It's been over five years ago since we pointed out how silly the world would be if we started bringing real world justice into virtual worlds
. It sets up a ridiculous situation, since the way any virtual world works is based on how it's programmed. If there's a problem with an action, it should be up to whoever controls the game to fix the problem, rather than the real world police. If you start setting a precedent where the "theft" of a virtual item in a video game is considered theft, then how do you deal with online worlds where theft is a part of the game? If the game allows it, then it should be a part of the game.
Even with plenty of people warning about how ridiculous it would be for police to get involved in searching for a stolen magic sword
, it seems that hasn't stopped people from going to the police. In the past, the lawsuits have usually been for other crimes besides theft, though. We had one for illegal computer access
, after a woman logged into a boyfriend's account and deleted his virtual objects. In another case, someone was charged with copyright infringement
for "copying" weapons.
However, now we have a case of an actual theft charge in the Netherlands. Two kids have been convicted of theft
of a (I kid you not) "virtual amulet and a virtual mask" in the game Runescape. The details are pretty scarce, but apparently the two kids "coerced" another kid to hand over the items, and to the court that's as good as theft:
"These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft."
I have to admit I don't know much about Runescape, but a quick look at the website mentions that it can involve "fights to the death." Does that mean we'll soon have murder charges stemming from the game? Update
: Some folks in the comments have helpfully filled in some of the details that were lacking from the original article. The two kids in this case apparently beat up and threatened at knifepoint (in real life) the other kid in order to get him to give them the virtual amulet. As others in the comments point out, it sounds like they should have been charged with assault and battery, but still not theft.