Our friends at MindBlizzard report that a Netherlands court has found criminal liability for the real-world theft of virtual goods from the hybrid free/paid MMO roleplaying game Runescape.
From the post at MindBlizzard:
[T]he court has reached a verdict and has sentenced two boys to conditional detention and civil services because of the virtual theft from the game Runescape. [T]he boys from Leeuwarden, at the time both 14 years old, forced a thirteen-year-old victim to hand over virtual goods, a mask and an amulet, and to transfer the items to their account. The thirteen year old had collected a large amount of credits with which artifacts could be purchased. The boys forced him to a house and there he was kicked and threatened with a knife, until he transferred the goods and credits.
One aspect of the case is particularly intriguing — according to MindBlizzard, “the lawyers argued during the meeting that virtual goods do not really exist, and transferring [them] does not conflict with the rules of the game, but the court thought otherwise.” The Associated Press reports that the court confirmed this analysis in a summary of its ruling: “These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft.” That’s interesting, and for better or worse, one small step toward more widespread recognition of virtual goods as something more than just mere ones and zeros owned by the company hosting them. The court could have ducked this aspect of the case and simply sentenced the kids for assault, but apparently the question of the nature of virtual personal property actually came up, and the court had no issue with the concept.
The original source for this is an article in Webwereld (and the translation by Google), but nobody seems to have the any documents from the court. I’m not sure if courts in the Netherlands put documents online (probably unlikely in juvenile matters) but if anyone manages to track down anything official, send me a copy and I’ll host it here.
[Updated 10/22: A VB reader found the original court opinion and put a link to a Google translation in the comments. Thanks!]