- - - Policy Themes

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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SCT #11: Legal News Round up with Jas Purewal

SCT #11: Legal News Round up with Jas Purewal

This episode of Social Change Technology is a games and tech legal news roundup with solicitor Jas Purewal from law firm Osborne Clark. Jas is better known on the internet as @GamerLaw on twitter and editor of the Gamer Law web site.

In the show we look at three items of recent news: the Infinity Ward case, the state of free to play gaming and the UK courts ordering a number of ISPs to blocking the Pirate Bay website.

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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 #5: The co-creators: audience, artists & the future of music

Virtually Policy #5: The co-creators: audience, artists & the future of music

Episode 5 is an extended interview with Robert Thomas, Chief Creative Officer of RjDj, and Jim Purbrick & Max Williams, who together are 100 Robots (the group which provide the theme music for the Virtually Policy podcast).

RjDj is a reactive music application for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch that creates a unique sonic experience each time you listen to a ’scene’. 100 Robots combines analog music creation with live control of electronically generated sounds using drum interfaces and iPhones/iPads/iPod Touches.

Both RjDj and 100 Robots have experimented with enabling their audiences to be co-creators of the live performance experience. They discuss how advances in technology are bringing music back to its participatory roots.

In this episode, we discuss how technology has changed our relationship with music from the pre-industrial age, where music was often a communally created and consumed experience, through the twentieth century that emphasised passive consumption of a recordings by ’star’ artists, to the present, where technologies such as karaoke, SingStar and Rock Band have enabled people to re-connect with music making.

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Transmedia story telling and the crisis of authorship

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RuneScape Theft – Dutch Supreme Court Decision

On the 31st of January 2012, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands found that items in the online game RuneScape had been stolen from a player. This is a ground-breaking case as it is the highest national court in the West to rule that taking virtual objects in this way is theft under national criminal law. This ruling may have broad implications for the online games industry.

The case dates back to 2007 when two youths used violence and threats of violence to forced another player to log into the game of RuneScape. After the victim logged in to the game one of the defendants transferred virtual items and virtual currency from the victims account to their own. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction for theft but reduced the number of hours of community service to be served (taking into account Juvenile detention served).

The appeal did not turn on the material facts, i.e. whether there were threats were made or items were transferred. Rather, the appeal centred on the question of whether what had occurred was ‘theft’ as defined by the law of the Netherlands.

Key Arguments

The key arguments against the incident being defined as ‘theft’ considered by the court they were as follows:

  1. Virtual items are not goods but an ‘illusion’ of goods made up of bits & bytes i.e. they are data
  2. Virtual items are Information
  3. The point of the game is to take objects from each other
  4. The virtual items are and remain the property of the publisher of the game not the victim or the defendant - hence they could not have been stolen
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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.”

tVPN Links
External Links

Policy bites: Net Neutrality

Network Neutrality

What is it?

Net Neutrality (NN) is the debate over whether the internet should operate pretty much as it does at the moment or whether ISPs should be able to block or charge differently based on the application that a user is using, or alternatively give preferential treatment to a company e.g. Media Company X’s content streams just that bit faster than everyone else’s.

Net Neutrality stems from fact that some users consume a lot more bandwidth than others and often this is for services that are damaging the business models of existing companies. For example someone using Skype no long has to pay for their local phone company for long distance calls. The debate tends also to be linked with illegal downloading hence peer to peer services can find themselves being blocked.

Why it matters?

Net Neutrality seems like one of those obscure policy issues that never has an impact in the real world. But already companies have been caught out by non-neutral ISP policies. The kinds off issues that Net Neutrality presents for any game company with an online component (even if it’s just downloading patches), include:

  • Online games can be inadvertently blocked
  • Games that use peer-to-peer (p2P) networks for downloading can be blocked as bi-product of trying to cut down on illegal downloads
  • Voice over IP (VoIP) services can be blocked, impacting the increasing number of games that have integrated in-game voice
  • Ping time, which is critical to some games, is generally not part of the discussion but could be impacted
  • To avoid these blocks companies may be charged by ISPs

For social media the potential direct impact on big providers is that ISP’s may come asking for more money for preferential treatment. This will be an additional cost of business for big providers and possibly a killer for small providers. What’s more users on different ISPs may start to see the internet very differently impacting the kind of sharing that fuels Social Networks.

See more from tVPN on Net Neutrality: http://www.virtualpolicy.net/tag/netneutrality

The Netherlands 2007: RuneScape extortion

In 2007 in The Netherlands a 13 year-old player of the online game RuneScape (Jagex Games Studio, UK) was kicked and threatened with a knife by a 14 year old and a 15 year old until he transferred virtual items to one of their accounts. In 2008 a Dutch court found the both defendants guilty of robbery under Article 310 of the Dutch Criminal Code, noting that the virtual items qualified as goods under Dutch law. The defendants were sentenced with 180 hours of community service and ‘youth detention’ for four weeks with a probationary period of two years.

External Links

  • http://webwereld.nl/nieuws/53234/virtuele-diefstal-voortaan-strafbaar.html

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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