LLet’s deal with one thing first. Digital ownership is fantastic. and will always be.
Again, it’s fantastic even in the real world. ownership is convention, not a physical reality. This is why we say: “Owning is one tenth of the law.” This basically means “You can claim to own everything you want, but it’s pretty hard to enforce if you don’t physically have it.”
Of course, in a digital setting never physically have anything. At best, there are physical containers of data.
The nature of data is quite different from that of a physical object.
- It doesn’t exist without some sort of physical container: paper, books, CDs, hard drives, or cloud storage.
- Fully replicable. By definition, it can be replicated indefinitely.
- Sending data over the wire, even if encrypted! – I’m basically giving you a full copy where you can save it. After all, to show you it, we have to decode it on your machine. That is, you have the copy in its normal state.
Once upon a time, Stewart Brand once said, “Information wants to be free.” It was not just a philosophical statement. It was a literal description of digital data, a virtually infinite resource.
The history of computing is full of attempts to refill this genie in a bottle. That’s why we have software licenses, EULAs, subscriptions, dongles, DRM and DMCA. Oh, and all about encryption. They’re about reinventing the non-digital world by turning infinite resources back into scarce ones.
let’s not forget The other half of Brand’s formula is, “Information is so valuable that we often want expensive information. The right information in the right place changes your life.”
Economists have a term for these differences.. In simple terms, a good that only one person can have is called a ‘competitive good’, and a good that can be owned by several people at the same time is called a ‘non-competitive good’. There is also the concept of “Veblen Goods” An item that has increased in value just by indicating its status. Think of shoes that are truly fashionable. It’s not as useful as any other shoe, but it’s more “valued” because it’s luxurious, rare, and glamorous. You get great shoes because it shows that you can get cool shoes.
Like all information, all digital content is virtually non-competitive. However, in general, most ideas of “decentralized object ownership” or “virtual items” try to revert to competing products or (in the case of NFTs) Veblen products.
(For those of you who are more politically inclined, you can step off the tangent here and think of the irony of humanity that surrounds it with scarcity by taking something that can create the first truly limitless economic resources we have, something that can actually create an affluent economy. )
In the past few articles, we have shared the following diagram:
This figure shows how the various conceptual parts of a virtual object are linked together. However, all of these diagrams are missing a lot of connections that carry tremendous weight. Not all connections are technical.
Here is a real map of digital entities set up for a nice decentralized metaverse.
It’s still simplified. For example, we omit the question of who owns all the databases.
In a previous article, I emphasized that data that constitutes a virtual sword exists. format, the form itself requires: system environment Another chunk of data is needed when sending to the client using a system that knows what to do with the data in that format. Art by itself too format and other needs parser interpret it so that it can be rendered, etc..
All of this will sound familiar because it’s almost identical to when you read a book. A story is data contained in a physical book. we must not forget it When you buy a book, you own it. container and not content.
Here’s another example. Let’s say you listen to a song. A song is data contained in a physical container. Here’s how it works:
- Someone wrote a song. This is something someone can own thanks to intellectual property laws, especially copyright.
- Then someone sang. Performance is actually the process by which a person manually parses the informational data of a song and replaces it with another data set. This is also something anyone can own.
- Someone recorded it. This recording captures the owned performance as data and puts it in a container. (This container, “Master Recording” is Universal Fire of 2008, Destroyed original master copies of numerous classic albums. This is also something anyone can own!
- Then the master is rendered in a different format. Each of these types is associated with a container. For vinyl records, the format is literally a swinging groove in the plastic. In the case of digital recording, it is a set of bits and bytes.
- Then you need to put the data into matching containers. vinyl record. cassette tape. CD. 8 track tape. MP3. each of these container for format for record of Performance of Song. And yes, someone might own this!
- Then you buy one. you own container. However, each container playback device. MP3 parses the data in the container and puts it back record of Performance of Song.
- And once you have the vinyl of BTS or Taylor Swift’s latest hit, you’re telling yourself you own this song. But you really don’t. Composers do it, music publishers do it, and so on. You just own the container.
All of this is based on the following precedents: “Initial Sales Rights” This is basically a legal rule that you can sell a container with a song you buy to someone else. Not only that, but the whole concept of copyright is all derived from: Anne’s Decree of 1710, This basically invented the idea that data and containers have different kinds of ownership.
Digital objects have the same subtleties as above and are complicated by the fact that:
- Perfect replication is possible at every stage of the chain. in fact, they make A perfect copy at every stage of the chain. They even spread these copies all over your hard drive!
- On the server side, the concept of ownership can be transferred simply by updating a column in the database. In a typical game you never own anything. You have paid for access to the server, which is incurred to keep some records linked to your character ID.
To quote myself from an article from a few years ago,
Digital items are made up of database items. It’s the bits and bytes that live on the server. It may or may not have been made by the same people running the server. They may have been uploaded by someone who pays for permission to manipulate data on the server, or they may have been uploaded by someone who has free access.
In some cases, these bits and bytes may be unique arrays of data, in which case someone may have the copyright. In some cases, it may actually be a record of your activity, which may be subject to privacy laws under some laws.
does not exist [legal] Meaning is one of these database entry “objects”.
As a result, digital products actually challenge the concept of ownership itself. There can be no first-sales principle for data, only containers. Instead, we live in a world of software licensing. Software licenses have evolved to include subscriptions to more and more software.
To quote myself again, “Copyright controls who makes the money.”
The definition of copyright for a given medium specifically pure – What is legal and what is not depends entirely on who had better lobbyists at the time. That’s why the music industry was able to earn royalties on every empty cassette sold. But the software industry hasn’t brought the same trick with blank floppy disks. so that The broader concept of “moral rights” in European copyright law than the American legal system.
Where is digital object ownership? The real answer is ‘inconvenient’. The same is true when exploring cutting-edge features like NFTs. Dig into debates over Save As, Pump and Dump or Energy Consumption with a right-click. Whether you admire the neat Veblen’s good market around high-end generative art NFTs or not, you’ll still All that technology would conflict with copyright law in a messy way.
In other words, if you get a nice branded digital object from MegaWorld and move it to NiftyWorld on the metaverse… some rights holders will say, “No, you can’t. I do not write.”
and there is always right holder. The law essentially creates rights holders the moment the work in question is created.
Laws are, of course, social constructs. They can change and evolve. Our own relationship with songs and stories has changed dramatically. As container technology advances, technology will not replace law, but… reform the law. The old hands of the virtual world have instinctively known since then. The first experiments that allowed players to control themselves failed in surprising ways. (cw: rape).
In other words, ownership is actually only a small category in a larger problem. rule. of this A huge category fallacy believing that technology can solve governance. But that didn’t stop the idealistic engineer. including me! – In an attempt.
But at that point, we’re done talking about “how virtual worlds work”. Instead, we’re talking about “how people work in virtual worlds.” And that’s the whole topic for another day.