Online game theft earns real-world conviction

Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The amulet and mask were a 13-year-old boy's virtual possessions in an online fantasy game. In the real world, he was beaten and threatened with a knife to give them up.

The Dutch Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the theft conviction of a youth who stole another boy's possessions in the popular online fantasy game RuneScape. Judges ordered the offender to perform 144 hours of community service.

Only a handful of such cases have been heard in the world, and they have reached varying conclusions about the legal status of "virtual goods" — and whether stealing them is real-world theft.

The suspect's lawyer had argued the amulet and mask "were neither tangible nor material and, unlike for example electricity, had no economic value."

But the Netherlands' highest court said the virtual objects had an intrinsic value to the 13-year-old gamer because of "the time and energy he invested" in winning them while playing the game.

The court did not release the offender's name, only his year of birth — 1992. It said he and another youth beat and kicked the boy and threatened him with a knife until he logged into RuneScape and dropped the objects in 2007.

One of the thieves, who was also playing the game, was then able to pick up the items, making them his virtual property. Both were convicted by a lower court in 2009, but only one of them had appealed to the Supreme Court.

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