Saturday, November 17, 2007

Virtually Worthless?

Sunny recently posted this post about a Dutch teenager being arrested for stealing around $5000 worth of ‘virtual furniture’ from an online game.

At first, like everyone else, I just laughed. It sounds ridiculous. Arrested for ‘stealing’ something that isn’t even real?

However, I started thinking about it, and now it doesn’t seem quite so strange.

You see, our world is changing and our laws and attitudes to it are having a hard time catching up. People are buying virtual land, virtual property and the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘not real’ is becoming blurred.

Basically, people are paying real money for ‘virtual furniture’. If I pay real money for something and it gets stolen, doesn’t that make it a real theft anyway you look at it?

It’s a matter of perspective.

For example, this ‘virtual furniture’ may not exist in ‘real life’, but this furniture doesn’t exist in exactly the same way an mp3 doesn’t exist or a movie file doesn’t exist or even a website doesn’t really exist.

People are paying money to have streams of ones and zeros sent to them. Does it really matter what those ones and zeros make up?

Sure, you can say an online music purchase is different because it’s just a new way to deliver music. I personally don’t think it’s different at all.

We think things like this are just stupid because we see ‘virtual’ things as having no intrinsic value. It’s something created by someone in their free time that can be copied over and over. It’s not ‘real’ and therefore can’t be stolen.

However, you could apply that same type of thinking to real world objects. I can buy a set of oil paints and a large canvas for under a hundred bucks. Does that mean the Mona Lisa is only worth about the same amount?

Basically, it comes down to the way we apply value to things. For example, I could grab my microphone, and record an mp3 of me burping for three and a half minutes. What I’d end up with is a ‘virtual object’ that is physically no different to the mp3 currently at number one in the iTunes music store. However, one is worth something, the other isn’t.

What it comes down to is this. If I hacked your computer, copied all your mp3s, then deleted every one of them off your hard drive, you’d call that a theft. But why? Technically those songs don’t exist. You can’t hold them in your hands, technically they’re virtual CD’s.

Of course, you would call it a theft. Just because something isn’t ‘real’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t take real time, money and effort to make and, of course, money to purchase.

If we look at this whole issue at its most basic level, what we have is a creator who makes things and a customer who wants what that creator creates… and are willing to part with money for it.

If someone steals that content, a theft has taken place, whether the item stolen is physically real or not.

Basically, we’re now living in a world where people make their livings buying and selling things that don’t technically exist. It’s been done for years on the stock exchange with the ‘futures’ market. Unfortunately, our attitudes and laws are having a hard time keeping up.

In the end, a painting is still a painting whether it was created on canvas with paint and brush, or in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet and keyboard. Things gain their value by what we’re willing to part with for them, not just what they’re made up of.

Long story short, someone put in the time, money and effort to create this ‘virtual furniture’ and just like actual carpentry, this virtual furniture it took skill to make. Then someone decided it was desirable enough to part with real money for.

Then someone came along and stole it.

I suppose the best way to put this to my fellow bloggers is to point out that under this type of thinking our blogs don't really exist. They're 'virtual publications' and exist only as more ones and zeros on a server somewhere. Do we believe our blogs have no value? Would we mind if someone stole our posts and put them up somewhere for profit? How would we feel if we found a book made up of our posts and someone else was claiming it as their work?

We'd probably sue, despite the fact it 'cost us nothing to make' and we're not losing any money because someone has stolen it.

Long story short, content is content whether it's 'virtual' or not.

Now, is everyone still convinced no 'real' crime took place?

1 comment:

Sunny said...

LOL- I didn't say no crime had been committed, did I?
I only posted the story KNOWING it would set someone off.