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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.

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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,"
67 Comments