Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Your virtual gold is real under Dutch law

There have been similar cases in China, but now a Dutch court decided that virtual goods are real enough so that you can steal them, and convicted two teenagers for virtual theft. This is something game companies have been resisting a lot, because as soon as our virtual goods are considered to have a real-world value, the game companies would become liable for losses due to bugs or even due to changes in the game.

But highly theoretic considerations of virtual property rights apart, of course the courts decision was sensible in this case. Two kids stealing a toy from a third, younger, kid doesn't become any less reprehensible just because the toy only exists in a virtual world. From there to a comprehensive system of virtual property rights is still a long way.
I'm more worried that they'll try to tax virtual goods.

"Mr. Jones...I see that you did not declare 2500gp on your last tax return. I'm afraid that there is a substantial penalty for withholding earned income. And no, you can't pay us back with virtual gold, or free enchants, sir."
Gold sellers have long been proof of virtual capital having real world value. However, I don't see this legal interpretation gaining traction in many other countries simply because the industry will lobby to prevent it.

It's so much easier to just have players sign the EULA and play at their own risk. This protects the game companies of course but not the consumer.
It's just a game. FFS!
Damn 200 hours of community service? You get less for committing actual theft, or other far more serious crimes.

My guess though is there is more to that story. Perhaps they bullied the 13 year old or threatened him, and just the quick summery that it was over something in RuneScape is oversimplified.
Maybe the bullied kid was the DA's son ...
That, and this was a lower court. The judge probably just tried a common sense ruling, and I bet the poo would fly if this got appealed on the grounds that the goods do not exist under law.
This should be up to the companys running the game/virtual service, not the courts.
Well, the article in question addresses the theft, and purports that the validity of virtual goods was already determined prior to this case.

The task now is to find that section of Dutch law and see just exactly what it says.
the real crime was the kid was physicially bullied into giving up the items. real-world theft of virtual property.
I have read on other sources that the story was a little more involved than was reported in American news feeds.

Purportedly the two older boys restrained the younger boy and physically assaulted him.
I can't find any news sources in English that collaborate this.
Babelfish is usually pretty good for translating foreign language websites.'s not just for Galactic Hitchhikers any more ;)
I have a question though. Tobold you touched on this a couple days ago with a post about spore. How can virtual goods be valued as real world goods if we don't technically own the rights to the game but only the right to play it?

So in other words, if we only have the right to "use" the items/gold in game, how can someone technically steal it from us if we never owned it? Ok now that I have officially confused myself I will stop there LOL.
I think, in the long run, online property will be considered a tiered ownership. You own your gold, but it's within another company's services, so to a certain degree they own it as well. The concept of sole ownership is a transitive assumption "if you own X, then X must be true". This sort of ruling isn't the first, I recall there was a similar case in Korea.

In other, none-straightforward theft situations, I'd think most judges would take into account the complexities of the property being virtual and within someone else's domain.

Now, any company that insists that there is no property at all since they own the IP is also obviously mistaken, since all that needs to be proven is whether or not the player has access to inherently usage in a way that implies value. It's hard to argue that purchasing virtual items on virtual auction houses with virtual currency doesn't have value.
In common law countries such as the US and UK, the criminal law is quite broad when in comes to property. It is not necessary for a victim to own something that is stolen from them. It would be possible to argue that the game company owned the item and the victim had the right to use it when he played his character. What the defendants did was to still the victim's right to the use the item.

Rights are treated as property all the time. Shares on the stock market are rights that are traded and taxed every day. An even better example is an Option, which is the right to buy certain shares/commodities at a certain time at a certain price. These are common place in our financial markets.
Here's more info:

The duo not only stole the virtual goods, but actually beat the other kid up and threatened him with a knife....The boys were convicted for "violent theft". They lured the victim to their house, caught him in a chokehold and kicked and hit him. They used a kitchen knife to threaten the victim. Both thieves showed no regret and didn't acknowledge they did something wrong, which is never good if you find yourself in a Dutch court...

MMO property opens up another interesting legal issue, since any disputes would have to go through a pretty rigorous standing and jurisdictional debate. If a Texan steals a Wow enchanting recipe from a Canadian on a European server run by a company in California (or wherever Activision is chartered - Delaware probably?), which court makes the ruling? What rules do they use? Does that same ruling still apply to a similar case where a Californian coerced a Californian?

Legal systems today have methods and precedent to deal with these issues, so it's not like a judge is entirely without background support. But sometimes that precedent indicates the rules change based on different states involved, and I can see any ruling that even comes close to "different rules for players in different locations" as being detrimental to the genre.
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