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Monday, February 6, 2012

Dutch Court Treat Virtual Goods As Real

An interesting court case in the Netherlands has ruled that virtual goods can be regarded as real objects in case of their theft.

A 13 year-old boy was beaten up and threatened with a knife to log into an online game and transfer virtual possessions (a magic amulet and mask). Lawyers in the case were trying to reduce the importance of the assault by pointing out that it wasn’t aggravated theft. The boy who threatened the owner of the goods insisted that he couldn’t have been charged with aggravated theft – in fact, nothing real had been stolen there.

As you know, the court usually rules that a smack in the face is bad, but a smack in the face to steal lunch money is much worse. And in this particular case the judge also didn’t appear to have charged the boy with the knife with ordinary assault. The lawyer of the defendant had claimed that the amulet and mask had been neither tangible nor material so they had no economic value like electricity could have had.

As a result, this case got all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court. The latter ruled that it doesn’t matter whether the possessions could be seen in the real world or not. The court upheld the theft conviction of a kid who stole another guy’s goods in the popular online fantasy game RuneScape and ordered the suspect 144 hours of community service that were intended to sort the brat out.

According to the local media reports, the Dutch Supremes decided that the virtual objects had an intrinsic value to the 13-year-old boy due to the time and energy the latter had invested in earning them while playing the online game. The offender, another 13-year-old boy, together with one more teenager, beat and kicked the complainant and threatened him with a knife to log into the well-known online game RuneScape and drop the objects. This happened over four years ago, but the case still continues. One of the offenders, who also had account in RuneScape, later picked up the dropped items, thus making them his virtual property (in other words, stealing them). Both of the offenders were convicted by a lower court two years ago, and one of them had appealed. However, the appeal had failed, and we now have another study case to prove that our virtual possessions are as important to us as our material and intellectual property, which is so much protected by the law these days.

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