In which our intrepid hero muses on the meaning of "value".

Today’s Guardian (UK) has a good primer on intangible property. We’re talking about things like the sale of objects on Everquest and other MMOGs. It also encompasses intellectual property and potentially currency and cash worth.

The story begins with the conviction of Qui Chengwei, who murdered Zhu Caoyuan because the latter hocked a virtual sword that the former had lent him. Since the Chinese government (like most) has troubles coming to terms with the concept of virtual property, the police knocked Qui back when he accused Zhu of theft. So Qui exacted his own brand of justice.

Which is fair enough, I suppose. I can remember the first—and only—time I’ve performed a transaction large enough to garner the attention of AUSTRAC. Whilst it was being processed, my bank deducted $10,000 from the balance of the account I was depositing to without crediting it in the first place, then tried to slap me with a huge overdraft fee. It was a couple of weeks out from Christmas, and I had scads of presents and a return airfare to Queensland to pay for. Needless to say, I really did feel like killing someone.

Same principle applies: murder over intangible assets.

It really brings the concept of value to mind. What makes one object worth more than another?

In a seemingly unrelated article, it appears that the icepick that killed Trotsky has been found. In one of those great ironies of Communist kitsch (like the battle over the IP rights to images of Ché Guevara), the weapon which killed one Communist (Trotsky) at the orders of another Communist (Stalin) is in the hands of a private individual, who baldly states: "I am looking for some financial benefit. I think something as historically important at this should be worth something, no?"

If the DNA on it turns out not to be Trotsky’s, then the pick ain’t worth squat. It’s not the DNA that makes it a desirable object, however; it’s the (presumed) fact that it ended up in Trotsky’s noggin.

Now, what if we de-essentialise here? What if I could take the +1 Trotsky bane icepick and remove the icepick? I’d be left with a perfectly replicable property of Trotsky-slaying, which I could apply willy-nilly to all sorts of merchandise.

Behold! I bear the schlong that slew Trotsky!

Or maybe not. But my Blogger user portrait would be a nice start. And my email address. And…

Yes, this is getting silly, but it just goes to show that something is worth only what you’ll pay for it and nothing more. Ergo, if people will pay money for it, then it’s property, even if it’s only an experience.

UPDATE: Adam Rosalky has a different take on the same intangible property article here; my comments lurk somewhere beneath.

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