Right after announcing High Fidelity's plans to mint the virtual world's own blockchain-based currency last week, CEO Philip Rosedale announced equally ambitious plans to protect the IP rights of user-created virtual goods in HiFi through blockchain technology:
When someone buys your sunglasses from you, you create a digital certificate (basically a proof-of-purchase) that officially states that they now own a pair of your sunglasses. Minimally, this certificate points back to the original registered asset, is signed by you as the creator, and is also stored in the public blockchain with a key that can be used by the new owner to prove that they own it (or to re-sell it to someone else). So there are now two ‘official’ documents in the blockchain — the registration of the original design for the asset, and the certificate proving that a copy of it is owner by the buyer.
Read the whole post here, as there's a lot more details. I asked Philip to answer some questions it raises, such as real life lawsuits and how they plan to verify that virtual content registered in High Fidelity isn't violating a pre-existing trademark or copyright in the real world --- and he just sent his replies:
How would your system protect items with multiple rights owners? To take your example, how would a pair of virtual sunglasses with a frame designed by one creator which uses virtual glass textures designed (and registered) by another creator be registered?
Philip Rosedale: Great question. When someone registers an asset, they will also have the ability to specify a fee (HFC$ or %) for including it in derivative works. When someone else registers a new asset, they can include a previously registered asset in their filing. And this will carry over to the marketplace, so that if someone sells an asset containing other works, those fees will automatically be paid whenever the new work is sold.
If High Fidelity becomes successful, there will inevitably be real life IP infringement lawsuits that some users file against each other (as they do in SL). How do you envision your system being used in RL court battles?
PR: I think that public information such as when an asset was first registered will be useful on those real life legal disputes.
You mention the HiFI team will conduct a "review that the proposed asset is [not] too similar to other registered assets (or RL trademarks or copyrights)". How is doing such a review going to be scalable, especially when HiFi grows?
PR: We will build tools that will automate inspection, for example finding similar models or textures to a submission.
As with pretty much anything Philip does, I see a lot of impressive ambition, while also wondering if the execution will be as feasible as he suggests. For instance, is there really a way to automate the inspection of virtual items against millions of registered IP assets and trademarks which exist in the real world? (The US government has already received about 250,000 just this year alone.)
Beyond that, I wonder if it's even necessary for a virtual world to have its own currency with real life value or property rights with real life protection mechanisms. Minecraft has neither of those, but that didn't stop the world from attracting nearly 125 million users.
Image from Wired UK's profile of High Fidelity