Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
digital goods, theft, virtual worlds

habbo hotel

Real Police Cross Over Into Virtual World Again; Arrest Teen For Theft Of Virtual Furniture

from the bad-precedent dept

Just a few weeks ago, we pointed to a lawsuit involving two Second Life users, with one accusing the other of "theft." We pointed out, as we have for quite some time, how problematic it is when real world laws are applied within a virtual world. The point of a virtual world is that anything is possible -- and putting the constraints of the real world on those worlds not only seems counterproductive, but potentially dangerous. That Second Life lawsuit was between two users, but over in the UK, a similar situation has gone even further: involving the police.

The police have arrested a teenager accused of "stealing" virtual furniture from another player in the virtual world Habbo Hotel. Again, it's true that the virtual furniture has real monetary value, but it's the sort of thing that should be taken care of within the framework of Habbo Hotel. The folks who run the world should be able to deal with the situation, as they are the world's de facto government. If you don't think this is a problem that's going to get more and more problematic, then just start to think through the scenarios of what happens next. What happens in an online virtual world where "theft" is designed to be a part of the gameplay? Can players then call the real cops when they lose in the game? That situation may be a bit more black and white, but many of these virtual worlds are designed to be defined by the users. So what if the users decide that "theft" is a part of the gameplay? What if some users decide it is and others don't? Bringing real world laws and real world cops into virtual worlds is guaranteed to cause problems.

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  1. identicon
    SmellyG, 14 Nov 2007 @ 1:00pm

    A bit over the top

    There is to sides to this:

    The fact that it is data owned by people, and bought by people. If you take away the idea that its 'furniture' in a 'game', and realise in real life that it is purchased data, then yes, it can be easy to see the police getting involved. The same thing happends if someone removes data off someone elses computer, right?

    However, in the end, its a game, and has no real life implications. In this case, the user that did the stealing can have his/her account taken away, and the bought 'goods' given back to the owner.

    Again, it may not be as simple as just giving the 'goods' back (hard to find the original owners of each item etc), and would be a lot of extra work for the operators of Habbo. It probably is in the best interests of Habbo to crack down hard on these people in order to reduce the number of these instances.

    Which ever way you go on this, Mike is right; how far this could go is kinda scary. The easiest way is to (as sonofdot says) remove the money aspect, unless you can get a compleatly hack-proof system (unlikely).

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