the consultation from a civil society / academic point of view (as we believe that industry responses are being created by trade associations).

The tVPN response can be found in this Google Document which is open to public comment. If you want edit access to the document email us: info AT virtualpolicy DOT net.

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SCT #10: TL Taylor and the rise of eSports

SCT #10: TL Taylor and the rise of eSports

In Episode 10 of Social Change Technology TL Taylor talks about her new book Raising The Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming. This work, like TL’s previous book Play Between Worlds, focuses on the interplay between people, technology and institutions.

In the podcast, TL charts the rise of e-sport / professional computer gaming from early arcade competitions through the LAN-party scene to the rise of e-sports leagues in South Korea, the US, and Europe. The evolution of professionalisation fo computer games has brought with it a reconsideration of what computer games and sports are, what it is to be a competitor and spectator. The growth of professionalisation has not been without its conflicts such as the relatively recent debacle between Blizzard (makers of World of Warcraft, StarCraft etc) and the South Korean e-sports body KeSPA. TL explains how ownership of the electronic ’field of play’ has become contested as have player performances - a legal issue also recently seen in traditional sports.

To make sure you catch it, you can subscribe to Social Change Technology on iTunes or via our RSS feed.

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SCT #9 Federal Consortium For Virtual Worlds 2012

SCT #9 Federal Consortium For Virtual Worlds 2012

In Episode 9 of Social Change Technology Ren Reynolds talks to Paulette Robinson phd from the US National Defense University’s iCollege about this years’ Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds conference. It will be be held in Washington DC from 16th – 18th of May 2012, and over the internet via live streams and virtual world based meetings. The event is free to watch over the internet but it’s asked that you register.

This year’s conference features speaker from a range of backgrounds including Jesse Schell who some may know from his 2012 DICE talk Design Outside the Box and his recent book The Art of Game Design. Other speakers include Randy Hinrichs from the University of Washington, Michelle Fox from the US Department of Energy and Charles Wankel from St John’s University New York.

In the podcast, Ren and Paulette talk about the future of virtual worlds as enterprise tools in the context that most organisations are seeing a drastic reduction in travel budgets. One of the biggest challenges faced by large organisations such as the US Federal Government in the adoption of virtual worlds has been the security issues of accessing something on the internet with a proprietary application and protocol. The market has now changed so that there are a range of virtual world options that either sit ‘within the firewall’ or that use standard interfaces such as browsers. They also discuss the future of virtual words not as a thing apart from other applications or our lives but as things that we may slide in and out of.

If you are interested in this podcast you may also like From Ghana to Second Life – public diplomacy in the digital age our interview with Bill May about the US State Departments’ use of Virtual Worlds and social media. To make sure you catch all the episodes of  Social Change Technology subscribe on iTunes or via our RSS feed.

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Virtually Policy #2: From Ghana to Second Life – public diplomacy in the digital age

Virtually Policy #2: From Ghana to Second Life – public diplomacy in the digital age

In the second episode of Virtually Policy, Bill May talks with Ren Reynolds about using social media and Second Life in public diplomacy.

After 30 working in the US Government, NGO’s and the private sector, Bill is now working on international public diplomacy initiatives and a social-technology start up venture. He recently left his position at the US State Department as Director of the Office of Innovative Engagement (OIE) where he led public diplomacy initiatives using new media and social networks to engage the world in support of the President, the Secretary of State and key strategic policy objectives. Previously in the State Department, Bill worked with international exchange programs, within the State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), where he received a Hammer Award from the Vice President’s office for developing an innovative information system, which improved the information flow between the USG and NGO’s.

In the podcast, Bill talks about using appropriate technologies and themes to engage with people across the globe and across cultures. Including the use of SMS and traditional media for President Obama’s visit to Ghana to bringing American and Egyptian students together in Second Life to create architecture.

<< Episode #1
Dutch Supreme Court on Virtual Theft
All Episodes Episode #3 >>
Virtual Currencies & Roach Motels

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Policy Bites: EU Commission’s Proposed Data Protections

On the 25th of January 2012, the European Commission published a set of proposals relating to data protection. The proposals are not law and will not be law unless agreed by the members of the European Union but if they are agreed, they will make large changes the balance of power between EU citizens and all companies, giving greater power to the former and increased duties to the latter.

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US FTC Report to Congress “Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks”

In 2009 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provided a report to the US congress titled “Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks”. The origin of the report was H.R. 1105 Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 which became Public Law No: 111-8 on 11 th March 2009 which directed the FTC to create a report and a consumer alert.

The focus of the report was the content that those logged into a virtual world might see in particular so called ‘explicit content’ which included both ‘sexually explicit’ and ‘violently explicit’ – defined as both visual imagery and textual content (which could include in-world chat). The report covered virtual worlds them selves and related content such as forums.

The report looked at 27 online services (some such as IMUV would not typically fall within the definition of virtual world), including virtual worlds targeted specifically at adults e.g. Second Life and Red Light Centre.

The report “found at least one instance of either sexually or violently explicit content in 19 of the 27 virtual worlds surveyed” (p i), but noted that “Significantly, almost all of the explicit content observed in the child-oriented worlds occurred when the Commission’s researchers were registered as teens or adults, not when registered as children. In addition, most of the explicit content observed was text-based and found in chat rooms, message boards, and discussion forums” (p i).

The summary of the report reads as follows (p iii):

“As a result of its study, the Commission suggests that virtual world operators make certain enhancements aimed at reducing the risk of youth exposure to “explicit content, including:

    • Ensuring that the age-screening mechanisms virtual world operators employ do not encourage underage registration;
    • Implementing or strengthening age-segregation techniques to help ensure that minors and adults interact only with their peers and view only age-appropriate material;
    • Re-examining the strength of language filters to ensure that such filters detect and eliminate communications that violate online virtual worlds’ conduct standards;
    • Providing greater guidance to community enforcers in online virtual worlds so that they are better equipped to: self-police virtual worlds by reviewing and rating online content; report the presence of potential underage users; and comment on users who otherwise appear to be violating a world’s terms of behavior; and,
    • Employing a staff of specially trained moderators whose presence is well known in- world and who are equipped to take swift action against conduct violations.

Given important First Amendment considerations, the Commission supports virtual world operators’ self-regulatory efforts to implement these recommendations.

In addition, the Commission recommends that parents and children alike become better educated about the benefits and risks of youth participation in online virtual worlds. The Com- mission is committed to ensuring that parents have the information they need to decide which online virtual worlds may be appropriate for their children.”

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Li Hongchen v. Beijing Arctic Ice

Li Hongchen v. Beijing Arctic Ice Technology Development Co. Ltd.,

This is generally is regarded as the first instance of ‘virtual theft’ being recognised by a court.  The case concerns virtual items taken from a player’s account through some form of account hacking. The case was brought by the victim of the theft against the game company (rather than the other player) as the company refused to re-instate the virtual items.

While the details of the case are slightly complex, the final judgment (over turning an appeal) found that the game publisher has a duty of care to its players, and specially that in this case its security systems were insufficient to ensure that virtual items could not be transferred out of players account through hacking and that this act constitutes theft.

Li Hongchen claimed that when he logged into his account “President” on 17 February 2003 he found that all the contents, including such things as: ‘2 poisons’, 1 God of War’ had been sent to account SHUILIU0011. He asked for the details of the account but Arctic Ice refused to provide these as it would breach the personal privacy of the other player, they also stated that the action had nothing to do with them as the security of the account is the player’s responsibility. It seems like some of the items in question were generated through game play and some through ‘pet cards’ individual payment for a given item.

When the matter eventually went to court Arctic Ice made a number of general and very specific claims:

  • the security of a player account is their responsibility (as defined in the ToS), hence any thefts form the account are the player’s responsibility;
  • players are obliged to maintain standards of security and loss due to failure to meet this contractual obligation is their liability;
  • operator obligations under Consumer protection law should be limited;
  • virtual items are a ‘pile of data’ and do not constitute a ‘thing’ under Chinese Civil Law;
  • there are three possibilities for why the items where no in the account: (1) stolen, (2) hacked at a network level, or (3) given away – and that the player could not prove that it was (1); and
  • the account in question was not the players as it did not have the player’s name associated with it.

Li Hongchen made a number of counter claims:

  • the account was his, and though he had used pseudonyms, the phone number on the account was his. Moreover he evidenced things such as game CD ROM, game cards and a whiteness; and
  • while the ToS were agreed to when he initially registered for the game, the ToS were no displayed during the account re-charge process

The court found for Li Hongchen in respect of the return of the virtual items and costs, including the travel costs of his witness. Li Hongchen’s claim of compensation for ‘mental damages’ was not held.

China: Virtual (only) currency rule

On 29 June 2009 the Ministry of Commerce of The People’s Republic of China released a statement (see full text below) announcing that ‘China has unveiled the first official rule on the use of virtual currency in the trade of real goods and services to limit its possible impact on the real financial system.’

Rather than banning virtual currency, the regulation limited its application, the key being: ‘The virtual currency, which is converted into real money at a certain exchange rate, will only be allowed to trade in virtual goods and services provided by its issuer, not real goods and services. That is, virtual currency could be used in the context of a game but not as a substitute for hard currency.

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White Paper: Virtual Items and Public Policy

7 February 2011. Today the Virtual Policy Network has released a White Paper on Virtual Items and Public Policy. The Paper provides an overview of virtual items and virtual currency are – covering the spectrum from Xbox points to MMO characters. The paper defines what the key public policy interests are in virtual items, and provides a survey of the legal responses to issues involving virtual ‘goods’ from jurisdictions as diverse as China, Korea, Finland the US, citing a number of cases of virtual ‘theft’.

Released today as a .pdf under Creative Commons, the white paper will also be a living document held as part of the Virtual Policy Network’s database of resources. See the new Global Policy section of the site for details.

the Virtual Policy Network is looking for people to support this work, extend the number of countries covered and keep our database up to date with legislative changes impacting convergent media – if you would like to become an associate of tVPN or support our work in other ways please contact us at: info AT virtualpolicy DOT net.

Download Virtual Items and Public Policy (.pdf)