Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 07, 2014
Cybercrime & Punishment

Imagine somebody hacks your bank account, emptying it. When you go to the police they tell you that sorry, they are only interested in physical theft, they don't occupy themselves with theft of bits and bytes. That wouldn't be acceptable. After all those bits and bytes on your bank account represent real value, and their theft should be treated like the theft of physical money. Now a UK politician makes the same argument for the theft of virtual property in online games. Quote: “people who steal online items in video games with a real-world monetary value receive the same sentences as criminals who steal real-world items of the same monetary value”. So how about that? Other countries already do this, for example just last year some Chinese hackers got sent to prison for hacking World of Warcraft accounts.

The tricky issue here is that game companies are against recognizing virtual property. If virtual items were recognized as having a monetary value and being "property", all sorts of legal protections would kick in which would be good for the customers but bad for the game companies. They could be held liable if stuff gets lost or stolen. The game companies argue that everything in an online game is the intellectual property of the game company, and players only acquire a license to use those bits and bytes. Now this argument made sense back in the days of Everquest, where any trade of money against currency was done on a black market. But it would be extremely difficult to persuade a judge that a CREDD/PLEX is not an item of monetary value. Why should the law treat somebody who hacked a bank account for $1,000 any differently than somebody who hacked an EVE account for $1,000 in PLEX?

In a way this is another step towards the internet growing up. In the past law enforcement simply couldn't keep up with the technology, which meant that cyberspace was often lawless. Cyber law enforcement is catching up everywhere, whether it is cyber theft, cyber bullying, libel in cyberspace, or whatever other crime. Cyberspace as a modern form of lawless Wild West is slowly coming to an end.

A lot of media coverage nowadays is like a game of Telephone. The chinese hackers were not convicted of virtual theft. Instead, they got convicted of unauthorized entry into an information technology system. That's been illegal for decades in most countries, so I wouldn't treat this case as groundbreaking.
I am not find of creating new law when I can use the existent one.
As long as you cannot sell virtual object back for money, I do not think they should be considered as real object. Thus you cannot be judge for virtual theft. But if you do this, you can attack the game company for not providing the correct service. The equivalent would be someone making big enough noise during a movie. The theatre shall reimburse you the ticjet, because he has signed a contract to deliver you a movie in acceptable conditions.


I like the frown test - if someone took it away from me and I would be unhappy, then it has value. Many commenters place much more stock in whether there is a two way market for currency than I do. If an ex on the way out the door stole your wallet, that would be theft. If they took a $200 not-legal-to-resell Blizcon ticket is that not theft but a $10 bill is?

Another aspect that is pushing this forward is bitcoin. We already have IRS rulings on how it is taxed (as an item not a currency.) And US government has already seized and sold some.

Another aspect to watch is the July 2012 European Court ruling versus Oracle that prevents companies from preventing the resale of software.

IANAL, but questions arise: will they ever enforce this? How successful will the game companies be in separating this new right to sell the software with the virtual goodies on the account. Note: the game is intellectual property of the game company but Europeans are allowed to sell that to someone else. So even if WoW gold is intellectual property of a company, that does not per se mean it can't be sold.

How would a games company go about closing down an MMO e.g.? It seems they would need to reimburse all current players (probably not the unsubscribed players, you could make an argument about abandoning your virtual goods) for all the valuable items and currency they currently possess in that game. Seems like a terrible idea to me.
Is someone hacks your account and steals a bunch of plex then they have breached the games terms of service and they have probably broken some cyber crime law.

On the other hand what if they blow up you're ship and loot 1000 Euro worth of plex? Is this ok because it is allowed by the rules of the game? If it is ok doesn't that make Eve a form of gambling which probably entails a whole other set of laws?
Apology to grammar police. I know the difference between your and you're but my phone sadly doesn't.
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