Dutch Supreme Court: Stealing RuneScape gear is a crime

By on February 1, 2012, 6:30 PM

The Netherlands' highest court upheld a ruling Tuesday that it's illegal to steal virtual items. In 2009, an unnamed minor and his accomplice were convicted of stealing an amulet and mask from a fellow RuneScape player. One of the defendants lost his appeal this week and must perform 144 hours of community service after failing to convince the court that the digital equipment in question isn't real.

Mind you, there's more to the case than stolen RuneScape gear. In 2007, the then 13-year-old victim was reportedly beaten and threatened with a knife until he logged onto his account and forked over the goods. The teens received a "suspended juvenile detention" for the assault, but the appeal was focused on the legality of ruling over the purported theft of virtual items, a longstanding grey area.

The defendant's lawyers maintained that the amulet and mask "were neither tangible nor material and, unlike for example electricity, had no economic value." All great points and, in fact, authorities in other cases have ruled as such. However, the Dutch Supreme Court disagreed, deciding the virtual gear had an intrinsic value to the plaintiff because of the time and energy he invested obtaining them.

In 2009, a 23-year-old man was arrested in the UK for stealing RuneScape accounts through a phishing scheme but was let off with a police caution (an alternative to full prosecution in minor cases). Between MMO and FTP games that emphasize the role of digital items and titles like Diablo 3 that allow players to exchange virtual goods for real cash, we're bound to see similar cases in the coming years.




User Comments: 23

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Trillionsin Trillionsin said:

Stealing accounts... not good.

Threatening with a knife... not good.

Stealing "virtual items" ...hmm.... virtual items can always be replicated.

camuss15 camuss15 said:

trillionsin said:

Stealing accounts... not good.

Threatening with a knife... not good.

Stealing "virtual items" ...hmm.... virtual items can always be replicated.

Actually, some items in Runescape can't be replicated as they are no longer obtainable other than by trading with another player, therefore they have a very high value in game.

Guest said:

And people wonder why our world is soo messed up, I can just see it in the future "Man got death sentence for ninja looting epic in world of warcraft!" That is LITERALLY where the world is going to just pathetic little judges with no knowledge of whats real and whats not!

ikesmasher said:

RuneScape still exists?

Oh. People take this crap too seriously.

Video games are going downhill very, very rapidly.

Rasta211 said:

Game masters can create any virtual item in the game...

I think this is going to lead to more legal problems than solutions.

What happens if someone spends time making/creating/finding an item and then someone steals that item, according to the Dutch views, that's stealing and it's a crime.

If the game masters decided to take away the item you have because they want to change the rules of the game, that ain't stealing...

Then some people are going to say the Game creators reserve the right to make changes to game and that you don't actually own anything in the game.

Well if I don't actually own anything in the game, how did some dude in the Dutch court system get punished for stealing something neither of them owned?

yRaz yRaz said:

rasta211 said:

Then some people are going to say the Game creators reserve the right to make changes to game and that you don't actually own anything in the game.

Well if I don't actually own anything in the game, how did some dude in the Dutch court system get punished for stealing something neither of them owned?

Jagex states in the eula that they own everything in your account.

MrTomTom said:

He wouldn't steal it if it had no value.

Ithryl said:

I'm impressed. I still have deep depressions because a guy ninja looted my Azuregos claw back in Vanilla WoW. Now I can rest assured people like this might actually end up burning in hell or at least serving their hours working for the good of society.

On a more serious note, I find this an extremely interesting ruling. I mean you can actually be role-playing an ******* in a game, stealing things and so on. If this is taken from you by the possibility of someone actually taking you to a court over it then it kinda ruins the "point" of the virtual world - to me anyway.

Next time you're going to get a ticket for driving too fast in an mmo game, endangering other players who just happened to be crossing the street.

Guest said:

Wonder if this will ever extend to player killing... I wouldn't be surprised the way things are going.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

rasta211 said:

Well if I don't actually own anything in the game, how did some dude in the Dutch court system get punished for stealing something neither of them owned?

You must have missed the part about being beaten up and threatened with a knife.

stewi0001 stewi0001 said:

more reasons not to play MMORPGs... sad

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

All MMO's should include a built-in system where your avatar gets a letter to appear in court within the game itself and if you don't turn up, your account gets banned, when you do turn up, the game masters decide whether or not to punish this other player and obviously compensate the other player.

Yeah sure it could get a bit complex but I'm sure that is a better way of dealing with it than actually taking someone to court. Unless they in real life threaten your life of course, thats a whole different kettle of fish...

Tomorrow_Rains said:

MMORPG's should have laws in game. not have their laws carried over to the actualy players. why dont they make the kids character do 144 hours of community service with no experience reward or loot

Tomorrow_Rains said:

It's almsost like playing grand theft auto and getting prosecuted for shooting a cop in the game and running havoc around town with a tank

Guest said:

The value of the virtual good went up, because another individual threatened a player with a knife in order to obtain said item.

The only precedent this court ruling sets is this:

If you're willing to threaten someone with violence to steal something (whether material or virtual) then there will be some sort of punishment. You aren't going to get off easy just because it's a virtual item.

Depending on the nature of the game, stealing anything in a virtual world (such as in EVE where stealing money and items is actually "encouraged" somewhat) shouldn't get you punishment. If you were stupid enough to lose the item through ignorance then that's your own problem and you can go cry about it. However, if someone acquired the item by means of stealing a password illegally, or by physical violence or the threat of such, then I believe that deserves some kind of punishment.

treetops treetops said:

lol awesome i knew a kid in high school that had a account full of sojs stolen from his friend, in diablo 2 they were worth over 2k on ebay.

example1013 said:

Sigh. Of course, rely on the internet to miss the importance of this. If you read, it makes it illegal to actually steal a digital item. The only ways to steal digital items would be to either force the owners to transfer them (threatening with a knife, for instance, is a good way to do that), or to hack the players' accounts and transfer the items yourself.

Now add to this the new, modern layer of micro-transaction games. This is being done to a player who pays real money for those digital goods. And now we're basically facing a situation where players are pirating in-game items, except unlike piracy, the original owner doesn't get to keep a copy (which is what defines theft separately from piracy). And at that point, we're actually dealing with theft of commodities, which makes it a crime.

pmkrefeld said:

you said it.... in-game what the hell has a court to do with some on-game stuff?

MilwaukeeMike said:

pmkrefeld said:

you said it.... in-game what the hell has a court to do with some on-game stuff?

gwailo247 said:

You must have missed the part about being beaten up and threatened with a knife.

Remember... if something doesn't make sense, it usually because you don't have all the information. Often the information you need is in the article you're commenting on.

pmkrefeld said:

milwaukeemike said:

pmkrefeld said:

you said it.... in-game what the hell has a court to do with some on-game stuff?

gwailo247 said:

You must have missed the part about being beaten up and threatened with a knife.

Remember... if something doesn't make sense, it usually because you don't have all the information. Often the information you need is in the article you're commenting on.

I meant ONLY that part: "Stealing RuneScape gear is a crime"

Tygerstrike said:

OMFG!!!! I played FFXI for alot of years. I had idjits steal from me in the game all the time. Either you suck it up or you stop playing. I applaud the judge in this case as he was able to start to set a precident while charging the wayward youth for the assault with intent to cause bodily harm.

I can see it now tho...

Man charged in Virtual goods theft found dead in apartment, keyboard found up his sphincter.

killeriii said:

yRaz said:

rasta211 said:

Then some people are going to say the Game creators reserve the right to make changes to game and that you don't actually own anything in the game.

Well if I don't actually own anything in the game, how did some dude in the Dutch court system get punished for stealing something neither of them owned?

Jagex states in the eula that they own everything in your account.

I don't legally OWN my bank cards or credit cards. They're property of the financial institutions they come from. But i can still charge someone for stealing them from me.

Guest said:

@yRaz

Just because a EULA says so, doesn't make it legal, nor binding. Most eula's wouldn't hold up, in brick and mortar courts. It's just that 'internet law' is nearly nonexistent, when it comes to the rights of the user... At present.

That being said, neither the U.K., nor the U.S., would rule with the Danish Supreme Court. The items were acquired in-game for free, or bought with virtual currency, not 'real' monies, (excluding JAGeX from any legal responsibility since they don't condone what they term, 'Real World Trading'). Time wasted isn't grounds for criminal punishment except, in the Netherlands, and some Asian countries... So far. This has nothing to do with assault, however assault isn't the point here virtual theft is.

Eventually, virtual economies will be bound by brick and mortar laws, if only as a means to tax people for the time they waste getting virtually 'rich'.

What I find reprehensible is the fact that the creators of Runescape, Andrew and Paul Gower, are worth over $1.5 billion, combined. They sold control, of JAGeX Ltd., in October 2010. Anyone who has spent time around them knows how lazy, greedy and deceitful they both can be.

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