Saturday, 15 November 2003

When tangible is intangible

I just learned of a fascinating post in Julian Dibbell's blog, Play Money. (Article: On the Nature of the Intangible: A Dialogue) Thanks go to Donna Wentworth of Copyfight for mentioning it in her coverage of The State of Play conference.

The article contains the transcript of a brief phone call the author placed to PayPal to inquire about his rights under that company's Seller Protection Policy. The policy apparently covers only tangible items — which, in PayPal's reasoning, the seller can prove that he has shipped to a buyer by providing PayPal with a tracking number. The policy does not cover intangible items because no such proof can be provided.

The author was asking about a virtual item from an online game. PayPal told him that virtual items are not covered because they cannot be shipped. Tickets to a football game, on the other hand, would be covered. The tickets, PayPal reasons, are a physical item that can be shipped. The company fails to apply the same logic if the seller writes down the password to an online account on a piece of paper and ships that paper to the buyer in the same manner that he would ship the football tickets. The assets underlying both sales are equally intangible — the right to be admitted to the football game and the right to be admitted to a secured computer. PayPal, unfortunately, cannot see the parallel. One wonders what PayPal would do if the seller advertised the sale of a piece of paper with several characters written on it and offered — as a free gift, with purchase — to transfer all rights to an online account.

Read the full transcript here.

Posted at 1:48:23 PM | Permalink

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Topics: Cyberlaw, IP
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