Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Virtual Theft Conviction

Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Virtual Theft Conviction

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The Dutch Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a teenager who stole another boy's virtual property in the MMO RuneScape.

Back in 2008, a pair of Dutch teenagers were convicted of theft after they "coerced" a 13-year-old boy into transferring an amulet and mask from his RuneScape account to theirs. The Leeuwarden District Court declared in its ruling that "these virtual goods are goods [under Dutch law], so this is theft."

One of the duo took his lumps like a man but the other decided to appeal, based on the question of whether or not things that don't actually exist in the physical realm can be considered property. His lawyer argued that the amulet and mask "were neither tangible nor material and, unlike for example electricity, had no economic value." The court disagreed, however, saying that the items did have an "intrinsic value" to the player because of "the time and energy he invested" in getting them.

The ruling is noteworthy because of the hazy legal status of virtual property in the real world. It's not simply a question of ownership, but of whether or not the property in question even "exists" in the first place. This is far from a definitive answer, but it is an interesting step.

According to Wizzley, the teens were also given a "suspended juvenile detention" for the assault - the "coercion" involved beating the younger boy and threatening him with a knife until he logged into the game and dropped his items - but that conviction was not part of the appeal.

Source: Yahoo! News

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Really? They beat the kid up and threatened him with a knife over a couple of Runescape items? Yeesh.

Interesting ruling though.

Good.

This is a wholly separate issue from whether or not piracy is stealing, because this actually results in someone being deprived of something to which they are entitled. I'm okay with the law beginning to send a message that destructive behaviors are not suddenly "okay" just because they take place on the internet. It's right up there with cyber-bullying as a today-issue.

Andy Chalk:
According to Wizzley, the teens were also given a "suspended juvenile detention" for the assault - the "coercion" involved beating the younger boy and threatening him with a knife until he logged into the game and dropped his items - but that conviction was not part of the appeal.

And, really, anyone that would take up for these boys needs to read this paragraph again.

I approve this course of action. Material wealth is not the only wealth.

I have not played RuneScape but anyone who has played MMO's knows that time is money in them. I fully support the courts ruling on intrinsic value because that young man likely spent a great deal of time, and perhaps money, getting whatever those items were. They have value even if they are not real.

If you bought access to the goods with money, then there is no problem.

Most legal systems would probably be willing to make the step to attributing value to property which you acquired in a P2P game.

Items which you got in a F2P model might be more difficult. I like the judge's reasoning here (if the quote in the post presents the fundamental aspect of his conclusion accurately - I guess the actual report will be in one of the many languages of the Netherlands). But it's a big step to attribute value in property due to time and effort expended upon it...

His lawyer argued that the amulet and mask "were neither tangible nor material and, unlike for example electricity, had no economic value."

If they really had no value, you never would have forced the kid t o give them to you in the first place.

Great, one case down, about 8 million more such cases of the ignorant children getting pressured into giving away items by petty teenagers to go.

Aslo if youre going to do more news stories on Runescape could you at least get a more up to date image for it?

Has this been tried in the US yet? I don't see how it wouldn't pass, since if "intellextual property" is... well... property, then virtual items you worked for (and possibly paid real-world money for) certainly should be as well.

Also, I can't wait for the first lawsuit against a MMO. If virtual property is protected under the law, then permabanning a user without observing due process (and possibly legal review) amounts to theft of all earned game rewards, right?

Mortuorum:
Has this been tried in the US yet? I don't see how it wouldn't pass, since if "intellextual property" is... well... property, then virtual items you worked for (and possibly paid real-world money for) certainly should be as well.

Also, I can't wait for the first lawsuit against a MMO. If virtual property is protected under the law, then permabanning a user without observing due process (and possibly legal review) amounts to theft of all earned game rewards, right?

So far as I know nothing has been filed in the US. I haven't read an EULA for any of the recently released MMO's since I haven't been playing any but I'm pretty sure there's a clause stating that if you get banned you can't go after the company, appeal? yes, legal actions? no.

DVS BSTrD:

His lawyer argued that the amulet and mask "were neither tangible nor material and, unlike for example electricity, had no economic value."

If they really had no value, you never would have forced the kid t o give them to you in the first place.

After beating him and threatening him at knifepoint, no less. I don't know whether to be shocked or impressed that he tried the "The charge should be dropped because what I took was worth nothing (and that's why I mugged him specifically to get it)." defense.

This is great, though worrying for the future.
But seriously, what was wrong with those boys, assaulting someone over RS items?

Mortuorum:
Has this been tried in the US yet? I don't see how it wouldn't pass, since if "intellextual property" is... well... property, then virtual items you worked for (and possibly paid real-world money for) certainly should be as well.

Also, I can't wait for the first lawsuit against a MMO. If virtual property is protected under the law, then permabanning a user without observing due process (and possibly legal review) amounts to theft of all earned game rewards, right?

That's an interesting thought. But when one goes to join an online game isn't it already standard to sign to terms & conditions agreement? And don't those agreements all basically say that you the player accept that you own *nothing* but instead are entering into a license to play said game which the developer may revoke at any time for any reason? I figured that would be the bigger stumbling block in cases like these - that people are "stealing" something that the victim doesn't actually "own" outright but just has a temporary license to use. Although I guess in hindsight it'd still count as theft - just like stealing someone's concert tickets would. I can see the court's logic now.. you just need to establish that something of value was actually stolen. Still I really like your point & would love to have more rights to these virtual products but I worry those long T&C agreements pretty much nip those rights in the bud.

If iTunes can sell me digital music, Amazon can sell me digital books and Steam can sell me digital games, then yes, I'm pretty sure that DATA is a thing I can own.

I'm glad for this court case for one reason and one alone: it establishes that virtual items can be associated with my person (as in I have ownership of said items). We're moving into a world that will be driven entirely by digital media, the consumer needs assurances that whether or not we have a CD does not determine whether or not something belongs to us.

mightybozz:
If you bought access to the goods with money, then there is no problem.

Most legal systems would probably be willing to make the step to attributing value to property which you acquired in a P2P game.

Items which you got in a F2P model might be more difficult. I like the judge's reasoning here (if the quote in the post presents the fundamental aspect of his conclusion accurately - I guess the actual report will be in one of the many languages of the Netherlands).

As far as I know we only have two.

Anyway, I think this is an accurate enough translation.

I don't have a copy of Runescape's EULA to hand, but it's a standard clause in most MMOG EULAs that the player "owns" nothing: the company owns all items and characters on your account. Therefor the items in question wern't lost my the victim and gained by the thieves, they just existed inside Runescape. Don't get me wrong, if that clause isn't in Runescape's EULA then the time spent aquiring an ingame item is just as valuable as time spent aquiring something in the real world.

On the other hand, beating somebody up and threatening them with a knife? Yeah hit those little shits with a decent punishment for that.

Scabadus:
I don't have a copy of Runescape's EULA to hand, but it's a standard clause in most MMOG EULAs that the player "owns" nothing: the company owns all items and characters on your account. Therefor the items in question wern't lost my the victim and gained by the thieves, they just existed inside Runescape. Don't get me wrong, if that clause isn't in Runescape's EULA then the time spent aquiring an ingame item is just as valuable as time spent aquiring something in the real world.

On the other hand, beating somebody up and threatening them with a knife? Yeah hit those little shits with a decent punishment for that.

That's what I was going to say, I can confirm that Runescape's T&Cs do state that all in-game items and accounts remain the property of Jagex, they are merely given to the player's for so long as Jagex wishes.

This makes it similar to stealing a library book someone has rented out, it's still theft, it's just not from the person you stole it from...if that makes any sense.

Still the two assaulters (assaultists?) (edit: assailants! That was bugging me) deserve nice hefty sentences. I'm surprised they only got community service, but I suppose it's rough to imprison 15-16 year olds.

I'm sort of divided on this. I think if we are going to be going down this route we need to make sure that it can only be attributed to things like paid for goods being stolen, otherwise we could have situations where people are being convicted of theft for raiding someone else's chest of diamonds in minecraft multiplayer. I think this is just but we need to make sure that it is applied only to bought goods not just in game items in general. Intangible items that have been paid for with money can be stolen, simply stealing something in a game =/= stealing paid for goods. I know that isn't what is happening in this article but it's important to remember none the less.

Virtual items are not real, just like people aren't charged for murdering someone else's character in an MMO. That's nanny state BS.

They needed to be punished for their REAL assault and REAL crime, but "virtual theft" is a can of worms opened on a slippery slope.

If that's the case, and I put time and effort into gaining virtual wealth, the devs can't ban me without giving me the real world money value for all my virtual property and wealth being lost. And the "you violated the rules" argument doesn't hold up here because they defined virtual items having worth because of time and effort put into gaining them. If someone commits a crime, they don't have their house, money, and other property seized unless they owe someone or the government money, it's all still their property and they don't lose rights to property for violating real world rules.

Virtual items are of the intellectual property of a developer so there's no virtual theft case to be made.

Sarsaparilla:

Mortuorum:
Has this been tried in the US yet? I don't see how it wouldn't pass, since if "intellextual property" is... well... property, then virtual items you worked for (and possibly paid real-world money for) certainly should be as well.

Also, I can't wait for the first lawsuit against a MMO. If virtual property is protected under the law, then permabanning a user without observing due process (and possibly legal review) amounts to theft of all earned game rewards, right?

That's an interesting thought. But when one goes to join an online game isn't it already standard to sign to terms & conditions agreement? And don't those agreements all basically say that you the player accept that you own *nothing* but instead are entering into a license to play said game which the developer may revoke at any time for any reason? I figured that would be the bigger stumbling block in cases like these - that people are "stealing" something that the victim doesn't actually "own" outright but just has a temporary license to use. Although I guess in hindsight it'd still count as theft - just like stealing someone's concert tickets would. I can see the court's logic now.. you just need to establish that something of value was actually stolen. Still I really like your point & would love to have more rights to these virtual products but I worry those long T&C agreements pretty much nip those rights in the bud.

That's where it gets interesting. IANAL, but I'd be willing to bet that making in-game items actual legal property would be a game-changer, legally speaking. I doubt you could make any EULA, no matter how you worded it, that gave the company carte blanche to effectively steal from its customers at any time without notice.

It would be like having fine print on your Ikea receipt that stated that the company could, at its discretion, come into your house and take back your couch if they didn't like how you were using it. I don't care how you phrase it, it ain't gonna fly.

Damn, I guess I better stay out of that country. My activity in Eve Online would probably earn me several life sentences.

 

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