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Owning E-Sports: Proprietary Rights in Professional Computer Gaming

One of the most astounding and largely underappreciated developments accompanying the recent proliferation of mass-market computer technology has been the rise of video gaming. From arcade to console and computer desktop to interactive multiplayer network, the explosion in computer video games has been spurred by Internet accessibility, whether for downloading and updating software, tendering payment, or finding and interacting with other players. The result has been a flourishing new entertainment sector, with revenues that now consistently rival or exceed that of the established music and movie industries.

In this Article, I consider a fundamental set of legal issues, integral to e-sports, that concern the ownership and control of rights in player perfor- mances. The nature of such competitions presents a new and fairly complex practical configuration for legal analysis. Analogous questions regarding the ownership of physical performances have certainly arisen in the past, but the nature of e-sports generates certain novelties in the analysis. Unlike physical sports, where player activity is observed and recorded directly for broadcast and similar dissemination, e-sports competitions are by definition mediated by computer game software that is itself the subject of various intellectual property rights. This characteristic of e-sports adds to the legal discussion an additional layer of complexity, implicating the interests of additional rights-holding entities not found in negotiations over competitive performances in physical sports.