Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Metaverses law? Study Korean

As Andres reports in his Technollama and as I have been seen lately while researching about legal issues of MMORPGs, it seems that the forefront of the legal discussion on this topic is in Korea. The explanation can be quite simple and linear because although the origins of MMORPGs can be traced to Island of Kesmai and before, the real popularisation of the genre came with Ultima Online, and its sequences in Japan (more than half of the total subscribers for this game have been Japanese), and Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, an adaptation from a Korean game.These with the impressive penetration rate of broadband in Japan and Korea, now been supplanted by fibre connections directly to the home, laid the foundations for the current phenomenon (according to the OECD, “Japan leads the OECD in fibre connections directly to the home with 7.9 million fibre-to-the-home subscribers in December 2006. Fibre subscribers alone in Japan outnumber total broadband subscribers in 23 of the 30 OECD countries”, and when I moved from Japan to UK I was surprised after calling here to an ISP and asking for the fastest connection available to be given a 512K connection, when the day I was leaving Japan I got an add offering connections of 100M, back in January 2003). To the technological aspects two cultural ones need to be added to complete the picture: a culture of manga and games that goes back a couple of hundreds years, plus the aversion that is felt generally in Japan about resorting to court to settle disputes, leaving Korea as the venue for the legal developments. Thus, Korea is the place to look at if you want cases dealing with metaverses and MMORPGs. Some of the disputes that are arising or are bound to arise soon between users and owners of platforms have been already decided in Korea, and some of the cases made it up to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in the business, legal and academic world to not take notice of things unless they happen at either side of the North Atlantic (things need to be really big to get noticed if they are happening anywhere else). This could become a post about the inequalities in the flows of information and how tragedies affecting a single person in developed countries make it to the front pages of every newspaper and news portal of the planet when dozen of thousands kids die daily due to collective neglect around the globe and they are not even mentioned, or how, for example, for the UK RAE a paper published in some foreign journal that is read by thousands is less important than other published here that is read by the editor, the author and three students who have it as assignment, but the focus is still the need to look for solutions in the places where the problems have been dealt with before, and to not try to re-invent the wheel. There are differences of legal systems and it might well be that some of the facts of the cases are peculiar to the situations in dispute, but if it is possible to harmonize laws and regulations pertaining to matters as domestic as IP law (IP rights have effect on technology transfers, innovation, health and a very long list of issues related to national policies), there are clearly ways to take advantage of the existing and growing body of Korean case law on metaverses.

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