Thursday, October 23, 2008

Virtual theft can have real life consequences

Link to original blog: here

We've talked a lot about pirating content from the web. Pirates that are caught are harshly punished (way too harshly). The concept of punishing pirates for stealing songs or music or other such content makes sense, however what about items that are purely virtual? Such as items in an online game. If someone were to steal something from you in a game, should that person be punished (in the real world)?

One Dutch court said yes. The case was that two boys threatened a third to give them his virtual items in the on-line game Runescape. The third boy did end up giving them his items and then ended up suing them for the theft. The dutch court ruled in favor of the third boy and sentenced the other two (thieves) to about 200 hours of community service each.

The idea of punishment for theft of intangible things on the web brings an interesting idea to mind. If the law starts to branch out to cover things that are intangible then online thieves would start to be punished more often and maybe more harshly.

This mindset would support the way that record companies have been pursuing pirates. If a pirates downloads an entire CD then that is the same as if that pirate had gone to a music store and stole a copy of that same CD.

I completely disagree with this concept. If you 'steal' something on the web you are taking a copy of it. So the copy you have would not exist if you had not gotten it, so no loss has been made from the seller of that CD. However the pirate should still be punished, but on a much smaller scale. Like in the example of the Runescape case, the administrators of that game could have merely given the third boy his items back and deleted the items from the first two boys and then given them some sort of suspension or ban from the game. The threatening that the two boys did is something that is deserving of a harsh punishment like community service, but the punishment from the Dutch court was merely for the theft of the virtual items not the threatening.


Matt Dudek said...

Wow, 200 community service hours for stealing virtual items, that's hilarous!I agree with Patrick that the punishments made in this case have been way to harsh. At the same time I am sure the judge did set an example for those kids to never steal again.

ervolsen said...

There should be no consequence for stealing on a free online game such as Runescape. Stealing in a game like World of Warcraft (where people actually have to pay for monthly subscription) is a bit different. If anything Runescape should just accept it and learn from the mistake (beef up the security system in the game). Anyawys.. Funny article, Im surprised that it was in Holland of all places.

HAYNE said...

I feel like the case with the 3 boys was more blackmail-oriented than thievery-oriented. The idea of expanding law-enforcement for virtual misdemeanors such as theft of game.. items.. seems both entirely too ambitious and frankly, pointless. To establish domains and boundaries for extradition, and then to pass legislation exclusively for the world wide web so as to make said laws coherent, and THEN to write said legislation in accordance to the standards of every country wishing to participate? It's time to quit. Don't even bother starting. Stealing is stealing; it's stupid to even argue against that point, whether it be a CD from a physical store, or ripping it from LimeWire. Then there's a certain degree of reality that the authorities should take note of: it's impossible to keep track of everything, especially when it's intangible.
As for the case with the 3 boys: Threatening someone to get online toys for your nonexistent fairy warrior, and then taking that situation to court? How completely embarrassing. I'm with the judge here. My Rx would've also been hundreds of service hours. They all clearly need to get out more. Pathetic.