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"Online Divorcee Jailed After Killing Virtual Hubby":

The AP reports:

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 ....

The woman used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married, and killed the character. The man complained to police when he discovered that his beloved online avatar was dead.

Again, seems like a sensible legal theory, because it focuses on the illegal access to the account when signing on to the system — much as would be the case whenever you accessed another person's computer or computer account without the person's authorization — and not conduct within the game that is supposedly the virtual equivalent of murder.

Had she engaged in the "virtual killing" from her own account, by using a feature of the game that made such action possible, or even exploiting a bug in the game that made such action possible, it seems to me that this would just be an interesting extra twist in the game's narrative. Such action should be dealt with by whatever mechanisms the game's operators provide (perhaps including expulsion of the misbehaving user, if the operators view such conduct as misbehavior), or at most by a breach of contract lawsuit for violating any user license agreement terms — not by the real-world criminal law.

Thanks to Daniel Domenico for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "Online Divorcee Jailed After Killing Virtual Hubby":
  2. "Dutch Youths Convicted of Virtual Theft,"
Anderson (mail):
This kind of thing is why I won't take out virtual life insurance naming my wife as beneficiary.
10.23.2008 1:24pm
1st year associate:
Professor,

How would you feel about behavior that meets the requirements of fraud, in which all of the communication takes place within the game. If I fraudulently offer to trade my sword of unholy awesomeness for ingame currency (which is oftentimes immediately exchangeable for real world currency through ebay), and then fail to deliver such sword after receiving the currency, should that be conduct punishable by the real world legal system?
10.23.2008 1:26pm
PhanThom:
So Anderson, are you saying you don't have a policy from AIG?

Rim-shot.

Honestly, these stories sound to me like there's a market for virtual mediation/arbitration. I wonder if I could write off my subscription fees as a business expense . . . .

--PtM
10.23.2008 1:28pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
1st year associate: My inclination would be to say that fraud in games is not a matter for the civil court system, largely because it's very often hard to tell what is acceptable fraud and what is not. Among other things, I take it that the risk of fraud is a commonplace part of the plot line in many games, and while I suppose one can try to look to the "rules" of the game to see whether such fraud is permissible, my guess is that this will very often post difficult problems of its own.

By the way, Orin has a draft article on Criminal Law in Virtual Worlds.
10.23.2008 1:33pm
Donald Clarke (www):
Technically, the legal theory is sensible, but I can't help but think that the notion of murder affected the way this case was treated. Japan jails very few of its citizens in the first place, and I believe (but don't know for sure) that pre-trial detention is based on familiar factors of flight risk, etc., which would seem unlikely to be present here. It's hard to imagine the same thing would have happened had she logged on in exactly the same unlawful way to change the character's eyes from brown to blue.
10.23.2008 1:37pm
David Warner:
Japanese? Or Aleutian?
10.23.2008 1:40pm
Hoosier:
(I see a new South Park episode taking shape.)
10.23.2008 1:49pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Death (as in running out of Health Points) in Maple Story results in the character being 'teleported' back to a town, and 5-10% of a bar worth of experience loss. Having a character commit suicide is not really a significant loss, other than a small time investment.

Actually deleting a character can be more damaging, as Maple Story has a cash purchase option and a very significant time investment for higher level characters. It's not clear from the AP story whether they mean a character-death or character-deletion.

The cited crimes are "suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data", both of which are well-supported by the facts and modern law.
10.23.2008 1:53pm
Deoxy (mail):
It seems pretty clear that the "death" in question was actual deletion (which is all that would really matter): "The man complained to police when he discovered that his beloved online avatar was dead." There's no way to "discover" your avatar is dead later - when you log in, you would find that you were missing XP (as you said) and nothing more.
10.23.2008 2:04pm
A Law Dawg:
Eugene wrote:

1st year associate: My inclination would be to say that fraud in games is not a matter for the civil court system, largely because it's very often hard to tell what is acceptable fraud and what is not. Among other things, I take it that the risk of fraud is a commonplace part of the plot line in many games, and while I suppose one can try to look to the "rules" of the game to see whether such fraud is permissible, my guess is that this will very often post difficult problems of its own.


With the notorious exception of Eve Online (the developers of which are literally on record saying "Fraud is Fun" when asked about this topic), I can't think of any virtual world in which the risk of fraud is inherent in the rules. In fact the exact opposite is almost uniformly the case.

It seems that Eugene and others are very hung up on the idea that normal rules don't apply in game-centric virtual worlds. What about Second Life?
10.23.2008 2:22pm
pete (mail) (www):
There is also the slightly related case of second life where the person running the virtual "Bank" Ginko Financial ran off with lots of virtual money.


Last week, Ginko Financial -- an unregulated bank that promised investors astronomical returns (in excess of 40 percent) and was run by a faceless owner whose identity is still a mystery -- announced it would no longer exist as a financial entity.

The declared insolvency meant the bank would be unable to repay approximately 200,000,000 Lindens (U.S. $750,000) to Second Life residents who had invested their money with the bank over the course of its three and a half years of existence.


I would think in the cases where only in game fraud occurs it should be left to the game administrators and players to deal with it, expecially if they have user agreements stating that everying is pretend. I am not familiar enough with Second life to say what the players agreed to.

Real world crimes (assult, using someone elses account without permission, etc.) should go to real world courts.
10.23.2008 2:42pm
KeithK (mail):
While in-game fraud is against the rules of most games (Eve Online excepted) the "crime" is a violation of the games terms of service. Nothing more.

1st year associate, the fact that in game gold can often be translated into real world money is not relevant for most games. Typically selling game items and gold for real world money is a violation of the terms of service. It's a black market transaction. You don't have any real ownership rights to your "sword of unholy awesomeness" - it's "owned" y the game designers/maintainers. So it doesn't make sense to pursue real life fraud charges in connection with such a failed transaction.
10.23.2008 2:44pm
Avatar (mail):
There's a whole continuum of possible fraud in online games.

The most direct is taking advantage of some sort of exploit in the code to renege on a trade. "I'll give you 300 gold for your sword", both parties trade, and one party ends up with the gold and the sword. Game developers take this pretty seriously, because it kills the game economy - if nobody can trust that they can receive items in a direct trade, their willingness to trade plummets.

The next level of fraud is a failure to perform. Due to the nature of some of the services in these games, they can't be resolved by simultaneous transactions. "I have a load of rare wootz ore; your character is a high-level blacksmith. Please process my ore into wootz ingots in exchange for currency." The usual form of this trade involves one party handing over the raw materials, and the other party transforming them in some way, then returning the finished product in a simultaneous trade for the agreed-upon sum. Usually only the processor has the opportunity for fraud here - they can simply take the raw material and leave. Terrible for one's reputation, but not something the game can prevent directly. Possible to prevent somewhat by insisting on the deposit of a surety on handing over the raw material, which is then returned along with the fee when the final product is delivered... but not all processors are going to want to operate that way, and if you're in a situation where there are a limited number of people who can perform what you need done, you may have to take what you can get.

A more general failure to perform is hiring help. "I'll give you this gold, and your high-level character can help my low-level character through this dungeon." The helper can renege after receiving payment, or the party to be helped may insist on paying after the help is rendered, and then refuse to pay.

Finally, there's just "taking advantage of careless and stupid people". The classic form of this in Warcraft is pricing a single, relatively common commodity item for 99 gold, hoping that an inattentive player will mistake the price for 99 silver, hit the "buy" button, and not realize the scam until it's too late. Not actually fraud, in the sense of "you got what you paid for", but still distasteful.

The inability to make contracts in games is the source of a lot of the fraud; agreements to do something are totally unenforceable... except in EVE Online, which has several forms of player-to-player contracts. These can be simple sales contracts, or "move my shipment from here to here", often with penalties for late delivery and a deposit that is not recovered if the shipment is not delivered. Of course, these contracts are often used to defraud the unwary, such as offering contracts with high deposits that force the player to move through dangerous territory, where they are attacked by pirates (who may have been the ones chartering the shipment!) But that's not really that different from real life...
10.23.2008 2:45pm
vassil petrov (mail):
I find all this utterly unbelievable and indefensible.
10.23.2008 2:50pm
SFC B (mail) (www):
The EULA for Sony Entertainment Online also includes some provisions about not sharing your username and password with anyone because they don't want people sharing accounts. I know of several players in Everquest and Everquest 2 who ran into issues w/ people whom they shared their PW with (missing coin or items, etc) and, when they took it to SoE, were basically told "tough cookies, don't share that info".

As far as player-to-player contracts go in EQ2 the "trade" window allows both players to place their items or coin, and it won't complete until both players accept the trade. There is also a "commission" system where a player pay to have a certain item crated by another player who makes said item, and the player requesting the item being made can watch as the crafter makes it, and then take immediate possession of the item. It eliminates a lot of the "take item/coin and not complete the transaction" fraud you can see in other games.

However, within EQ2, there is a particulary devious bit of fraud which you can do. The "trade" window looks a lot like the "duel bet" window. SOmeone so inclined can use this to take bother items and "kill" the person making the trade.
10.23.2008 3:05pm
PhanThom:
Vassil,

what? The conduct of the "victims" or the idea that real world legal principles might have application in a virtual world?

--PtM
10.23.2008 3:14pm
krs:

With the notorious exception of Eve Online (the developers of which are literally on record saying "Fraud is Fun" when asked about this topic), I can't think of any virtual world in which the risk of fraud is inherent in the rules. In fact the exact opposite is almost uniformly the case.


Oh, come on.

Isn't the "thief" a virtual character in these D&D-type games? Aren't there elaborate deceptions in these games all of the time?

Aren't a bunch of these games fighting games and stuff? Like if your virtual knight is minding his own virtual business and my virtual orc sneaks up on him and smashes his virtual skull with a rock, that's virtual murder, but it's inherent in the game and not cause for a complaint.

On the other hand, if you step outside of the game and try to sell stuff like virtual currency on eBay and then fail to deliver, that could probably be actionable.
10.23.2008 3:24pm
Code is Law:
Prof. Lessig describes a similar situation in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Details a virtual rape and how the online community responds.
10.23.2008 3:34pm
SeaDrive:
Not a lawyer, but I think it matters how she got the logon name and password. If your ex-wife comes back and uses her old key to get in your apartment, and takes away your crystal decanter, it's probably theft, but not breaking and entering.

Speaking as an IT guy, passwords are used for a reason.
10.23.2008 3:35pm
A Law Dawg:
Isn't the "thief" a virtual character in these D&D-type games?


If by "thief" you mean the character class, then generally speaking, yes. However character classes are merely templates for abilities or attributes of your avatar. They are not a license to actually BE a thief.

Aren't there elaborate deceptions in these games all of the time?


Permitted ones? Outside of Eve Online, no.
10.23.2008 3:40pm
Jay Levitt (mail) (www):

Seems like a sensible legal theory, because it focuses on the illegal access to the account when signing on to the system.


Isn't that the equivalent of America's Computer Fraud and Abuse act, which Orin Kerr thinks (and which, IIRC, you agree) needs to be seriously reined in?

How do you make "unauthorized" access to an account illegal, without "authorization" resting on the Terms of Service? It seems unsolvable.
10.23.2008 3:40pm
M.R. (mail) (www):
A lot of comments relate to the provider taking action for the wrongdoing of its members. Often, the provider just doesn't take action, and the only (legal) recourse is breach of contract through the third party beneficiary doctrine. As it so happens (shameless self promotion) I am publishing an article on this very issue: http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1275063 for anyone interested.
10.23.2008 3:41pm
DG:
For those curious about all of the comments regard Eve Online, and how its different - think of it as an online economics experiment as much as a game. An economics experiment with an extremely free-markets point of view. In WoW one would select equipment based on what you wanted your character to look like or be able to do. In Eve, one would do an ROI calculation before selecting equipment.
10.23.2008 3:50pm
pete (mail) (www):

Not a lawyer, but I think it matters how she got the logon name and password. If your ex-wife comes back and uses her old key to get in your apartment, and takes away your crystal decanter, it's probably theft, but not breaking and entering.


In this case it was a virtual "ex-wife". It is not clear that two people had ever met in person before and they lived several hundred of miles from each other. From the story it seems she knew his logon information somehow and then did something to the other character.
10.23.2008 3:51pm
vassil petrov (mail):
PhanThom

Vassil,

what? The conduct of the "victims" or the idea that real world legal principles might have application in a virtual world?


Nullum crimen sine lege principle being turned upside down. Analogy being drawn where it does not readily applies.
10.23.2008 3:53pm
some dude:
He should have changed his password. If he once gave her his ID and password for her to use, it would be tough to say she was legally unauthorized.
10.23.2008 3:58pm
pete (mail) (www):
Another very slightly related case, that did not violate any laws either in game or in the real world, happened in WoW.

In the real world a WoW player died and some of his guildmembers (I think that is the proper term, but I have never actually played WoW) decided to announce and stage a virtual funeral for his avatar with a processional of virtual mourners. But they set the a funeral in an area where player vs player combat is allowed and another guild staged a raid on the funeral and slaughtered the unprepared avatars of the guests and the dead player. Then the raiders posted a recording of their attack on youtube, which I have seen and in which they revel in their attack.

There is a mix of reaction from WoW players who I have talked to, most of whom think it was rude, but who mainly blame the funeral goers for picking that location.
10.23.2008 4:00pm
Ricardo (mail):
It seems that Eugene and others are very hung up on the idea that normal rules don't apply in game-centric virtual worlds. What about Second Life?

You might have a better case for "normal rules" applying in online games if online transactions and online income were taxed and banks within the game were regulated by banking authorities. Instead, online games look very much like a feudal manor in which the owner is free to set and enforce the rules as he sees fit.

I don't see a compelling public policy interest in the courts sorting out disputes among a bunch of nerds over which virtual amulet belongs to whom. Much in the same way that courts general refuse to wade into disputes in sports over whether a given tackle or elbow to the nose on the playing field was a crime or a tort.
10.23.2008 4:08pm
A Law Dawg:

You might have a better case for "normal rules" applying in online games if online transactions and online income were taxed and banks within the game were regulated by banking authorities. Instead, online games look very much like a feudal manor in which the owner is free to set and enforce the rules as he sees fit.


That logic is circular. You say there's no need for external rules because nobody has applied external rules.

I don't see a compelling public policy interest in the courts sorting out disputes among a bunch of nerds over which virtual amulet belongs to whom.


Replace the phrase "virtual amulet" with "patent", "bank funds", "copyright", "broadcast license", "contract option", or any other intangible item you wish. There is no reason why tossing the word "virtual" in front of something (nevermind the handwaving of "nerd" property rights) somehow changes the analysis.
10.23.2008 4:17pm
Per Son:
What if you get pwnd for your Sword of A Thousand Truths?
10.23.2008 4:47pm
Ben P:

In the real world a WoW player died and some of his guildmembers (I think that is the proper term, but I have never actually played WoW) decided to announce and stage a virtual funeral for his avatar with a processional of virtual mourners. But they set the a funeral in an area where player vs player combat is allowed and another guild staged a raid on the funeral and slaughtered the unprepared avatars of the guests and the dead player. Then the raiders posted a recording of their attack on youtube, which I have seen and in which they revel in their attack.

There is a mix of reaction from WoW players who I have talked to, most of whom think it was rude, but who mainly blame the funeral goers for picking that location.


It's not necessarily relevant, but that particular incident provides a pretty good basis for talking about when the rules allow something and when they don't. So I'll provide some more detail.

The incident happened on the warcraft server "Illidan" and the name of the group was "serenity now."

It wasn't that they chose a particular location where this combat is allowed. It's allowed on the entire server. In warcraft there are two kinds of servers. One kind where players can't be engaged in player vs player combat unless they deliberately choose to flag themselves as willing to do so. The other kind of server automatically allows everyone to be attacked at will. There are some areas that are designated as belonging to one side or another and are safe, but they are a small minority of the total game world.

The group that held the funeral chose to do so in a neutral zone where everyone is automatically flagged. The raid occurred and a lot of people were very upset.


But technically the game rules allowed them to be attacked. So, they were within the rules of the game even if it was a distasteful thing to do.
10.23.2008 5:09pm
Dave N (mail):
(I see a new South Park episode taking shape.)
And a good reason to kill Kenny.
10.23.2008 5:26pm
PhanThom:

Nullum crimen sine lege principle being turned upside down. Analogy being drawn where it does not readily applies.


Except that the only crime she's been charged with appears to be related to her unauthorized access to a computer system. It's not that different than if I hacked your email system and read your emails.

There's no actual harm to you, but it is still an unauthorized access.

--PtM
10.23.2008 5:38pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
Wow, who knew we'd have TWO opportunities to discuss virtual crimes at Volokh this week?


Such action should be dealt with by whatever mechanisms the game's operators provide (perhaps including expulsion of the misbehaving user, if the operators view such conduct as misbehavior), or at most by a breach of contract lawsuit for violating any user license agreement terms — not by the real-world criminal law.


I will simply echo the distinction I made in the earlier post. A virtual action resulted in no loss of anything of real world value, so the underlying act (killing the digital personna) should not be considered a crime. Now, had he intended to sell that character for real-world money and she killed the character to prevent that, well that would be a different story.
10.23.2008 5:43pm
A Law Dawg:
A virtual action resulted in no loss of anything of real world value,


Can you support this assertion?
10.23.2008 6:04pm
KevinM:
That the destroyed data is an online "character" is a distraction. I'm reminded of the law student who misses the point of an antitrust exam question on the professional football industry because he can't see beyond the fact that the teams "compete" on the field.

I don't know much about gaming, doesn't an avatar or character, with all of that character's accumulated traits, energy points, or whatever, represent considerable prior effort on someone's part? I assume that character and its attributes cannot easily be reinstated without reconstructing or replaying the weeks or months of gaming that preceded its destruction. As such, the character is an assemblage of electronic data, no less than a spread sheet or an electronic recording of music. If someone invaded my password-protected computer or online account and destroyed data compiled by me, there's no reason they shouldn't be criminally liable. Not because it's murder, of course; because it's destruction of property.
10.23.2008 6:09pm
A Law Dawg:
I don't know much about gaming, doesn't an avatar or character, with all of that character's accumulated traits, energy points, or whatever, represent considerable prior effort on someone's part? I assume that character and its attributes cannot easily be reinstated without reconstructing or replaying the weeks or months of gaming that preceded its destruction. As such, the character is an assemblage of electronic data, no less than a spread sheet or an electronic recording of music. If someone invaded my password-protected computer or online account and destroyed data compiled by me, there's no reason they shouldn't be criminally liable. Not because it's murder, of course; because it's destruction of property.


Correct on all counts.
10.23.2008 6:15pm
Ricardo (mail):
Replace the phrase "virtual amulet" with "patent", "bank funds", "copyright", "broadcast license", "contract option", or any other intangible item you wish. There is no reason why tossing the word "virtual" in front of something (nevermind the handwaving of "nerd" property rights) somehow changes the analysis.

I wouldn't replace "virtual amulet" with any of these other things because they are not the same, despite both being intangible. Society has much more of an interest in protecting these other rights to intangibles because, for instance, copyrights and patents encourage people to use their creative energies to promote culture and entertainment (something recognized as an inherent good in the U.S. Constitution for instance).

I would argue all rights are intangible in nature anyway, but they all further the goal of encouraging the productivity and creativity that make us a wealthier society. I abide by the classical liberal tradition which holds property rights as a means to an end (a wealthy and happy society) rather than an end in themselves.

By contrast, virtual property is created and destroyed at the whim of the game programmers. The game can enforce artificial scarcity or abundance as its creators see fit. Acquiring virtual property may be great fun for some people but I don't see any social benefit from this activity. Nor do I see any benefit from using real-world police or courts (and the tax money needed for these to function) to enforce virtual property rights. Where is the public policy argument for using civil or criminal law to enforce virtual property rights within the context of an online game? All I've seen are arguments that come down to "it's not fair!"

Again, someone's online Schwab account is protected by current law because trading equities increases liquidity for current stock owners and this in turn lowers the cost of capital for firms, which can then afford to expand, hire more workers, and produce more output. Where's the analogous argument for online games?
10.23.2008 6:50pm
Dan Weber (www):
(I see a new South Park episode taking shape.)
And a good reason to kill Kenny.
They did a World of Warcraft episode a year or two ago. It should be online. (Legally.) And they don't kill Kenny any more.
It's not that different than if I hacked your email system and read your emails.

There's no actual harm to you, but it is still an unauthorized access.
I think there can be harm to someone reading my private mails but leaving them be. There's a reason they are private.

Although what if you logged into my account and deleted the emails?
10.23.2008 6:55pm
A Law Dawg:
I wouldn't replace "virtual amulet" with any of these other things because they are not the same, despite both being intangible. Society has much more of an interest in protecting these other rights to intangibles because, for instance, copyrights and patents encourage people to use their creative energies to promote culture and entertainment (something recognized as an inherent good in the U.S. Constitution for instance).


What is the entire Second Life project (and even MMORPGs) if not the harnessing of creative energies to promote culture and entertainment?

By contrast, virtual property is created and destroyed at the whim of the game programmers. The game can enforce artificial scarcity or abundance as its creators see fit. Acquiring virtual property may be great fun for some people but I don't see any social benefit from this activity.


What difference does your perception of the social benefit make?
10.23.2008 7:08pm
Avatar (mail):
The defining factor here is going to be that everyone playing the game has agreed that they're playing a game, that all of the data associated with that game belongs to the owners of the game, and that players have no property rights with respect to anything about that game. If the game company bans a player, that doesn't constitute a taking, and he's not entitled to compensation.

Why is this important to the game company? Because if players have property, then every time a dispute over that property arises, and a court is involved, so is the game company - as the only possible witness, to boot. It becomes the game company's responsibility to provide the logs, to authenticate the transaction, to take it beyond "he says she says". All of those things cost money, money to maintain the server logs, money to pay the technicians to go through them, money to pay some guy to show up in court. None of that MAKES the company any money, though.

That doesn't even bring up the possibility of players taking action against the company in response to things that go wrong with the game.

Nor is the company going to attempt to "police" trades, even outside the court system. Too much effort, no return. Nor would having players self-police work - the same powers that they would need to be "effective" police would also be abused in terrifying fashion. ;p
10.23.2008 7:08pm
c.gray (mail):

By contrast, virtual property is created and destroyed at the whim of the game programmers. The game can enforce artificial scarcity or abundance as its creators see fit


This argument makes me worried about the legal protection available to my T-Bill backed money market fund account. Or any fund backed by sovereign debt, for that matter. The treasury departments and finance ministries involved have powers similar to the theoretical game developers.


Where is the public policy argument for using civil or criminal law to enforce virtual property rights within the context of an online game? All I've seen are arguments that come down to "it's not fair!"


See above.

In practice, it may be sufficiently difficult to distinguish between those actions impacting an "online game" and those affecting "virtual" property that we believe ought to be protected, that it's easier to just include "online games" within the same system.
10.23.2008 7:09pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
Again, seems like a sensible legal theory, because it focuses on the illegal access to the account...
Sometimes I don't understand lawyers. This prosecution was a ridiculous waste of money and government resources. The man gave the woman his account access data. She didn't have to hack his computer to get it. And, it's just a silly online game. He lost nothing of substance, and she did not gain monetarily from the virtual murder. Perhaps he has a claim for the time lost in developing his virtual persona. That would make this (at most) a tort case for the Japanese equivalent of small claims court.
10.23.2008 7:51pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

Can you support this assertion?


I'm assuming the victim had no intention of selling his avatar (or doing anything else to gain real-world value from it) which, in my construction, means it has no real-world value and thus no crime could be said to have occurred by its destruction. But that's just my own personal theory.
10.23.2008 7:55pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

Sometimes I don't understand lawyers.


It's silly to blame this on lawyers. Many people would be rightfully angry to discover that something (even if virtual) they had spent their own free time creating was maliciously destroyed by someone else, and might be inclined to think that there's something "wrong" enough about that to make it an actual crime, or at least a tort.
10.23.2008 7:57pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
She should be tried by a virtual jury of her peers, and, if convicted sent to virtual prison, where, if Japan has a virtual death penalty, she should be virtually executed. However, I question whether her ex-virtual husband has any right to virtually sue, being virtually dead.
10.23.2008 8:06pm
A Law Dawg:
I'm assuming the victim had no intention of selling his avatar (or doing anything else to gain real-world value from it) which, in my construction, means it has no real-world value


I have no intention of selling the clothes in my closet, but they have real-world value. Why would his avatar be any different?
10.23.2008 8:24pm
c.gray (mail):

And, it's just a silly online game.


And baseball is also just a game, hence the NBA can not possibly be subject to antitrust law.
10.23.2008 8:31pm
KeithK (mail):
I don't knwo the Terms of Service for Maple Story but I assume it says that the game owners own the contents of the game meaning that the man did not lose anything of value. So there shouldn't be any legal action (civil) available on that front.

yes, he probably had a lot of time invested in the character. Maybe he should ask the game masters to reinstate his character. Given the circumstances and publicity they might be willing to for this case. I guarantee they have logs and save files and could do it.
10.23.2008 8:34pm
Ricardo (mail):
This argument makes me worried about the legal protection available to my T-Bill backed money market fund account. Or any fund backed by sovereign debt, for that matter. The treasury departments and finance ministries involved have powers similar to the theoretical game developers.

Well, yes, I wouldn't want to see anyone invest in sovereign debt only to realize their legal options are limited if the government defaults on the debt or inflates the currency in which the debt is denominated or raises taxes on the coupon income. Caveat emptor applies, as Argentine creditors found out the hard way in 2001, or as foreign creditors to U.S. states have discovered further back in history. You have a property right to the debt security, not an absolute right to get paid back. That's why we have bankruptcy laws.
10.23.2008 10:07pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The defining factor here is going to be that everyone playing the game has agreed that they're playing a game, that all of the data associated with that game belongs to the owners of the game, and that players have no property rights with respect to anything about that game. If the game company bans a player, that doesn't constitute a taking, and he's not entitled to compensation.
I don't see why these agreements should be binding on the criminal law. Can I create a club with a sign on it that says "by entering these premises, you consent to sex with anyone herein" and then nobody can be charged with rape while in the club?

No matter what the agreement says, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck for purposes of criminal law. That you agreed that you have no ownership interest doesn't change that fact that you actually do.

We get all obsessed with the borderline cases (and I agree that we don't know exactly where to draw the line and had better err on the side of not using criminal law to address these things). But we should be able to see that things are very clear at the edges.

For example, in this case, she used the access he gave her beyond any reasonable conception of its scope, thereby destroying a de facto ownership/control interest that he had. It's analogous to me letting you borrow my car and you setting it on fire. We should be able to agree that this is in scope of criminal law. There was no consent in any way.

In the previous case, real-world force was used to coerce someone into giving up an ownership/control interest. We should be able to agree that that's in scope of criminal law. There, again, was no consent in any way.

We may reach a point where significant amounts of valuable real ownership interests exist in virtual worlds. We should be able to agree that they should be protected from wrongful destruction or theft, even though we can't always agree on which destructions and thefts are wrongful.

One way we can tell when we're over the line is when the rule makes certain types of games impossible even though no wrongful real-world conduct is required. (For example, a law against virtual rape would would be over this line.)
10.23.2008 10:20pm
trad and anon (mail):
1st year associate, the fact that in game gold can often be translated into real world money is not relevant for most games. Typically selling game items and gold for real world money is a violation of the terms of service. It's a black market transaction. You don't have any real ownership rights to your "sword of unholy awesomeness" - it's "owned" y the game designers/maintainers. So it doesn't make sense to pursue real life fraud charges in connection with such a failed transaction.
I agree with David Schwartz that even if the TOS are enforceable on this point as a matter of contract/personal property law, they can't bind the criminal law.
10.24.2008 12:02am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
They can't bind criminal law, but when the criminal law requires that the object be personal property (larceny) or of a given value expressed in dollars (most theft statutes), it does affect what criminal laws can be applied.
10.24.2008 12:07am
Jennifer (mail) (www):
This is why I'd never give my WoW password to any of my virtual husbands, because next thing I know they'd have sold off all my epics and used the gold to drink up gallons of Rumsey Rum and I'd be out in the cold with my pets.

That Serenity Now raid was awesome; if I'd been on that server I would have participated. Announcing an unarmed gathering in a PVP zone is just begging to get ganked. There are plenty of nice places they could have held the service where they wouldn't have gotten jumped so easily.

(I'm joking about having virtual husbands, btw.)
10.24.2008 12:59am
David Schwartz (mail):
They can't bind criminal law, but when the criminal law requires that the object be personal property (larceny) or of a given value expressed in dollars (most theft statutes), it does affect what criminal laws can be applied.
But the value is going to have to be market or utility value, not purchase or 'official' value. A rare one-cent stamp is not one cent for larceny purposes. The ToS doesn't set market or utility values.
10.24.2008 1:03am
Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
Weirdos! Did you guys wear black trench coats to high school and play dungeons and dragons at lunch? If this were a virtual high school, I would be virtually beating the snot out of you.
10.24.2008 5:39am
Paul Barnes (mail):
What about the fact that some of these games require monthly fees? Does that change a person's perspective as to whether something of "value" was lost?

Furthermore, one of my friends who plays WoW had an incident where he lent a substantial amount of gold to one of his guildmates, who thereafter moved to a different server. He complained to Blizzard, and they gave him back his gold. I am unsure as to what happened to the offending party.
10.24.2008 8:19am
Loren (mail):
I know of people within WoW who have had their accounts "hacked", gold stolen, epics disenchanted or vendored and even characters deleted. In every case, Blizzard, the operator of WoW, has restored the avatar from their backups.

Don't understand why the operator of Maple Grove just can't restore the avatar.
10.24.2008 11:29am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
But the value is going to have to be market or utility value, not purchase or 'official' value. A rare one-cent stamp is not one cent for larceny purposes. The ToS doesn't set market or utility values.


Are you sure?

The terms of service of most games prohibit the trade of in-game goods for any out-of-game good, service, or currency. Would you base the market value entirely on markets that involve the sale of stolen goods?

That's ignoring places like World of Warcraft, where many items 'bind' to the character and thus can not be sold or traded to anyone. They don't even have a market value.
10.24.2008 12:47pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Is this much different from someone hacking into my computer and erasing my Great American Novel?

(As a Great American Novelist, backups are for little people.)
10.24.2008 1:06pm
A Law Dawg:
That's ignoring places like World of Warcraft, where many items 'bind' to the character and thus can not be sold or traded to anyone. They don't even have a market value.


If anything this dramatically increases the value of an avatar, because replacing the lost items via gameplay (as opposed to restoration by an administrator) can be unbelievably hard.
10.24.2008 1:12pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Except there is no legitimate market value for an avatar, because neither avatars nor accounts can be lawfully sold.
10.24.2008 1:42pm
Joey Plummer (mail):
Somewhere Borges is busy making notes.
10.24.2008 1:52pm
A Law Dawg:

Except there is no legitimate market value for an avatar, because neither avatars nor accounts can be lawfully sold.

Who cares if there is a market value? It's still something I have the right to use.
10.24.2008 1:58pm
SFC B (mail) (www):
Except there is no legitimate market value for an avatar, because neither avatars nor accounts can be lawfully sold.
What is a "legitimate" market? I can direct you to several sites where you can purchase accounts/avatars of different leveles for every MMO. Also, narcotics can't be legally sold, but they seem to have a market value which the parties involved in its sale seem to follow. Although, I am curious if the people who steal drugs from other people are ever tried for the theft of the illegal property. You always hear about stupid criminals calling in their pot being stolen, so do the thieves actually get charged with the theft if caught?
I know of people within WoW who have had their accounts "hacked", gold stolen, epics disenchanted or vendored and even characters deleted. In every case, Blizzard, the operator of WoW, has restored the avatar from their backups.
I had my account hacked on EQ2 and SoE restored most what was lost. Unfortunatly they couldn't store the coin I had lost, however I did get most of my items back.
Don't understand why the operator of Maple Grove just can't restore the avatar.
They probably have, however this wasn't about the loss of the avatar, but the unauthorized access to the account. Also, I doubt you've ever been divorced. If you were a man getting a divorce (virtual in this case), and you had a chance to get your soon-to-be-ex-wife fined a few thousand dollars and possibly put into jail, you'd do it.
10.24.2008 3:51pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The terms of service of most games prohibit the trade of in-game goods for any out-of-game good, service, or currency. Would you base the market value entirely on markets that involve the sale of stolen goods?


Except there is no legitimate market value for an avatar, because neither avatars nor accounts can be lawfully sold.


This is another one of those 'contracts should change the criminal law' arguments, and it's utterly absurd. Suppose an art museum obtain a painting from a donor under the condition that it remain in possession of the museum in perpetuity. It cannot be sold and still comply with the terms of the donation. Does this make its value zero?
10.24.2008 4:31pm