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"Dutch Youths Convicted of Virtual Theft,"

reads an AP story:

A Dutch court has convicted two youths of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to community service....

The Leeuwarden District Court says the culprits, 15 and 14 years old, coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a "virtual amulet and a virtual mask" from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts.

"These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft," the court said Tuesday in a summary of its ruling....

Now this might sound odd -- why should the legal system police "virtual theft," especially since the ability to steal, defraud, and the like within a game may be an important part of the game? But things become much clearer when one reads the longer story, from Radio Netherlands Worlwide:

The culprits, who cannot be named due to their age, kicked, hit and threatened their classmate with a knife before the 13-year-old gave in and transferred the Runescape items, an amulet and a mask, to his attackers' online accounts.

So the theft may have been on virtual goods, but it was accomplished through physical violence in the real world, and against a real person, not an avatar. It's clearly proper to prosecute the physical attack and the threats; and I think it's sensible to prosecute it as theft as well, since the defendants did take from the victim something they had no right to take, using violence in the real world. I'd call this "real-world theft of virtual goods," not "virtual theft."

I continue to think that generally speaking the law shouldn't prohibit purely in-game "theft," "murder," "rape," and so on. But outside-game violence (or even in-game threats of outside-game violence) are the proper subject of the criminal law, including when the violence or threats coerce action or transfer of valuable objects within the game.

Thanks to Michael Williams for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "Online Divorcee Jailed After Killing Virtual Hubby":
  2. "Dutch Youths Convicted of Virtual Theft,"
FantasiaWHT:
I continue to think that generally speaking the law shouldn't prohibit purely in-game "theft," "murder," "rape," and so on


Well, there's some difficult questions here. Some games have as their purpose "murder" (player vs. player killing), so that's an intentional part of the game.

However, if a game bans theft of another person's virtual money--for example, either through a scam ("give me 1,000 gold and I'll give you my sword" or "hey can I borrow your sword? See ya!") or through hacking into the account--there's a better case for real theft. The victim had some property with real value (there are companies that do nothing but "farm" money and items in games to sell for real money), that was taken from him.

On the other hand, EULA's for these games generally (with some exceptions) ban selling in-game items for money and contain language that make the company the owner of all the virtual property. If that's true in this case, I don't see how this could be theft, although maybe it could be some kind of extortion.
10.22.2008 2:19pm
vassil petrov (mail):
'I'd call this "real-world theft of virtual goods," not "virtual theft."'

This is against the Nullum crimen sine lege principle. You don't just make a new crime or extend an existing one to situations or things by analogy however close (at least in Continental European law). There must be clear extension by the legislature. So maybe the Dutch law has such an extension or broad definition for "goods". But it must be done by the lagislature, not by a court because somebody did something "they had no right to do... in the real world".
10.22.2008 2:21pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
FantasiaWHT: I think that if a game makes in-game fraud, killing, etc. physically possible, then it shouldn't be a crime from the perspective of the real-world justice system. At most it should be a breach of the EULA contract.

Vassil Petrov: I'm surely no expert on Dutch law, but the Dutch judge claimed that his position is consistent with Dutch law, and I have no reason to doubt it.
10.22.2008 2:29pm
Happyshooter:
In Michigan online things (including data and web pages) are chattels. Here they would have committed robbery. Armed robbery in the case of whoever used the knife (and armed robbery for the kicking if the foot was shod).
10.22.2008 2:32pm
FantasiaWHT:
So the justification for what's legal and illegal is what you are capable of doing?

What about bugs in the game? Say there's a bug that lets you access other people's banks as well as your own.

What if it takes an active act of hacking, or somehow getting someone else's password? There, of course, you have the possibility of identity theft or computer crimes, as well.
10.22.2008 2:34pm
Ben P:

On the other hand, EULA's for these games generally (with some exceptions) ban selling in-game items for money and contain language that make the company the owner of all the virtual property. If that's true in this case, I don't see how this could be theft, although maybe it could be some kind of extortion.



I made the case in an a paper I wrote that there's at least an argument that some of these contracts are unconsionable.

You have a contract with someone where they are responsible for holding property with substantial real world value for you, and their contract (which you agreed to with nothing more than a mouse click) provides that they may cancel the contract for any reason or for no reason at all and not refund any of the value of the property?
10.22.2008 2:40pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
FantasiaWHT: If the bug in the game lets you access others' in-game banks that store in-game currency, then I don't think the outside legal system should intervene. Among other things, intervention would require figuring out what's a bug that's criminal to exploit and what's a feature that's not criminal to exploit. Sometimes that will be clear, but often it will not be.
10.22.2008 2:44pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
The concept of in-game theft is largely a moot one, for American and most Western European countries. Players do not own content in most games, only being allowed to use the content. The person 'stealing' virtual goods may easily be punished by the game's administrators for unlicensed access of goods, but it's not legal theft. The item is not owned by the player losing access to it, nor does the item have real value outside of the game.

There are a few exclusions. Second Life, despite the claims to the otherwise, does not allow players to really own virtual items. It does provide a currency and real-world value for access to those virtual items, as well as leaving players with intellectual property rights. Some Chinese MMORPGs are required by Chinese law to give players legal ownership of items that they use. A few permutations of that could count for some forms of fraud, although the specific action would need to be on a massive scale in-game to trigger even smaller violations of real-world law, especially since the owners of the game can and do correct violations of in-game law.

The question doesn't even come up regarding Runescape: that game's terms of use make it clear that the player does not own items.

Reading the translations from a Dutch news report leave a certain degree of uncertainty, so it may be that the court decision was entirely about the out-of-game attacks, or that Dutch theft law is more about receiving unlawful control of goods rather than receiving unlawful ownership of them.
10.22.2008 2:46pm
FantasiaWHT:

Among other things, intervention would require figuring out what's a bug that's criminal to exploit and what's a feature that's not criminal to exploit. Sometimes that will be clear, but often it will not be.


What, because the law isn't equipped to deal with intricacies and close calls? I don't think that the distinction will be all that difficult, anyway. Games are quite clear about what is and isn't allowed.

What about civil remedies?

I'm worried that you're opposing legal intervention simply because there are remedies available within the game itself (the administrators can track the theft, restore property, or ban the perpetrator).
10.22.2008 2:57pm
David Schwartz (mail):
If the bug in the game lets you access others' in-game banks that store in-game currency, then I don't think the outside legal system should intervene. Among other things, intervention would require figuring out what's a bug that's criminal to exploit and what's a feature that's not criminal to exploit. Sometimes that will be clear, but often it will not be.
How is an in-game bank holding in-game currency any different from any other form of electronic banking? Consider that there are game currencies that have an official exchange rate to the US dollar.

Simply put, the legal system has no choice but to make this distinction. If I log into my online banking account, hit some buttons, and wind up with $50,000 in my account that wasn't there before, surely the law has to analyze whether I stole that money or whether I used the system as it was intended. If I transferred it from another account, surely the legal system can inquire into whether I was authorized to transfer from that account or not.

The fact is, money in a bank account is just as virtual, and just as real, as money on a World of Warcraft account.
10.22.2008 3:02pm
dutch reader:
The position of the judge is consistent with two judgements of the Dutch Supreme Court.

In the first judgement it held that checkbook money "given the role it plays in society" must be regarded as a "good" that can be embezzled.

In the second judgment it held that (abstract) "data" is not a good that can be stolen, because when person A copies data belonging to person B, person B remains in possession of that data. So abstract data cannot be "taken away". The medium that carries the data can (of course) be stolen.

Virtual goods can be "taken away" (within the game). The judge also found virtual goods to play a sufficiently significant role in society. Therefore virtual goods may be the subject of theft.

The judge's position is consistent, but in my view it is certainly possible to argue a different and still consistent outcome. For example, it is not that clear that virtual goods within a privately run game server are comparable to checkbook money within the banking system.

Dutch criminal law has no definition of "good". In 1921 the Dutch Supreme Court held that electricity (stolen by slowing down the meter) is a "good".
10.22.2008 3:18pm
Per Son:
Is this April fools? This is such bullshit that I do not know where to start.

I am a diehard World of Warcraft player, and deal with this stuff all of the time. In World Of Warcraft we call it "ninja'ing," or what not. You put the person on ignore.

Now, if someone says that they will sell you an item, you then mail them gold, and they do not respond, the cheat is violating the terms of service, and you report them in game to Blizzard - who will ban/suspend the other player and get your gold back.

You don't go to the cops.

As we say in the gaming world - quit yer QQ'ing
10.22.2008 3:31pm
David Schwartz (mail):
For example, it is not that clear that virtual goods within a privately run game server are comparable to checkbook money within the banking system.
What would the difference be? Some "virtual currencies" have a published exchange rate to the US dollar.
10.22.2008 3:31pm
Per Son:
To add, this is assault, but to now give worth to virtual items . . .

Again, quit QQ'ing
10.22.2008 3:32pm
vassil petrov (mail):
Dutch criminal law has no definition of "good". In 1921 the Dutch Supreme Court held that electricity (stolen by slowing down the meter) is a "good".

Our Supreme Court (the Supreme Cassation Court of the (then) Kingdom of Bulgaria) refused to do this in 1928, I think, because only a "movable thing" (движима вещ) can be stolen, and the electricity as energy in not a thing (вещ).
The law was changed as a result.

I think this was the position of German Reichsgericht.

In the early 90s there were numerous convictions of credit card fraud overturned because the POS terminals and banking systems were "not capable of being deceived as only a human being, but not a machine can be led into mistake about facts". The law was then changed by adding new offenses of credit card fraud and payment system manipulation.
10.22.2008 3:45pm
Mark Rockwell (mail):
Ninja L00t.
10.22.2008 3:52pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
I am a diehard World of Warcraft player, and deal with this stuff all of the time. In World Of Warcraft we call it "ninja'ing," or what not. You put the person on ignore.

Now, if someone says that they will sell you an item, you then mail them gold, and they do not respond, the cheat is violating the terms of service, and you report them in game to Blizzard - who will ban/suspend the other player and get your gold back.


"Ninja looting", or taking dropped items which the system allows you to take but were understood by an agreement with party members to be someone else's property, is not quite what the matter is about. This virtual item was already in the victim's inventory; more a mugging than violating a business agreement.
10.22.2008 3:53pm
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:


As we say in the gaming world - quit yer QQ'ing


Maybe that's what you say on your lame server. Where the cool kids hang out, it's "Less QQ, more pew pew." (Geek glossary: For those uninitiated into the disturbingly nerdy world of online gaming, "QQ" represents a pair of crying eyes and "QQing" means whining.)

This could potentially create problems if it represents the summit of a slippery slope, but I think Eugene's distinction is valid. The real-life assault is a crime, and as the virtual goods were obtained as a result of this assault (and their acquisition was the purpose of the assault), it's not too big a step to say that this was theft. The kid ought to get the goods back in restitution because they were taken from him by force.

The company that runs the game does not have the necessary tools to deal with this sort of real life action. They cannot send out investigators to ferret out the truth, nor should they trust complaints alleging real world issues along these lines. But for in-game misbehavior, including fraud, they can track who accesses accounts, where the money or goods are sent, etc., and can handle it accordingly. Most of these games are intended to be closed universes - thus the EULAs attempting to segregate the game economy entirely from the real world economy. Society as a whole has an interest in maintaining that wall, even if it is a bit of a fiction, as the alternative seems to be to create a new category of crimes that would require fairly complicated interjurisdictional investigations to resolve.

So long as in-game nonsense does not bleed over into real life, real life law should not assert jurisdiction over in-game activities. If game companies make good faith efforts to prevent and punish fraud when it violates game rules and if they resolve account thefts (apparently a lot of the viruses coming out of China these days are designed to ferret out passwords for online game accounts; these accounts are then used by the gold farmers, using stolen credit cards, either as accounts to acquire in-game wealth or as middlemen to launder the money before it goes to the buyer), there's a lot less pressure on law enforcement to intervene. And if the companies are really smart, they'll make the fraud part of the game - EVE Online had some pretty famous instances of players spending many months infiltrating other groups of players so that they could steal assets worth a substantial amount.

As an aside, while there are many voices talking about how unconscionable it is for EULAs to claim that players have no property right to their in-game characters and possessions, it always struck me that the creators of the game, a work of art, have an expressive/aesthetic First Amendment right to control the game and its world, and that includes erecting barriers to minimize real-world influences, particularly economic transactions, on their creation. As I have not delved all that deeply into the First Amendment, my instinct may be entirely misplaced, but it is important to remember that these games are works of art designed to be experienced in certain ways, and are not simply public places where subscribers can do as they will.
10.22.2008 3:59pm
A Law Dawg:
Eugene, please tell me how you would adjudicate the following scenario:

1) D and V are both members at the Gym

2) The Gym has a rule stating that the exercise bikes are first-come, first serve for periods up to an hour.

3) D knows that V has been on the bike for 5 minutes.

4) D punches V and V concedes the bike, which D does not relinquish.

I believe V had a usufruct in the bike and D criminally robbed him of it. If you agree in this analysis (and I could be quite wrong here), why do you believe there is no criminal robbery when the usufruct is in a virtual item?

Alternatively, if D made V wire funds to D out of V's Schwab online account, how is that any different from forcing him to hand over a virtual sword?
10.22.2008 4:05pm
Per Son:
Maybe that's what you say on your lame server.

Umm, I am on Doomhammer. Why don't you come over and duel me? If not, just go off to the Barrens or /2 and just tell bad Chuck Norris jokes, or as some people are trying to start, Joe the Plumber jokes.

Oh, and Alliance pwns Horde - ftw!
10.22.2008 4:12pm
wekt:
Per Son said:

Is this April fools? This is such bullshit that I do not know where to start.
I am a diehard World of Warcraft player, and deal with this stuff all of the time. ...
You don't go to the cops.


You seem to have missed the part about the victim being assaulted with a knife IRL:

The culprits, who cannot be named due to their age, kicked, hit and threatened their classmate with a knife before the 13-year-old gave in and transferred the Runescape items, an amulet and a mask, to his attackers' online accounts.
10.22.2008 4:12pm
Per Son:
I am only referring to the "virtual item." Not the assault - as my second post cleared that up, hopefully.
10.22.2008 4:16pm
Anderson (mail):
Virtual thefts should be punished by virtual courts.
10.22.2008 4:23pm
vassil petrov (mail):
I believe V had a usufruct in the bike and D criminally robbed him of it. If you agree in this analysis (and I could be quite wrong here), why do you believe there is no criminal robbery when the usufruct is in a virtual item?

Because the usufruct is not a "thing" (вещ). Under Bulgarian law that will be robbery because robbery is basically theft through the use of force or threat of use of force against the person in possession of the movable thing (движима вещ) (AND THE BIKE IS A THING) or against another person present.
10.22.2008 4:24pm
vassil petrov (mail):
The Bike is a thing and the usufruct theory is unnecessary.
10.22.2008 4:26pm
A Law Dawg:
The Bike is a thing and the usufruct theory is unnecessary.


So how is a bike a thing, and a virtual amulet is not a thing?

Or, put differently, what traits are possessed by a bank account balance that makes it more like a bike than like a virtual sword?
10.22.2008 4:30pm
vassil petrov (mail):
So how is a bike a thing, and a virtual amulet is not a thing?


Can you touch a virtual amulet? Does it have phisical shape? Or can it take a form if left to disperse (like a gas)? Does it have utility for people? Can it produce something else - another thing?


Or, put differently, what traits are possessed by a bank account balance that makes it more like a bike than like a virtual sword?

A bank account balance is not like a bike, unless you refer to the paper that the account is prined on.
10.22.2008 4:40pm
David Schwartz (mail):
vassil petrov: The point is, if you can steal money from a bank account electronically, you can steal a virtual amulet. There is no meaningful difference.
10.22.2008 4:43pm
A Law Dawg:
Does it have utility for people?


A virtual amulet obviously has utility, even if only a status utility, or else it would not have been the purpose of an assault. I also assume it confers bonuses to its user in the game of Runescape such that tasks (such as combat or crafting) are incrementally easier to perform.

A bank account balance is not like a bike, unless you refer to the paper that the account is prined on.


If an armed person instructed a bank teller to move funds from one bank account to another, would you not call that theft?
10.22.2008 4:44pm
ohwilleke:
The most relevant crimes under U.S. law would generally be:

1. Assault, and
2. Extortion.

Moreover, any sentence for assault would typically be served concurrently, rather than consecutively, with a sentence for extortion, which might be longer.

If the virtual objects were real, it would be robbery.

It isn't clear to me that even if they had beat up a bank teller and made the teller transfer funds electronically, that the crime would be robbery rather than extortion.

Of course, many states define offenses very broadly. Stealing a hibachi off someone's back porch is burglary as well as larceny in many states. Some states, in the interest of avoiding line drawing for property crimes, have merged in common law theft a variety of offenses, such as embezzlement and credit card fraud, that were historically separate, into one omnibus property crime.

Given that this is a newspaper report of a Dutch legal proceeding in English, and that (1) newspaper reports of the fine niceties of legal proceedings are often not quite right, and (2) that cross language translation of legal niceties often is not quite right, I withhold judgment on what was actually ordered. This applies even more so in a juvenile setting.

In U.S. law, juveniles are often punished simply for "delinquency" which is punished with reference to criminal law offenses, rather than for the offense itself. If Dutch law is similar, this may simply be a lay and imprecise summary of a Dutch delinquency charge with a specific offense not actually specified.

The community service sentence is clearly consistent with the kind of leniency commonly associated with juvenile proceedings in the U.S. An adult who did this to another adult in the United States would probably receive a felony conviction of some sort, in the absence of a generous plea (and pleas often bear only vague resemblances to the actual facts of the crime).
10.22.2008 4:48pm
Ben P:

Umm, I am on Doomhammer. Why don't you come over and duel me? If not, just go off to the Barrens or /2 and just tell bad Chuck Norris jokes, or as some people are trying to start, Joe the Plumber jokes.



And I happen to play on Hellscream, but that's not the point.

You do agree in the EULA that none of those items have real world value. But we all know that for a lot of people that's just not true. One only needs to look at the proliferation of items and accounts on Ebay and web sites that sell gold.

The question is if you're one of those people who sees fit to put real money (above your $15 a month for the game) into the game to affect your gaming experience, how much money is worth "QQ'ing" over?


Let's say you do have a contract to buy warcraft gold. You pay $20 real world US dollars in exchange for a promise to deliver X amount of virtual currency in the virtual world.

Let's say they cheat you out of it and never deliver the gold. They've now breached the contract.

You cant go to blizzard, because they certainly wont enforce the contract, but they also maintain that they have the right to terminate your account for any reason or for no reason. They don't typically, but they have banned people for participating in these sorts of transactions.

So do you go to the authorities? Well, probably not for $20. But what if it was $200, or $2000? Most people probably never buy those amounts, but they certainly exist in game.

If you were to file a small claims action against the company that sold you the gold, ignoring jurisdictional and identification problems for the moment, would you be able to win on the claim? They'd probably argue there's no consideration, but there was certainly a bargain and you were supposed to benefit from it. Whether or not the blizzard contract would have an effect is another issue entirely.
10.22.2008 4:49pm
A Law Dawg:

If you were to file a small claims action against the company that sold you the gold, ignoring jurisdictional and identification problems for the moment, would you be able to win on the claim?


Unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel leap to mind.
10.22.2008 4:52pm
c.gray (mail):

The question doesn't even come up regarding Runescape: that game's terms of use make it clear that the player does not own items.


Hmm...

Suppose I go to the local Rent-A-Tool and discover the store's only rototiller has already been leased for the day to Frank. I drive to Frank's home, grab the rototiller when Frank steps inside to take a leak. I drive home, use the rototiller, then return it to it's lawful owner, the Rent-a-Tool, the next morning in Frank's place. The Rent-A-Tool refunds Frank's security deposit back to Frank.

Has Frank been the victim of a robbery?

If so, how does the Runescape case differ?
10.22.2008 5:01pm
vassil petrov (mail):
The point is, if you can steal money from a bank account electronically, you can steal a virtual amulet.

Under Bulgarian law you cannot steal money from a bank account electronically because there is no 'thing', nor can you commit fraud because machines cannot be led into mistake about facts, only human beings. That's the reason people got scott free until Bulgarian Criminal Code was amended in 1997, I think, to include an offense of "illicit use of payment instruments" and "computer offenses" (with broad definitions encompasing various activities). It was not done by watering down of broadening the concept of a "thing".

The term вещ in Bulgarian or Sache in German has precise meaning. And the Nullum crimen sine lege principle prevents criminal courts fron broadening it.
10.22.2008 5:02pm
vassil petrov (mail):
If an armed person instructed a bank teller to move funds from one bank account to another, would you not call that theft?

It is not theft, at least from the point of view of Bulgarian law.
10.22.2008 5:05pm
Per Son:
Ben P:

Not sure getting ripped off with gold-sellers is a crime - a contractual violation, but not a crime. I do say you bring up a bad example, as buying gold = epic fail, and a wish to have your system hacked and botted into oblivion.
10.22.2008 5:07pm
A Law Dawg:
It is not theft, at least from the point of view of Bulgarian law.


Is it a crime of any kind? If not, I am moving to Bulgaria. With a gun.
10.22.2008 5:07pm
Ricardo (mail):
What these kids did pretty clearly crossed the line so I don't see any problems with charging them with theft. However, for actions to "steal" property within a game, it seems to me there is an analogy with how the law treats sports.

I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it, the bar is set higher for civil liability in terms of physically injuring someone and in practice -- if not in formal law -- prosecutors are very reluctant to bring battery or assault charges against athletes for what they do on the field unless it is egregious. Since most people acknowledge that these online games are in fact games, the public policy argument that encourages competition in sports by restricting civil and criminal remedies should apply to online games as well.

Add this to the arguments that Eugene and others have made against prosecuting people for computer crime for violating EULAs and I think you have a solid argument that the law shouldn't get involved in entirely online disputes within games.
10.22.2008 5:10pm
vassil petrov (mail):
It is definitelly a crime, but not theft.
10.22.2008 5:11pm
Ben P:

Not sure getting ripped off with gold-sellers is a crime - a contractual violation, but not a crime. I do say you bring up a bad example, as buying gold = epic fail, and a wish to have your system hacked and botted into oblivion.


I beg to differ. I dont do it because I believe it's technically cheating, and I'd rather not risk having my account banned but I did a significant amount of research on it for the paper I referenced earlier.

The market for "virtual assets" is already on the order of several billion dollars per year, and (prior to the current problems) was predicted to reach $7 billion by 2009.

IGE one of the largest such sites has paid several million for other businesses doing the same thing, and reportedly has tens of millions in revenue from gold selling every year. They make enough to pick up serious business talent (they hired Stephen Salyer, the head of Business Development at Ubisoft to be their CEO) and spend quite a bit on expanding their business. If you dig into it, IGE controls a significant amount of the warcraft information sites (they bought both Thottbott and Allakazam) and use it to redirect advertising to their main business.
10.22.2008 5:25pm
Splunge:
I'm reminded of the old (supposedly) Chinese parable in which a wealthy man took to court a poor man who lived above him, after learning that the poor man enjoyed the smell of the rich man's most excellent food while eating his own plain rice.

The judge ruled against the poor man, agreeing with the rich man that the latter was robbed of his rightful posession, id est the smell of the good food, purchased at great expense.

The judge then asked the poor man for a certain sum of money. The poor man blanched, but gave over the coins, whereupon the judge passed them clinking from hand to hand, and then gave them back.

To the rich man he said: you were robbed of the smell of your food -- the culprit has now compensated you with the sound of money.
10.22.2008 5:30pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
A Law Dawg: If someone punches a person -- a real-life person -- that's of course a crime; that's the main point of my post. On the other hand, if someone "punches" an avatar inside a game, I think that shouldn't be a crime within the real-world legal system, for the reasons I mentioned.
10.22.2008 5:40pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The question doesn't even come up regarding Runescape: that game's terms of use make it clear that the player does not own items.
The game's terms of use don't have any kind of preclusive effect on criminal laws. Criminal law will apply the duck test and see that there is no meaningful difference between a virtual amulet and a bank account.
10.22.2008 5:45pm
A Law Dawg:
Eugene,

Punching somebody in the face is a crime against the victim's person. I don't think any virtual property advocates consider it an offense against the person to attack an avatar. Avatars are simply marionettes, and therefore property, not the person.

Offenses in the virtual world should be considered (and be constrained in their scope to only be) offenses against property. With that distinction made, do you agree that as a conceptual matter it is possible to steal virtual property?
10.22.2008 5:45pm
A Law Dawg:
Offenses in the virtual world should be considered (and be constrained in their scope to only be) offenses against property.


My statement may be too overbroad. Obviously defmation, etc., exists in the virtual world too.
10.22.2008 5:49pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
A few years back, some hackers found a loophole in Diablo2 that enabled them to break into strangers accounts and play their characters. This had two major effects. First, by breaking into other people's accounts, they could transfer items from those accounts to their own accounts. Second, they could (and did) go into the top hardcore accounts and have the characters kill themselves. Hardcore characters in Diablo2 could not be returned to life, so the character and everything in the character's inventory is destroyed upon death.

I'm not sure what the exact crimes are here, and whether the victims of the crimess were the individual account holders, or Blizzard. But it seems to me that this is an example of murder, within the game, which could also easily be a crime outside of the game, and not simply a violation of a EULA.
10.22.2008 5:56pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

I continue to think that generally speaking the law shouldn't prohibit purely in-game "theft," "murder," "rape," and so on. But outside-game violence (or even in-game threats of outside-game violence) are the proper subject of the criminal law, including when the violence or threats coerce action or transfer of valuable objects within the game.


Yes, but I think the theft of an item in the virtual or real world that has real world value would still be a theft of something real (something that has value in our world, and not solely in the game world.) If for example I go on a merry little adventure and acquire a powerful magical weapon, which I had anticipated selling in a real world online auction for real money, but someone hacks my account or cons me into selling that to them without paying for it, that's theft or fraud in a very real sense. I'm not saying this has been legally recognized anywhere, only that the comparison seems apt.
10.22.2008 5:58pm
Comintern:
When is Theft not theft?

Eugene,

Punching somebody in the face is a crime against the victim's person. I don't think any virtual property advocates consider it an offense against the person to attack an avatar. Avatars are simply marionettes, and therefore property, not the person.

Offenses in the virtual world should be considered (and be constrained in their scope to only be) offenses against property. With that distinction made, do you agree that as a conceptual matter it is possible to steal virtual property?

OR

Lawl Dog:

Eugene,

Punching somebody in the face is a crime against the victim's person. I don't think any virtual property advocates consider it an offense against the person to attack an avatar. Avatars are simply marionettes, and therefore property, not the person.

Offenses in the virtual world should be considered (and be constrained in their scope to only be) offenses against property. With that distinction made, do you agree that as a conceptual matter it is possible to steal virtual property?


(Is this not theft? or is the fact this was all virtual mean that I did not steal in the first place. Or perhaps, in the second Half, because I "assumed" Lawl Dog's identity but it was virtual that no crime took place? I Dont believe that the EULA of a mmo game removes all ownership of the person who is signing the EULA. It would be no different then if A recieved "object", but "object" belonged to B, however C stole it from A. A crime has taken place, be the item virtual or real.)
10.22.2008 5:59pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
And to make a further point, it seems that some of the commentators here are confusing two different things; acts that happen in-game, or out-of-game actis that don't deprive anyone of anything that can be valued in a real world sense, and acts that happen in game or out of game that deprive someone of something that has real world value. The former should almost certainly not be legally proscribed, but the latter is a different story.
10.22.2008 6:01pm
A Law Dawg:
I'm not sure what the exact crimes are here, and whether the victims of the crimess were the individual account holders, or Blizzard. But it seems to me that this is an example of murder, within the game, which could also easily be a crime outside of the game, and not simply a violation of a EULA.


That, to me, is quite plainly the intentional destruction of property, no less than it would be to destroy a highly intricate real-world model of HMS Victory.
10.22.2008 6:01pm
Dan Weber (www):
I think a proper analogy (if such a thing can exist) would be gam-bling, where assets can be lost as a result of game play.

When I buy $2000 worth of ships and sit down at the p0ker table, I consent to losing the $2000 because I lose either through bad skill or bad luck. I do not consent to losing the money to cheating players or being mugged at the table or trading legitimate p0ker chips for counterfeit chips.
10.22.2008 6:03pm
A Law Dawg:
And to make a further point, it seems that some of the commentators here are confusing two different things; acts that happen in-game, or out-of-game actis that don't deprive anyone of anything that can be valued in a real world sense, and acts that happen in game or out of game that deprive someone of something that has real world value. The former should almost certainly not be legally proscribed, but the latter is a different story.


Why should it not be proscribed to take (or destroy) something that cannot be valued?
10.22.2008 6:05pm
Patrick Stephens (mail) (www):
Regarding c gray's question about the rented roto-tiller theft,

Suppose I go to the local Rent-A-Tool and discover the store's only rototiller has already been leased for the day to Frank. I drive to Frank's home, grab the rototiller when Frank steps inside to take a leak. I drive home, use the rototiller, then return it to it's lawful owner, the Rent-a-Tool, the next morning in Frank's place. The Rent-A-Tool refunds Frank's security deposit back to Frank.

Has Frank been the victim of a robbery?


He has, but it's probably not worth pursuing. However, we're fast approaching the day that virtual assets rise to sufficient value that it would be worth pursuing. Right now, virtual theft might be analogous to rented-roto-tiller theft, but what if the amounts were larger?

What if you leased a fleet of delivery vehicles which I stole and returned to the leasing office? What if you leased a significant amount of advertising space that I somehow stole?

Even if the "theft" takes place entirely within the virtual world, it could very well have real-world implications that the law will need to take into account.
10.22.2008 6:14pm
Dan Weber (www):

вещ вещ вещ!
10.22.2008 6:30pm
Ben P:

I think a proper analogy (if such a thing can exist) would be gam-bling, where assets can be lost as a result of game play.

When I buy $2000 worth of ships and sit down at the p0ker table, I consent to losing the $2000 because I lose either through bad skill or bad luck. I do not consent to losing the money to cheating players or being mugged at the table or trading legitimate p0ker chips for counterfeit chips.



Making the analogy more interesting

What happens when, if to play at this particular p-oker table you had to sign a contract stating that:

A. the money you paid to buy in was merely a fee to sit at the table, and you retain no ownership interest in anything in your possession at table.

B. that although the dealer will pay you for any p-oker chips you hold at the end of the game, you agree the p-oker chips have no intrinsic value and cannot be traded to anyone at any place other than this individual table.

C. That the dealer reserves the right to ask you to leave the table for any reason or for no reason and if asked to leave you forfeit any chips you still possess.
10.22.2008 7:42pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Ben P: I see no reason any of those terms should have any effect on criminal laws. Before the chips were taken, you could have cashed them in and gotten money. After they were taken, you could not. Despite the contract, the chips actually function exactly like a bank account balance.
10.22.2008 8:00pm
dutch reader:
David Schwartz:
What would the difference be? Some "virtual currencies" have a published exchange rate to the US dollar.

Suppose the virtual world is being reset every week or every day. In that case I don't think one would consider it theft, but what exactly makes it different? Is it a requirement that the virtual goods must have some kind of "permanent existence", guaranteed by the contract players have with the game publisher?

In the "real" financial world it is the state that guarantees the "permanent existence" of (in a way just as virtual) money. I am not sure how relevant this is, but at least I think there are some arguments left that could be tested in appeal (if there is one).

I guess the easy solution is to consider a particular virtual object a good in the sense of theft if the virtual object can be objectively said to represent something of value, and then proceed on a case by case basis. This is more or less what the judge did.
10.22.2008 8:31pm
whit:

The point is, if you can steal money from a bank account electronically, you can steal a virtual amulet. There is no meaningful difference.



there is most definitely a meaningful difference.

the MEANS (electronic) is just that. the means. the theft is of the MONEY. if you steal the money physically, you are stealing money. a real thing. if you steal it electronically, that is merely the MEANS by which you stole the underlying THING - the money.

electronic money is no more "virtual" than paper money. the latter is a federal reserve note. since we went off the gold standard, it represents merely "legal tender", but it does not represent a tangible amount of "stuff" so to speak.

but BY LAW, it is legal tender and must be accepted as such. if you are owed $50, you can't say "I want that money in runescape quatloos (or whatever)" and decline to take payment in REAL money.

the virtual amulet is not legal tender nor is it an object or thing that can be stolen because it does not exist in the real world. money does exist.

if we allow people to claim "theft" for objects taken in virtual worlds, we might as well allow murder prosecutions for those that kill virtual characters.

it's a ridiculous argument. i don't care WHAT dutch courts do. they are dutch for pete's sake. who cares?

but god forbid somebody tries to file a police report for theft with me involving any sort of virtual item.
10.22.2008 8:35pm
bonhomme (mail):
What about in-game advertising? Companies sometimes pay money to have their logos in virtual space. What if person A threatens/physically harms a game company programmer to replace the in-game advertisement with person A's message. Whenever a player views that billboard they see person A's message instead of the paid-for advertisement.
10.22.2008 8:38pm
A Law Dawg:
the MEANS (electronic) is just that. the means. the theft is of the MONEY. if you steal the money physically, you are stealing money. a real thing. if you steal it electronically, that is merely the MEANS by which you stole the underlying THING - the money.


No, no, no, no.

Electronic bank accounts do not contain money. All they do is register the extent a person's *right to access* money. They are nothing more than high-speed ledgers. You wouldn't argue that a ledger is money, would you?

When I "wire money" I don't actually send money. I transfer my right of access to somebody else. If I hack an electronic bank account, I am not stealing money. I am faking the records to show that I have a right to access more money than I actually have.

The only difference between a Virtual Amulet and a bank balance of $5,000 is the name of the entry in a computer database. They have no other intrinsic difference. I can tell you right now that the value of a Cloak of Flames in EverQuest is far, far higher than the value of most (if not all) printed denominations of Zimbabwean currency. On what basis is the currency property and the Cloak of Flames not, when there is a thriving market for the Cloak and almost zero for the currency?
10.22.2008 8:58pm
whit:

Electronic bank accounts do not contain money. All they do is register the extent a person's *right to access* money. They are nothing more than high-speed ledgers. You wouldn't argue that a ledger is money, would you?




you are grasping. bank accounts, electronic OR OTHERWISE (think pre-computers) reference your money. money is a real thing.

regardless of whether they are electronic or not, they are not "lockboxes" (see: algore(tm)).

but they represent a REAL thing. money. the amulet is NOT a real thing. it's no more real than harry potter's scar.

if i own a bond, that is a promise to pay $$$ over time. it's a right (and not an absolute right, given bankruptcy etc.) to access money over time, as well. that is REAL. the amulet is not. a bond is just as real because it has an underlying value of real money.

let me help you with this. the amulet DOES***NOT***EXIST except as part of a FANTASY world.

i'm not going to dissolve the bright line between fantasy and reality.
10.22.2008 9:18pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Right, bank accounts *REFERENCE* your money. This is the money that you can exchange the number in the bank account for. Just as a virtual amulet references the money that you can exchange the amulet for.

In both cases, all that you have is a number in a computer. That number will induce other people to give you money. Taking that number away causes you to lose the inducement.

let me help you with this. the amulet DOES***NOT***EXIST except as part of a FANTASY world.


Right, just like when you have $10,000 in a bank account some corresponding "ten thousand dollars" only exists in a fantasy world. Of course, you can exchange the $10,000 in the bank account for ten thousand physical dollars any time you want.
10.22.2008 9:31pm
A Law Dawg:
<blockquote>but they represent a REAL thing. money. the amulet is NOT a real thing. it's no more real than harry potter's scar. </blockquote>

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that you honestly have no experience with virtual worlds.

That "amulet" has actual utility. Players in most virtual worlds perform tasks for various rewards. Those tasks often require the assistance of DOZENS of teammates. Pieces of "virtual property" such as "magic amulets" or "crafting tools" or "Guild banks" provide direct and indirect benefits to players attempting those tasks. Some tasks cannot be performed whatsoever without such virtual items. Virtual gems may be required to make virtual jewelry. Virtual smithies may be required to forge virtual armor. Such jewelry and armor may provide enhancements to the player's avatar which make certain tasks easier or even possible. A key, accessible only upon killing a certain enemy, may be required before being able to access certain areas.

Indeed there are vast portions of numerous virtual worlds that require the acquisition of such items before a player can experience those areas or events. It is the scarcity and difficulty of acquisition of these items that many virtual worlds predicate their entire business models.

How on earth can you seriously contend that such things are not real? Of course people know that they cannot physically hold the virtual amulet/key/armor/forge/etc. What they DO care about is the utility that comes from possession of such items, even if that utility is only prestige in the eyes of peers.

The distinction here is not fantasy vs. reality. The distinction is "tangible good" vs. "utility." Admittedly it is hard to grasp without having participated in these things yourself.
10.22.2008 9:59pm
A Law Dawg:
<blockquote>How on earth can you seriously contend that such things are not real?</blockquote>

Bah. By "things" I mean "rights of access and utility", not "items."
10.22.2008 10:02pm
whit:
i have plenty of experience with virtual worlds. i wrote my own RPG when I was a kid for pete's sake.

i also played the original adventure on an old PDP in the age of paper batch cards.

so spare me the condescenscion.

regardless...

i have no experience with this particular virtual world

all sorts of things have "utility" in these fantasy worlds.

your character, that you spend countless hours to develop for instance.

so what?

let me ask a simple question.

do you have to pay money to the people running the game in order to buy the amulet? if so, then i might agree with the theft thang. otherwise, no dice.

if it can be acquired through gaming in the virtual world, but not purchased with real money (and I'm not referrign to from OTHER players), then I stand by my assertion.
10.22.2008 10:32pm
A Law Dawg:
do you have to pay money to the people running the game in order to buy the amulet? if so, then i might agree with the theft thang. otherwise, no dice.


What difference does it make? If Blizzard suddenly reduced its subscription cost to zero, what difference would that make to the legal analysis?
10.22.2008 10:44pm
David Schwartz (mail):
do you have to pay money to the people running the game in order to buy the amulet? if so, then i might agree with the theft thang. otherwise, no dice.
Well then you don't have to pay money for anything, since you can barter for it with labor.

if it can be acquired through gaming in the virtual world, but not purchased with real money (and I'm not referrign to from OTHER players), then I stand by my assertion.
On what basis do you draw the distinction? If a car company only exchanged their cars for comparable value in the form of labor, would that make the cars any less valuable? If anything, that would make them more valuable, as it would impose heavy transaction costs on anyone who wanted one (having to find someone else to labor for them if one did not wish to).
10.22.2008 10:57pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Or to give another example: you can't buy an Oscar from the Academy. It's only given to people who have otherwise paid their dues for excellent performance. It might be possible to buy an Oscar from a prior winner, but they are not generally for sale. Does that also mean that an Oscar can't be stolen, or that it doesn't have any value?
10.22.2008 11:12pm
whit:
an oscar is REAL.

an amulet isn't.

i draw this distinction.

you don't.

cars are also real.

etc.

i also notice 3 responses to my simple question. but nobody answered the question. they merely questioned why it was relevant. how about ANSWERING the question?

tia
10.22.2008 11:47pm
A Law Dawg:
i also notice 3 responses to my simple question. but nobody answered the question. they merely questioned why it was relevant. how about ANSWERING the question?


What question?
10.22.2008 11:50pm
whit:

do you have to pay money to the people running the game in order to buy the amulet? if so, then i might agree with the theft thang. otherwise, no dice.

10.22.2008 11:58pm
A Law Dawg:
do you have to pay money to the people running the game in order to buy the amulet? if so, then i might agree with the theft thang. otherwise, no dice.


It depends on the rules of a given world. In the case at issue, yes, but there is nothing inherent in virtual worlds that means you have to pay for them.

Similarly, there is no rule I have ever heard that makes the acquisition of property rights over something contingent upon that thing being exchangible for money.
10.23.2008 12:03am
whit:
i am well aware that there is no rule you have ever heard, but it's a frigging COMPUTER game for pete's sake.

if it's something you have to buy, i might entertain the notion.

i'm a frigging libertarian. i want LESS govt. in our lives. that includes prosecuting/investigating what people do in virtual worlds with their pretend treasures.

for god's sake. it's a frigging game.

and the whole point is it isn't REAL. so, if it's something that you get for running around and doing a bunch of crap in a computer game, in a fantasy world, then the term "property" in "property" rights is problematic.

similarly, if somebody kneecaps yer character so you can't walk around, i'm not going to investigate them for assault.
10.23.2008 12:55am
A Law Dawg:
but it's a frigging COMPUTER game for pete's sake.


Second Life (rightly or wrongly) emphatically presents itself as NOT a game, but a social exercise.

i'm a frigging libertarian. i want LESS govt. in our lives. that includes prosecuting/investigating what people do in virtual worlds with their pretend treasures.


I thought libertarians were gung-ho on the preservation of the individual's property rights.


for god's sake. it's a frigging game.

and the whole point is it isn't REAL. so, if it's something that you get for running around and doing a bunch of crap in a computer game, in a fantasy world, then the term "property" in "property" rights is problematic.


Nevermind the subscription fees and box sales for access to the worlds themselves; the *secondary market*, which is almost entirely clandestine and violative of each world's EULA, is measured in *billions* of dollars in annual trade.

It may be a game to you, but for many players the items acquired in a virtual world are the fruits of hundreds of in-game *days* for an individual. That is in addition to the professional virtual farmers.

Ignore and deride it all you want; nevertheless, the (virtual) Earth still moves.
10.23.2008 1:11am
whit:

Second Life (rightly or wrongly) emphatically presents itself as NOT a game, but a social exercise


they can present themselves as a ham sandwich. they are a computer game. and furthermore, a "social exercise" is fine. that doesn't make it a REAL world.

sure, it may seem real to some people. so does star trek. they are called nerds.


I thought libertarians were gung-ho on the preservation of the individual's property rights.



yes. and it's not PROPERTY, any more than my "life" in the game is a REAL life. you can kill my character, and you are not committing murder.



Nevermind the subscription fees and box sales for access to the worlds themselves; the *secondary market*, which is almost entirely clandestine and violative of each world's EULA, is measured in *billions* of dollars in annual trade.



great. if people want to spend their money on a fantasy, that's fine. it doesn't make it real.

and the fact that it is "almost entirely clandestine and violative of each world's EULA" makes my point stronger not weaker.

i'm not ignoring it or deriding it. i am classifying it for people who are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.

your character is not a real person.

if somebody hacks into the system and kills your character, it is NOT murder.

deal with it.

and your amulet aint real either.

i used to play black and white a bit. the character i developed seemed pretty real in my eyes. he had a real personality (it was a pretty sweet game).

but it was still fantasy.
10.23.2008 1:26am
A Law Dawg:
if somebody hacks into the system and kills your character, it is NOT murder.


You keep saying this as if somebody has suggested it. Nobody has. In fact I pointed out the distinction between offenses against the person and offenses against property above.
10.23.2008 1:49am
whit:
his character is a person. a FANTASY one.

his amulet IS property in a fantasy world.

and any offense against either should be adjudicated in a fantasy court

hth
10.23.2008 2:02am
David Schwartz (mail):
an oscar is REAL.

an amulet isn't.
Then a bank account balance isn't real. Your fundamental error is in reasoning that because the virtual amulet isn't a real *amulet* it isn't real. This is like reasoning that because my $10,000 account balance isn't ten thousand dollar bills, it also isn't real.

do you have to pay money to the people running the game in order to buy the amulet? if so, then i might agree with the theft thang. otherwise, no dice.
You have to invest labor to acquire it. You don't have to pay money to get an apple. It is scarce and cannot be had merely by wishing for it.
10.23.2008 2:36am
trad and anon:
Suppose I go to the local Rent-A-Tool and discover the store's only rototiller has already been leased for the day to Frank. I drive to Frank's home, grab the rototiller when Frank steps inside to take a leak. I drive home, use the rototiller, then return it to it's lawful owner, the Rent-a-Tool, the next morning in Frank's place. The Rent-A-Tool refunds Frank's security deposit back to Frank.

Has Frank been the victim of a robbery?
No, because the chattel was not taken by violence or intimidation. I'm not sure about intent to permanently deprive either; Frank have been permanently deprived of his leasehold interest but I don't now if a leasehold constitutes property for the purpose of robbery (or at least common-law robbery).
10.23.2008 2:40am
martinned (mail) (www):

Eugene Volokh:
Vassil Petrov: I'm surely no expert on Dutch law, but the Dutch judge claimed that his position is consistent with Dutch law, and I have no reason to doubt it.

Since I do know a thing or two about Dutch law, here's my take: The Criminal Code says "any good", which should normally mean a physical good. In the past, this has been extended to cover electricity (which does not technically fit the legal definition of a good) and theft of money off a bank account. Those two cases are cited (well, sort of) by the court in support of its ruling that these virtual goods are covered by the Criminal Code article in question.

Significantly, the 1993 Computer Crime Act amended a number of Criminal Code articles to add clauses referring to virtual crime, but not the article on theft. A better charge here would have been extortion through violence, which does cover someone who uses violence to force someone to "transfer information/data with value in the marketplace". By all accounts, these virtual goods did have some value in the marketplace, so as far as I'm concerned, this would be less of a stretch than charging them with theft. Then again, why not simply charge them with assault?

BTW, their names are not revealed not because they are minors, but because Dutch court rulings are always redacted to protect the privacy of the defendant. (Same for newspaper reporting.)
10.23.2008 10:32am
David Newton:
In England and Wales this would almost certainly be theft, in addition to some form of assault charge. The mischief rule would most likely be applied as in Smith v Hughes [1960] 2 All E.R. 859. With the Theft Act 1968 the clear intention when passing the statute was to prevent people from being permanently deprived of their property through its unlawful acquisition.

Assuming the case is reported accurately the result of the actions of the two youths was the permanent deprivation of the victim of the use of the amulet. The important thing that a lot of people seem to have missed here is that the criminal law cause of action is entirely separate from the civil law cause of action. The state has the right to initiate criminal proceedings and equally the victim has the right to initiate civil proceedings. The result of the criminal proceedings is a criminal conviction or an acquittal along with sentencing if conviction occurs. The result of the civil proceedings is the remedies sought under the lawsuit, most probably damages from the perpetrators and restitution in the form of getting the amulet restored to the account it was removed from.
10.23.2008 11:07am
martinned (mail) (www):
@David Newton: Indeed. The only problem is whether a virtual amulet counts as "property" under the criminal statutes. This, in turn, depends on whether the case law words from a literal reading of the law or an intention-based one. In many cases, reading "property" as anything of value in the marketplace, or even simply as anything of value (cf. US 14th amendment due process clause case law) would be appropriate, but in a criminal statute I think the court should be very careful with such creativity.
10.23.2008 11:24am
pete (mail) (www):
This rel;ated story is currently one the yahoo headlines. A japanese woman has been arrested for killing her ex-husbands avatar in a second life style game:


A 43-year-old Japanese piano teacher's sudden divorce from her online husband in a virtual game world made her so angry that she logged on and killed his digital persona, police said Thursday.

The woman, who has been jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo City said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
10.23.2008 1:16pm
A Law Dawg:
Notice, Whit, that the "virtual murder" in Pete's post is prosecuted as a property crime, not a crime against the person.
10.23.2008 2:14pm
Dan Weber (www):
but god forbid somebody tries to file a police report for theft with me involving any sort of virtual item.

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/06/25/
10.23.2008 3:37pm
David Schwartz (mail):
There's a huge difference between virtual murder and murder, one actually ends the life of a human being and one doesn't. The gravamen applies in one and doesn't in the other. There's a much smaller difference between virtual theft and theft, they both wrongfully deprive you of something of value. The gravamen applies in both.

The hard part with virtual theft is determining whether the deprivation is actually criminally wrongful. There is a continuum of actions with using physical violence to induce people to destroy data on one side and following the rules of the game perfectly (but perhaps with a bad motive) on the other side.

We can agree at the edges without having to agree about every case in the middle. Certainly there are many cases in the middle that should not be treated criminally, such as ToS violations.

I certainly think, however, that the biggest danger is overcriminalization. Some people have actually argued that, for example, games like Eve essentially shouldn't be able to have an 'anything goes' rule like they do have, where online bank and investment scams are just part of the game.

Others have suggested that effectively one should not be able to create a game where realistically depicted prostitution is allowed because it would be just like having a building in the real world where prostitution is allowed. If you think the gravamen of prostitution is the psychological harm and degradation of the prostitute, then why should virtual prostitution be allowed (assuming you don't think real-world prostitution should be allowed)?
10.23.2008 6:57pm
David Newton:
Looking at the Theft Act 1968 the relevant parts for definitional purposes are sections 1–6. Therefore in England and Wales, "A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it…. "

The statute then further goes on to define various terms. In section 2 it provides that dishonesty shall be taken not to have occurred if the person appropriates the property believing they have a right in law to deprive the other of it, if there is a belief that the other person would consent to the appropriation if they knew the full circumstances or if he appropriates the property ìn the belief that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps. Section 3 provides that any assumption of the rights of an owner amounts to an appropriation. Section 4 defines property as including "money and all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other intangible property." Section 5 defines belonging to another as, "Property shall be regarded as belonging to any person having possession or control of it, or having in it any proprietary right or interest (not being an equitable interest arising only from an agreement to transfer or grant an interest)." Section 6 then defines the intention of permanent deprivation as including, "A person appropriating property belonging to another without meaning the other permanently to lose the thing itself is nevertheless to be regarded as having the intention of permanently depriving the other of it if his intention is to treat the thing as his own to dispose of regardless of the other’s rights; and a borrowing or lending of it may amount to so treating it if, but only if, the borrowing or lending is for a period and in circumstances making it equivalent to an outright taking or disposal."

Looking at those sections, it can definitely be said the tests for dishonesty and intention of permanent deprivation can be met. The test for appropriation is also clearly met. I would say that the test for belonging was also met in that the person deprived of the amulet and cloak had an interest in them through their account in the game. That leaves the question of whether the amulet and cloak count as property?

Looking at the statute it appears that the only heading that the amulet and cloak could come under would be intangible property. They would most likely be classified as legal intangible property since the interest in the property is created through a contractual agreement between the firm running the MMORPG and the account-holder.

If the cloak and amulet are indeed intangible property then if the incident had occurred in England and Wales then it appears that the two would actually have been guilty of robbery. The Theft Act 1968 states in section 8, "A person is guilty of robbery if he steals, and immediately before or at the time of doing so, and in order to do so, he uses force on any person or puts or seeks to put any person in fear of being then and there subjected to force." Kicking and hitting their classmate definitely counts as subjecting him to force. The statute also states, "A person guilty of robbery, or of an assault with intent to rob, shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for life."

Therefore if the amulet and cloak are indeed classified as intangible property then the crime that took place is very, very serious indeed under English law. Even in these times of handing out prison sentences like cotton candy a potential life-sentence is rare.
10.24.2008 12:15pm
SFC B (mail) (www):
Whit, concerning your question earlier:
do you have to pay money to the people running the game in order to buy the amulet? if so, then i might agree with the theft thang. otherwise, no dice.
Sony Online has a server for their game Everquest called the Station Server. The Station server is a game server where players are allowed to purchase in-game currency and items using real money without violating the EULA as long as they purchase it through SoE. On this particular server players actually do pay real money for their virtual items. So if I were to play on the Station Server, and have an item I purchased taken from me through some illicit means, and I came to you, you'd actually treat it as a theft?

Continuing on the Sony-Theft theme, SoE also runs the Legends of Norrath Online Collectible Card Game (dorkiness runs deep in my family). This Online CCG is exactly like a real CCG (Think Magic: The Gathering) in that you have to pay for starter decks and booster packs, etc. This is real world money. If someone were to access someone's LoN account and delete it, it would likely result in a loss of a couple hundred dollars worth of these virtual cards. While SoE can recover most of the lost cards through their saved data, until that happens (and unless you lost your account immedialty after the character was saved on the server), you'll lose some of what you'd purchased in the rollback.

Whit, I'm curious how these situations would work to your thinking as a LEO.
10.24.2008 4:11pm