Owning e-Sports: Proprietary Rights in Professional Computer Gaming

Dan L. Burk, UC Irvine School of Law


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. These "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. E-sports play is typically mediated by proprietary software, raising a set of difficult issues regarding the licensing and control of professional matches and tournaments. As e-sports become increasingly established around the world, unsettled questions of copyright, right of publicity, and neighboring rights will need to be resolved among players, team owners, and developers of e-sports platforms.