Who Owns e-Sports Performances?

Professor Dan L. Burk, University of California, Irvine

Among the most significant commercial activities to emerge on the Internet, both in terms of revenue generated and numerical participation, has been multi-player gaming. Such Internet gaming increasingly includes professional play. Starting in South Korea, which offers 24-hour television coverage of virtual competitions, and now spreading internationally, such "e-sports" feature the structure of team owners, sponsorships, leagues, prize money, and star players that have long been familiar in physical sport competitions. But because these competitions are played in a virtual environment, control of rights to the matches is anything but familiar. Ownership issues were highlighted in a recent high profile dispute between Blizzard corporation and the Korean e-sports players association, when the latter attempted to negotiate television broadcast rights for tournaments played on Blizzard's StarCraft platform. As e-sports become increasingly established in the United States and Europe, unsettled questions of copyright, right of publicity, and neighboring rights will need to be resolved among players, team owners, and developers of e-sports.