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.