This paper has been published as: Vili Lehdonvirta and Perttu Virtanen (2010) A New Frontier in Digital Content Policy: Case Studies in the Regulation of Virtual Goods and Artificial Scarcity. Policy and Internet 2 (3) 7-29.
Lehdonvirta, V., University of Tokyo and Helsinki Institute for Information Technology
Last year, millions of people around the world spent billions of euros on virtual items, characters and currencies in online games, social networking sites and other digital hangouts. The increasing value that individuals are attributing to these artificially scarce virtual objects can be seen as a consequence of the growing importance of information and communication technologies in everyday life. The purpose of the current paper is to examine this shift in consumer behaviour and business models from a public policy perspective. We present three case studies to examine the key policy issues that virtual goods are giving rise to, and to analyse some of the regulatory responses that have been effected so far: judicial protection of the possession of virtual goods in Finland and the Netherlands, statutory regulation of virtual goods trade in Korea, and application of consumer protection law to virtual goods sales in Finland. Likewise with the debate over copyright, the first big policy debate of the digital era, this new policy debate tends to pit individual consumers and entrepreneurs against the interests of publishers and established public policy. However, the roles are curiously reversed: it is not the publishers but the consumers who demand that pieces of digital content should be respected as property, and turn to courts to enforce their view.