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Crime The Courts Games Your Rights Online

Dutch Supreme Court Sees Game Objects As Goods 136

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-stole-my-cloudsong dept.
thrill12 writes "The Dutch Supreme Court ruled on January 31st that the taking away of possessions in the game Runescape from a 13-year-old boy, who was threatened with a (real) knife, was in fact theft because the possessions could be seen as actual goods. The highest court explained this not by arguing it was software that was copied, but by stating that the game data were real goods acquired through 'effort and time investment,' and 'the principal had the actual and exclusive dominion of the goods' — up until the moment the other guy took them away, that is."
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Dutch Supreme Court Sees Game Objects As Goods

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  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:35PM (#38882267)

    They left out an important fact in the summary... he didn't lose the things under the rules of the game, he lost them because the suspect threatened him with a knife. This puts it in the same category as "give me your password or else" threats. Maybe robbery might be the wrong charge to give him, but there's got to be something illegal about gaining game objects by real-world threats.

    • by ForgedArtificer (1777038) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:39PM (#38882321) Homepage

      Never mind that, there's got to be something illegal about threatening someone with a knife.

      • by balzi (244602)

        Exactly!

        I don't get why he got 144 hours of community service - surely armed "robbery", or at least armed something, deserves something more severe?

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          Maybe there were multiple charges involved? Assault is not the same as assault with theft. The suspect was also still a juvenile at the time of the crime.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by FatdogHaiku (978357)
          Bailiff, whack his pee pee!
      • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:47PM (#38882453) Homepage Journal

        Never mind that, there's got to be something illegal about threatening someone with a knife.

        True that.

        The real story here: how fucked up is the world that kids are threatening to shiv each other over goddamn digital trinkets? What's next, kids killing each other over Xbox games? [hotbloodedgaming.com]

        ... Aw, fuck.

        • Nothing new about that, kids have threatened kids over possessions since time immemorial.

          Someone getting beat up in school for their lunch money is pretty much a cliché now, it's brought up so often.

          • Beating someone up for money is one thing; murdering them because you lost a game of Halo, or you're too lazy to find your own Chaos Talisman, is an entirely different situation.

            I lost plenty of games of Tekken back in the day, but not once did I even consider bleeding the other guy for beating me.
            • All I mean is, it's a very old story. People keep acting like senseless violence was invented at about the same time as video games; it couldn't be further from the truth.

              All throughout history there have been incidents of people - adult and child alike - drastically, physically overreacting to things. I remember two of my friends nearly going a few rounds over whether they were looking at a picture of the front or the back of a pokémon.

              The BIG difference today is that we have an extremely efficient

              • Perhaps a better question to ask yourself is: what's wrong with ME when I apply the statistically insignificant actions of one person (again, one in seven billion, that means he represents 0.0000000000143% of the population) to an entire generation?

                Well, gee, Wally, when you put it that way, I guess what's "wrong" with me is that I'm human, and thus prone to sensationalism and statistical error. We all can't be infallible machines that happen to be immune to social norms like you seem to think yourself.

                For the record, I hail from an area in which, 20-30 years ago, kids brought guns to school daily and no one (who wasn't a rabbit or squirrel) ever got shot. Of course, back then we didn't get into fisticuffs arguing about whether we were looking at the

                • Sorry about that; I meant "yourself" as a generalization, not an attack on you specifically.

                  I'm trying to make a point, not start a fight. I know we're all fallible creatures. Otherwise, what'd be the point?

                  What I'm trying to say is that I'm against any individual or group blaming video games for violence.

        • by meerling (1487879)
          There have been a couple of cases in Korea where someone was killed over an argument in an online game, or theft of equipment in an online game.
        • by TheLink (130905)

          Digital trinkets? Those numbers in bank accounts and stock market shares are digital trinkets too. The only difference is whether the courts and governments decide they are different or not.

          When enough people think a stamp, a pokemon card, or a stockmarket share or a bunch of digits in a computer are valuable, it is valuable.

          Denying it can cause bigger problems, like the case years ago in China when some guy "borrowed" another guy's "virtual sword" and then sold it (for a significant amount of real money).

        • kids are threatening to shiv each other over goddamn digital trinkets?

          Why would that surprise you?

          The *IAAs have persuaded your government to roll back hundreds of years of hard-won freedoms over equally ephemeral digital representations of sound and images.

    • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:43PM (#38882397)
      Pft... knives are only like a D6 damage. Not much of a threat.
    • It will be interesting to see if someone attempts a lawsuit later if a threat and stealing take place entirely within the virtual world, e.g. some PvP game, and whether this ruling will be used as precedent.

      • by squidflakes (905524) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:49PM (#38883333) Homepage

        Whelp, there goes EVE.

        • by Splab (574204)

          Came here for this. Very first thought I had when reading the subject - don't pop a dutch in Eve :-)

          • Not applicable. That's in-game mechanics. This is real life extortion.

            If you sit on Ama-gank-me gate passive tanking the guns and bubble some noob flying through in his new AF, that's all part of the game. If you go around to his house and demand 100m ISK and all his faction modules or you'll beat him with a wrecking bar, that would be a similar to this situation.

            Besides, natural justice is the law in Eve. If you get ganked, you fleet up and go get some revenge.
        • by meerling (1487879)
          Not so much. The in game theft or con is just a matter of the game. You can kill the online character a million times, and only piss off the player. So long as he doesn't go ballistic and pop a vein or something, no real harm done.

          This case has the kid, the actual real world human, being threatened with a knife, aka - actual potential death of the person or at least some really nasty boo-boos. Not so much different than sticking a knife to someone and forcing them to withdraw money from an ATM. After all, i
        • by St.Creed (853824)

          I didn't know you could go to someone IRL, hold a knife to their throat, and have that considered part of the game.

          Wow, EVE is *really* hardcore! :)

      • In game it's like losing a baseball game and they take your trophy for not losing any games.
    • by poetmatt (793785)

      Yep, this article has zero to do with game objects.

      It's more like they're saying "if they threaten you in real life and you transfer something under duress it's still a theft"

      Which has zero bearing on the physical or non. This has been pretty much been settled and answered in judiciaries around the globe for a long time.

      • Yeah, I'm disappointed. I started reading the comments hoping to learn that we could now prosecute ninjalooters...

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:24PM (#38882999) Homepage

      I rarely see any of my monthly wages in cash, it just gets added to the "total" number in my bank account.
      In practice, money isn't much more tangible than in-game goods and most would say taking away money is theft, even if it was taken from a bank account.

      • by Tatarize (682683)

        Add to that the fact that you can sell many of those items for real cash money. And that when property rights are denied there are real and serious problems.

        There have been cases where Person A borrows a sword from Person B. Person A sells said sword on Ebay for $500. Person B contacts the police. Police say person B has no recourse. Person B kills Person A.

        It's really a problem that such things are not rightly classed as property under current law just because of the digital nature of the good.

        • by St.Creed (853824)

          You're opening up a big can of worms here.

          the IRS has already looked at the possibility of taxing virtual goods. This was held to be impossible but given this ruling, I'm not so sure there's no legal option to go and do exactly that. How'd you like to add all your virtual cash to your next tax statement? And would the subscription money be deductible? Inquiring minds want to know :)

          And indeed, for EVE: what if you're scammed *in game* out of your goods? EVE considers this part of the game - but the Dutch Hi

          • by St.Creed (853824)

            Okay, responding to myself: I just found the verdict (Dutch): http://zoeken.rechtspraak.nl/detailpage.aspx?ljn=BQ9251 [rechtspraak.nl]

            Very interesting part of the verdict is this (my translation):
            "Relevant is also that the rules of the game in RuneScape do not allow for a method of obtaining these goods as happened in this case. The act of removal has been committed outside the context of the game. So this is not about virtual acts in a virtual world, but factual acts that influence a virtual world."

            So EVE should be

          • I'm not supposing this stuff idly as a great what if. People are buying and selling these goods for real money (which is valued at what people value it at too), and when they are actually robbed in a way unassociated with game dynamics they seek restitution if the police won't help them they will help themselves. People have died over the theft of virtual goods. That people spend cash, sweat, and blood in the market necessarily says it's a real market. Shrugging your shoulders because it's hard and forcing

        • by Hentes (2461350)

          Most MMO games don't allow selling of digital "properties" so that reasoning would not hold up in court. If it wasn't a criminal case the guy could sue for emotional damages at most. But in this case the fact that threating someone with a knife happened in order to "obtain" virtual "goods" made the verdict harsher.

    • by thrill12 (711899)
      OP here, I left out the knife part originally because for Slashdot I figured the real interesting fact was the "game data equals good" part. The original ruling already had the other person convicted because of the knife thing, but the defense argued that the crime could not constitute actual theft because there were no goods to be stolen. That is what the supreme court overturned, and that is the 'news' part in this story.
    • by EJB (9167)

      The question that the judges answered in the ruling was, whether the crime of "theft" was committed by defendant.
      That's article 310 of the Dutch penal code, translated (IANAL) as "He who takes a good that belongs wholly of partly to another person, with the intent to appropriate it in an illegal manner, will be, as being guilty of "theft", punished with a prison term of at most 4 years or a monetary fine of the fourth category"

      His defense argued that what was 'stolen' could not be seen as 'goods' as defined

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If I purchase a song on iTunes, that's a "good."

    If I share said song with all of my friends, that's apparently theft according to the RIAA/MPAA.

    Why would it be any different than an abstract file/data purchased/acquired in a game?

    • I'm divided between wanting to point out that your examples were American, and that this is a Dutch case... and being too lazy^Hbusy to confirm that the same precedents exist in the Netherlands. Your choice!
      • by dkf (304284)

        I'm divided between wanting to point out that your examples were American, and that this is a Dutch case... and being too lazy^Hbusy to confirm that the same precedents exist in the Netherlands.

        The Netherlands is a country that uses a pure statute law system (in common with many other European countries, but different from the US and the UK); precedents are technically not relevant as each case is supposed to be judged from the law as written. However, arguments as presented before a court can be looked at for their persuasive power, especially when those are from the relevant supreme court, even though they have to be reevaluated in terms of the facts of the case every time.

        Legal systems: amazing

      • The US uses Common Law, that's a very different system from the Civil Law (Roman) system used in most European countries (with the exception of the UK and Ireland).

        Precedents don't have the same value in other legal systems, or rather they don't have to. You can't apply American law to European courts :)

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          Precedents don't have the same value in other legal systems, or rather they don't have to. You can't apply American law to European courts :)

          And yet we have SCOTUS occupants who want to apply European law to US courts.

          • [citation needed]

            All justices have mentioned foreign laws in their opinions, and none have ever stated that they want European laws to apply to the US.
          • No Islands of Law (Score:4, Interesting)

            by andersh (229403) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @07:43PM (#38884007)

            You don't seem to understand my point, this is not about sovereignty, the reason you can't apply American law to European courts is because the systems are vastly different. It's like using Imperial measurements in a Metric country, or even better like speaking Russian in China.

            For example the Common Law principle of caveat emptor, "buyer beware", does not work the same in most European systems, where there are other balances, duties and rights for both seller and buyer. The equations are different, therefore different results.

            Laws and their interpretations are not formed in a vacuum, international sources are considered, but not applied directly in most countries. They can function as guidance or useful examples. After all the UK is the original source of your legal system, laws, methods, rights and oldest precedents. You don't seem to mind those? Never mind the international treaties and conventions on trade and standardization.

            Now, who's pushing that ACTA set of laws on Europe?

    • by EJB (9167)

      One of the really interesting things in this verdict is that the judge explicitly said that forcing something to give you "software, computer data or a PIN code" cannot be seen as theft, because it doesn't leave the 'power of disposal' of the original owner, but instead also becomes at the disposal of somebody else in an unwanted manner. There are other laws that deal with that though.

      So in in this verdict the judge explicitly said that illegal copying is *not* theft, because for theft something needs to be

  • Discontinued service (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:43PM (#38882389)

    OK, what happens when a game company decides to shut down their MMO server and remove all your objects of "value"?

    • by Bucky24 (1943328)
      If it was WoW that got shut down we'd have riots in the streets...
      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by DogDude (805747)
        People who play WOW couldn't riot. They'd get winded by the time they got to the end of their driveways, give up, and order in some pizza and watch some Netflix.
        • by Dishevel (1105119)

          To be fair they would also send lots of angry emails.

        • by gmhowell (26755)

          People who play WOW couldn't riot. They'd get winded by the time they got to the end of their driveways, give up, and order in some pizza and watch some Netflix.

          End of the driveway? We'd get winded halfway up the stairs. </basementjoke>

      • If it was WoW that got shut down we'd have impotent nerd rage in the MMO Champion forums...

        FTFY.

    • by darkwing_bmf (178021) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:51PM (#38882503)

      It's the difference between "contract" law and "threaten someone with a knife" law.

      • by rdebath (884132)

        Not only that, if you live in a rented house and are robbed. You are the official victim even if it's some of your landlord's stuff that's stolen.

        But this doesn't change that the stuff belongs to the landlord when you move out (or get evicted).

        Still, I ain't sure this is right for virtual stuff belonging to a virtual-land lord.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        The question still remains though, especially if the company charges for extras like many do. If you bought a load of virtual goods from them and the next day they announced that the severs would shut down in a week you might have a case.

    • by Tatarize (682683)

      Your objects value are determined by what they are valued at. They are worth what people are willing to pay for them. With the shut down of a game service the objects would become devoid of value because their value is only as part of the game which no longer existed, effectively the game shutdown would cause an economic collapse of the value items of the game.

      If the MMO simply stole your stuff because they wanted to, you should be allowed to sue them for the value of the items. Somebody might well give you

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Maybe "nothing" if it's legally considered an Act of (Game) God ;).

      If someone stole your in-game objects, then sure, same thing as if someone stole stockmarket shares, the money in bank accounts, changed some digital land title registration... Unless of course the theft is considered part of the game (ala EVE Online).
    • They have your prior agreement in the terms and conditions.
         

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So when Amie Street was sold to Amazon and I lost my song collection, it was theft. I just feel sorry that it would be too expensive to sue a US company for a non US citizen.

  • by johnvile (2560845)
    I've invested loads of 'effort and time (and) investment,' in loads of stuff that got me no where. I wish I was Dutch. At least the courts would be on my side.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      People find value in the configuration of electrons in any given medium valuable for different reasons.

  • The knife threat and kicking were obviously a form of assault/ bodily harm and should have easily swamped in terms of sentencing any charges for a very minor act of theft.

    I am very surprised that the Supreme Court simply didn't say that the issue of whether virtual items are real property or not was moot in view of the more serious offences committed by the defendants.

    • by Carik (205890) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:01PM (#38882649)

      It could be that the judge wanted to tack on more time... since it looks like he could only impose community service (possibly because everyone involved was a minor?), it may have given him an option to impose a harsher sentence.

      I could easily see that: "OK, the max I'm allowed to impose on a minor for a single offense is 100 hours, and that's for threats of violence. But you deserve more punishment, so what else can I do? Oh... you also stole something. That's another 44 hours. If I could think of anything else to add, I would, so count yourself lucky, kid, and don't do it again."

    • The theft is MOTIVE. Assault with a deadly weapon or threatened assault can have many motives: robbery, jealously, bigotry, random act of cruelty, etc. The motive helps determine the type of sentence handed out. If reassigning game objects under threat isn't a theft-related motive, then what is it? Which sentencing rules should the court apply? The court in this case chose to be conservative and stick with ordinary theft - it would be up to the Dutch government to create a wholly new "virtual theft" se
    • If you declare the game stuff stolen then the kid gets it back. That's a very real benefit for him.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Money is created electronicly by central banks. No real "printing" only virtual. If you threatened somebody with a knife at their throat and forced them to electronicly transfer $10,000 it's the same thing.

  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by forkfail (228161) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:02PM (#38882661)

    Jail time for ninjas?

    Import tariffs for overseas gold farmers?

    Sales tax on the WoW auction house?

    Income tax on raid loot?

  • The crux of the argument IMHO is whether or not the person from whom the data was taken still had access to the data after the fact. Data is tricky because it can be both taken or copied depending on who has control over the data. In a game, data can be stolen from one individual because he has no access to the data after the fact stemming from the fact that the game creator likely has control of the data on their servers.

    It guess it could be best viewed as, if somone electronically transfers funds from you

    • by Fjandr (66656)

      This is probably the best analogy to use since hard currency is becoming much less frequently used. Your "wealth" is entirely data until you actually go and have it converted into something physical (whether currency or other goods). The fact that this particular data had no mechanism for conversion to tangible property isn't really relevant; it still had some form of measurable worth, and the controller of it was deprived of its use via threats of physical violence.

  • Sheldon would be very happy with this ruling.
  • Given that jagex have always stated that in-game objects are theirs, and can't be (eg) sold outside the game, I wonder if having a court ruling to the contrary will (again for example) make disabling accounts for real-world trading "theft" by jagex?
    • by St.Creed (853824)

      The court argued that, despite what Jagex would *like* to be the case, the goods were in practice sold on eBay. And that was what counted for determining whether they had value. I think Jagex's lawyers (and those of other MMORPGS) are going to be spending some time on this verdict.

  • by rdebath (884132) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @04:51AM (#38888717)

    It is a reasonable position for the court to take, but I don't think it's completely correct.

    The difference between this and your bank account is that this is an unregulated account directly controlled by a company that the victim has a direct contract with. A bank account is not controlled to the same extent; a bank cannot just increase the numbers in the account without decreasing another or getting into a lot of trouble.
    It is reasonable for the court to take measures to get this transfer reverted or corrected. Whereas a bank transfer is likely to have been converted into physical cash and so be very difficult to reverse.

    It all comes down to real world consequences. Does the victim have a reasonable chance of recovering the objects of value that were given to the attacker. If the objects had no value (eg: they can be recreated or recovered on demand) it becomes an attempted robbery or just threats/assault. If the objects have value, (eg: acquired through 'effort and time investment,') but the victim can obviously get the things back it's a really dumb attempted robbery. Only if the attacker takes something of value away is it a robbery.

    So in this case we have a foreign company in an industry that's notoriously unresponsive, so yes it looks like something of value that they couldn't get back and I too think a full robbery charge may well be justified in this case. But definitely not in general.

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