Can You Get Someone Arrested For Your Programming Flaws?

from the just-wondering... dept

For a few years now, we've been pointing out that there's eventually going to be a big problem when people realize that applying real world laws to online virtual worlds raises some very tricky legal questions. One of the examples we gave was of a character "stealing" another character's property and then being arrested for it. If the "real world" laws apply -- then this person is guilty of theft (which might make sense considering that virtual goods are now taking on real value thanks to eBay). However, what if stealing is a part of the game? Then that seems silly to have the person arrested. Then it starts to get very blurry. What if stealing isn't the main point of the game, but is possible in the game? What if the stealing is only possible because of a glitch? Where's the line? It looks like we have yet another example -- and it's hitting Linden Labs' Second Life. This isn't surprising. A few years ago, Linden Labs got a ton of press for explicitly stating that real world laws applied in Second Life, and they were even granting real "ownership" of goods in the virtual world to those who had them. As we pointed out at the time, rather than being a good solution, this just brought a lot of other problems into their world. The details of the story today are still a little unclear (and the facts may not be accurate), but it's being said that the CEO of the company has announced that he's handing over the names of some disruptive players to the FBI. The players used in-game scripting tools to cause various problems. Now, players who disrupt a game are clearly quite annoying -- and you can absolutely understand the frustration of other players and employees of Linden Labs. But is it a matter for the FBI? These players used the in-game tools that Linden Labs gives them to create these problems. Basically, they're living well within the programmed rules -- which the programmers (unintentionally, obviously) left open. So, the real solution should be to (a) close the flaw and (b) decide if you want to kick those players out of the game. It seems a little weird to ask the FBI to investigate someone doing something your own virtual world allowed them to do. Update: Ed Felten makes a strong case disagreeing with me, and saying that it's the right thing to bring in the FBI. I understand his reasoning, but still disagree. It opens up a Pandora's box of problems. The point about real world crimes being possible without violating the laws of physics is pointless comparison -- because we don't then call in police enforcement from outside of our world to enforce crimes in it, and (depending on your religious beliefs) there isn't someone actively controlling all aspects of "the world."


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  1.  
    identicon
    Sv, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 4:52pm

    "Hi, we have no clue of computer technology"

    This is what those lawmakers say. Unfortunately Second Life's guys say that too.

    Virtual Worlds are best left on their own. If theft is to be allowed, then allow it, if not, then not allow it.

    If someone hacks in the game servers then this is just regular hacking into someone's servers/system and he's doing crime in the actual real world.

    So, where's the need for laws in virtual worlds!?

     

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  2.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 15th, 2005 @ 5:08pm

    Re:

    No, I think you've oversimplified things here:

    If theft is to be allowed, then allow it, if not, then not allow it. If someone hacks in the game servers then this is just regular hacking into someone's servers/system and he's doing crime in the actual real world.

    What happened here was neither the situation you describe -- but a middle case. The hacks were done inside the game. It wasn't someone outside the game hacking *into* the server, but using the tools provided by the game to create a disruptive problem.

    So you could very well argue that it was allowed in the game because it could be done in the game. If they didn't want to allow it... they shouldn't have allowed it.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 5:48pm

    Re:

    fuck this shit, u bitches dont know what ur talking about

     

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  4.  
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    Sv, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 5:55pm

    Re: Re:

    So you could very well argue that it was allowed in the game because it could be done in the game. If they didn't want to allow it... they shouldn't have allowed it.

    But yes, they shouldn't have allowed it. At least they have to make it so the community can moderate out losers. This is achieving the effect of "what the community wants" a lot better than some artifician crude law.

    Remember, our legal system is poor man's software programming to impose rules on the real world. With the virtual world, we have far better alternatives.

     

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  5.  
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    thyno, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 6:01pm

    Seriously. . .

    Definately a job for the FBI. Use those tax dollars wisely to catch(and possibly prosecute) those online in-game harrassers. Next time someone sends you a tell complimenting your character's ass, it should be forwarded immediately to the FBI's sexual harassment division. Likewise, the next time you are scammed by another player(likely because of your own ignorance/impatience), they should be charged with theft, right?
    Seriously, the FBI, nor any other law enforcement agency, has no place in any virtual world. The company should take responsibility and fix the problems associated with the world they created.

     

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  6.  
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    Urza9814, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 6:16pm

    Make your own FBI!

    Why should our (well, your...I'm only 16 :-P) taxes go to pay for investigations in their world! Why doens't Linden create their own FBI! Just make an in-game law-enforcement system, and throw their characters in jail. Just like banning but more frustrating!

     

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  7.  
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    whoda?, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 7:49pm

    Re: Make your own FBI!

    urza, u've jus nailed this post...

     

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  8.  
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    Dirky, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 8:11pm

    It's very simple....

    A game is a game and whether the exploit is through a glitch in the program or a hack into the server it doesn't matter, it's a game! So you just lost everything you had that took you so long to get, IT'S A GAME! Get over it! Theft in the virtual world [of games] shouldn't even be considered a plausible justification for real life punishment. When that person that spends all their time hacking into other players accounts and becomes the greatest player of all time they'll soon lose everything due to lack of money and anything even remotely considered life. Punishment is seeing them living in a box next to a dumpster in the next couple years.

     

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  9.  
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    Andrew Strasser, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 8:21pm

    Gross misuse of game conduct.

    I would suggest that you think of it in terms of weather or not gross misuse of game mechanics caused it or not for a game that includes stealing as an option as there are always rules as to how you can steal. This could be a problem though one time in a game that I was paying like 30 bucks a month for I lost like $.08 USD on the ground to a thief because of weight restrictions. It was stealing in a way that enough people got together to roleplay it out as a big deal, but in all reality it kinda fit with the game. Being during a $50 event it was more fun than anything because they blew the theives legs off. Gross misuse of game mechanics and btw this does include trading of gems in Gemstone. Was a great game though I learned that term there the hard way. There are many on-line communities that keep their profit ratios at around $10-15 usd per million now though so it's something that could be more of an issue in the future.

     

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  10.  
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    Andrew Strasser, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 8:29pm

    Re: Gross misuse of game conduct.

    btw they called it gross misuse of game mechanics.

     

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  11.  
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    Bobthealmighty, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 10:01pm

    Really

    this is yet another example of why technology and polotics don't mix.
    Really.
    We need the seperation of geek and state.

     

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  12.  
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    Bob, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 10:39pm

    On applying real world laws to virtual worlds...

    There is no jurisprudence over a virtual world since an endless supply of it can be created at a whim, by any creator. It's only a game and is not real, therefore real world laws cannot apply to it.

    If you buy a virtual island for $10,000, then what you've done is paid a programmer $10,000 to create an illusion of an island to entertain you. If that is worth $10,000 to you, then enjoy your illusion, but don't expect others to accept or share in your illusion with you.. there is no law that requires them to recognize your island as anything more than bits on a screen. You accept all risk associated with your entertainment purchase; the creator could pull the plug on your illusion at any time. In the way you might buy out the house of a broadway play or a pricey show for $10,000 (leasing a space for a few hours to entertain yourself) you've paid $10,000 to be entertained by the illusion of an island.. the same concept applies.

    Virtual worlds are for entertainment purposes only, because in their simplest form, they're just games that mimic life scenarios or events, and are not real.

    Just because some company or another claims that real world laws should apply within their game worlds, does not make it so. There is no such law, and there likely never will be; no legislator would ever be wacky enough to extend the laws of the physical world into video games, or even propose such silliness.. they would probably be laughed off the senate or house floor.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 10:45pm

    Doesn’t the FBI have like, real crimes to investig

    Doesn’t the FBI have like, real crimes to investigate? I mean seriously, there is a crack house 2 blocks from my place, and I need to worry about some dip-shit agent peeping in my window waiting for me to download something “illegal,” or “steal” something that virtually (but not actually) exists? WTF?

    Isn’t the FBI, I don’t know, embarrassed to be involved in this?

    I am embarrassed that they are using tax money for this non-problem, thus creating a real, non-virtual, problem.

     

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  14.  
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    Akuma, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 10:55pm

    From their front page

    "Join a burgeoning new online society, shaped entirely by its residents. Here you can be or do anything. Explore an ever-changing 3D landscape. Meet new and exciting people. Create a masterpiece - or an empire. Second Life is yours - to imagine, invent, and inhabit."

    If it's within the game's coded rules then, according to how they advertise the game, users should be allowed to do it.

    It's like living in our current society and being prosecuted for learning how to work within the laws of physics. Sure, stuff we come up with may be new and may not be the best for everyone, but is it illegal? That depends on who you ask. And if this society is the anarchy that they advertise it as, then no - it's not illegal.

     

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  15.  
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    Kex, Dec 16th, 2005 @ 6:07am

    Re: On applying real world laws to virtual worlds.

    There is no jurisprudence over a virtual world since an endless supply of it can be created at a whim, by any creator. It's only a game and is not real, therefore real world laws cannot apply to it.
    If you buy a virtual island for $10,000, then what you've done is paid a programmer $10,000 to create an illusion of an island to entertain you.

    This is not a good assumption, especially in the case of Second Life.
    Islands require servers. Servers cost money. Every region of land in Second Life (64k square meters) requires another CPU to run the simulation. Those servers must be purchased, installed, and maintained.

     

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  16.  
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    eggy lippmann, Dec 16th, 2005 @ 6:09am

    Re: Re:

    Second Life is not a game, as it has no end goal or inherent mechanics, but rather a 3D content development platform. Nothing is provided by Linden Lab except server space and development tools with which you can make your own 3D objects and program behavior into them. Without its users there would be nothing in there but empty terrain.
    It's sort of like the web, but in 3D. People go there to create content or enjoy the content other people have created, whether it be games, social environments, e-commerce, whatever.
    You can quickly make an email virus "inside" Microsoft Windows, causing millions of dollars in damage to all sort of people.
    Similarly, it's possible to program all kinds of malicious scripts "inside" Second Life.
    I say "inside" between quotes because there's no real difference, you can send email, XML-RPC and open URLs back and forth between "external" servers and "inside" Second Life. Most advanced projects will need an external web / database server of some sort, using the 3D world as a user interface.
    There is no middle case here. The programming functions used to make malicious self-replicating scripts are also needed for academic researchers (of which we have plenty in Second Life) who engage in Artificial Life projects, or people who need to rapidly create large or complex objects from smaller ones, or even a basic e-commerce system.

     

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  17.  
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    Voices, Dec 17th, 2005 @ 3:40am

    Re: Re:

    forget all that technobabble. there are people who use second life to make real life money. when the grid goes down it fucks up their business, and they lose money. when the grid goes down it fucks up Linden Lab's business and they lose money. that is why second life is NOT a game. I have no opinion on the feds getting into the mix but you damn sure need to know that they have divisions, where several of my friends have trained that deal with online crimes of this nature - ie distruption of service and other kinds of cyber crimes. your tax dollars are already spent.

     

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  18.  
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    Bob, Dec 17th, 2005 @ 9:05pm

    Re: On applying real world laws to virtual worlds.

    "Islands require servers. Servers cost money... Those servers must be purchased, installed, and maintained."

    In your sentence, simply replace all instances of islands with moviescreens, and servers with theatres. Still, it is a game.. a simulation. The ability to make or lose money within a game does not justify it as being anything more than what it is.

    There are two realities in this.. the real and the virtual one. The real has finite resources, the virtual is limitless. The virtual requires the real to exist, the inverse is not true. That is why the laws of the real world can never be successfully applied to the virtual one.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Patriot, Dec 17th, 2005 @ 10:19pm

    I hear Voices

    there are people who use second life to make real life money. ... that is why second life is NOT a game.

    There are LOTS of people, not just players and owners, who use football to make money – real money. Football is still a game. Just like the Second Life.

    And, BTW, no one believes that you have “several” friends who have all trained in the fed's cyber crimes division(s), just like no one believes that you have a girlfriend in Canada.

     

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  20.  
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    Agonizing Fury, Dec 18th, 2005 @ 9:38pm

    Re: Re:

    What happened here was neither the situation you describe -- but a middle case. The hacks were done inside the game. It wasn't someone outside the game hacking *into* the server, but using the tools provided by the game to create a disruptive problem.
    So you could very well argue that it was allowed in the game because it could be done in the game. If they didn't want to allow it... they shouldn't have allowed it.

    What About Viruses that exploit problems in Microsoft's code? Did Microsoft not "Allow" them to do so by not forbidding it in their code? Yet the people who write viruses are arrested all the time.
    For all of you who say "it's just virtual money in a virtual world" Remember you said that when your PayPal account get's hacked into because PayPal's Server's code "Allowed" it. And your money in there is just virtual Money right? used to trade things on the internet? Just like in Game Money? Hmmmm.
    And Even without those issues, If Lindin Labs loses money because of someone elses malicious activities on their network, then it is indeed a case for the FBI's Computer Crimes Division. People pay real money to use a service, and if that service is interupted by a malicious activity, they will not pay anymore. In that case, Lindin Labs has lost real money.

     

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  21.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 19th, 2005 @ 12:11am

    Re: Re:

    What About Viruses that exploit problems in Microsoft's code?

    That's a different situation. That's the equivalent of someone outside of Second Life using other programming tools to hack Second Life. This was a situation directly within the game world, where the tools given to them to create whatever they wanted were misused. There's a very fine distinction here, but it's an important one.

     

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  22.  
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    Voices, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 3:13am

    Re: I hear Voices

    You are so right. I lied. I only have one friend who trained in those divisions. The other was local PD in my area who trained in their cyber crime division. Regardless, what I said was true, the tax dollars for this sort of thing are already spent, whether is my friend training there or yours.
    And all life is a stage. However anyone wants to look at it. The simple fact that Linden Dollars have real US Dollar value and are traded - bought and sold each and every day - dismisses any outcries of oh its just play money or oh its "just a game".
    we call football a game. they call it a franchise, or a business. semantics. bottom line when both the players and the company providing the platform (game, franchise, business) for players loses money, from someone's actions, you bet your buns someone is going to have to answer for it. if its the Fibbies or whoever or Linden Lab themselves, as I said in my first post I have no comment about that, but someone's ass in going to be stuck in the fire.

     

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  23.  
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    not happy, Jul 8th, 2006 @ 6:37pm

    abuse

    can you get arrested for verbaly abuseing someone on the internet?

     

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  24.  
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    BA-LA, Sep 21st, 2006 @ 1:09pm

    Just a rather important statement...

    "Join a burgeoning new online society, shaped entirely by its residents. Here you can be or do anything. Explore an ever-changing 3D landscape. Meet new and exciting people. Create a masterpiece - or an empire. Second Life is yours - to imagine, invent, and inhabit."


    From what I saw of Second Life, it seems that what they claim to allow you to do is "ANYTHING". This pretty much throws away any arguement against what can be done inside the game, including stealing.

    Now, stoping/destroying the game, or servers that run the game, I believe should be punished. This would count as hijacking/destroying a real life thing and therefore would be against the real life laws.

    Futheremore, the fact that people are willing to trade virtual money for real life money, and vice versa, doesn't mean that stealing virtual money would count as stealing real life money. It's like saying that stealing someone's "groove" is the same thing as stealing their wallet. You can't put a real life value on something virtual and expect people to abid by the rules you set for it.

     

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  25.  
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    Iceland, Oct 24th, 2006 @ 6:30pm

    As with all crime is compited wen somone harms another. Now the complicated thing is that what I think harms me and what you think harms you ant the same thing. Now to define that blury line in to a nice line we have laws. Now you might have heard of the guy that started a "bank" on EVE online and got away with LOADS of vertual money wich translates in to real money. Well in the EVE laws there is nothing that states that this can not be done, and the game is about geting ahead.

    Now basicly what I am saying with games they all have there own laws.

    But what about the internet itselfe are we realy going to gather the world together and make laws about the internet all as one. I would love to see that...

     

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  26.  
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    Big Small, Nov 30th, 2006 @ 10:44am

    When Linden Labs deletes a character, even accidentally, should they be liable for murder?

    How about usury? How about problems under the disability act for disabled characters?

    Kidnapping? How about monopoly?

    Oh and I can think of about 100 other laws they are breaking in that virtual world..

    How about impersonating a police officer?

    Want to make real laws apply to the virtual world. Go ahead. Just realize that you can't have it both ways where the players are responsible but the people who own the game aren't.

    There is no way actual laws can apply to a virtual world. If the idiot CEO is trying to do it, he is going to be in for a WORLD OF LAWSUITS himself

     

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  27.  
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    Big Small, Nov 30th, 2006 @ 10:49am

    For those of you who think stealing someone's Linden dollars inside of Second Life is a crime..

    Who is creating those dollars? LINDEN LABS.

    In the United States, are citizens allowed to CREATE THEIR OWN CURRENCY?

    NO THAT IS AGAINST THE LAW. IT IS A CRIME.

    Various splinter Libertarian groups have tried to make their own currencies over the years and there have been many LAWSUITS about it.

    If Linden dollars are a currency, THEN LINDEN LABS IS BREAKING FEDERAL LAWS AND THEY SHOULD ALL GO TO JAIL.

    That is why you can't apply real world laws to a virtual world. A virtual world is not the real world.

    If you go down that hole, you can't go just one little way. You either go all the way or you don't.

    Tresspassing when someone walks on your property in the virtual world?

    Think about it.

    Who can start a bank in Second Life? Are they holding the correct Federal Reserve amount? Banks are regulated in the US. Are people in Second Life following those laws?

    How about corporate disclosure? Are investors in things accredited.

    There are so many laws.. all of them. You'd have to apply all of them. You can't selectively apply them and that is why it breaks down COMPLETELY.

     

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  28.  
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    Bunsen, Dec 4th, 2006 @ 5:07am

    Re: Re: Re: VOICES

    "when the grid goes down it fucks up their business, and they lose money. when the grid goes down it fucks up Linden Lab's business and they lose money. that is why second life is NOT a game." -Voices

    By this definition, Everquest, Guild Wars, WoW, and FFXI are not games either. The fact that people use a GAME to experiment, or make money, is not a mitigating factor here in my mind. If you invest yourself, financially, emotionally, through your time or effort in any entertainment pursuit, you are taking an inherent risk. This risk is not guaranteed to anybody else in any other GAME world, and it shouldn't be.

    The world isn't real, and the economy is no more real than any MMORPG that buffs its own economy through real-world commerce. Linden Labs choice to be reckless with other people's money, and those people's choices to let Linden put their finances at risk is no problem of mine as a taxpayer, and it shouldn't be, either.

     

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