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User-created content ownership

After reading an article on GameSpy today:

I was inspired to think about content ownership in a game where users can create their own content. I think the key is for whoever is running the game to not be greedy, and define up-front what the user's rights are. Here's the whole thing in detail, and feedback is appreciated:

Statement of the problem


"If you create something spectacular within a game world, is that your property? Or does it belong forever to the game publisher? More importantly, who owns your online persona?"

Proposal for a content ownership system

Definitions used herein

Player - Real person, sits at the computer, controls the Character, etc. Out-of-game entity.

Character - Avatar created and controlled by the Player. In-game entity.

Object - Anything created by the Player, including objects, meta-objects (like spells, effects, bots, etc.), places, actions,
speech, or the Player's Character. In-game entity.

Game - The game itself and its direct replacements (not spinoffs, just things like "Version 2") where most of the content
and Characters are transferred. This definition is the most important, since it defines the scope of the majority of the Objects' rights.

Company - Entity that owns the Game and its content. Out-of-game entity.

Basic categories of licensing/ownership

Player Owned - The Player has all rights to an Object, and the Company has none.

One World - The Player has most of the rights to an Object, but the Company can fully use it within the scope of the Game.

Company Owned - The Player forfeits all rights to an Object, and the content is owned by Company. This may involve some sort of payment scheme for the Company to obtain the rights.

Using levels of ownership, licensing, and permission

Neither side can take away rights from the other side without consent, but may freely give rights to the other side. For example a Company can arbitrarily say that an Object of type One World is now Player Owned, but the Company can not claim that same Object to be Company Owned.

Some permissions may change automatically, but situations where this happens should be made known in advance, and permissions of Objects may never exceed One World without the consent of the Player.

The basis of this system is that Players generally own their own content, but the Company still retains some rights to use that content within the current Game. This is to prevent users from creating a lot of stuff and suddenly deciding to leave the game and thereby destroy a large portion of the Game universe and radically affect other Players.

Another way to think of it is that most objects created by Players initially belong to the Game, not to the Company. They are part of the Game universe and can be used there indefinitely, but they need additional, explicit rights to exist outside the Game.

Settings for licenses

Here are some Objects and possible initial license settings for them.

Default (unless otherwise specified) = One World

Characters = Player Owned while the Character is active, automatically changes to One World after the Player's account for that Character expires.

Events/Actions/Speech/etc. from private channels = Player Owned

Optional considerations

It may be desirable to specify other levels of licensing/ownership, which may be useful in some situations:

Likeness - The Player has most of the rights to an Object, but the Company can use its likeness or general info (analogous to using a photo and demographic information respecitvely) within the existing Game, but not in any other product. This does not include *everything* about the Object, just some of its shell and key external components.

Shared - The Player and the Company share rights to an Object. The Object can be used by both parties within the current Game and without, i.e. in game spinoffs, or user-authored books, etc. This may involve some sort of payment scheme for the Company to obtain the rights.

Edward Glowacki
Michigan State University
"...a partial solution to the right problem is better than a complete
solution to the wrong one." (

Staff Comments


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