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Reader Comments (51)

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 7:29PM Deadalon said

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@Blay

No the question here is.... would this case have gone to court with only stolen items in Runescape and no knive. We all know the answer to that one.
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Posted: Feb 1st 2012 2:33AM Space Cobra said

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@Deadalon

"No the question here is.... would this case have gone to court with only stolen items in Runescape and no knive. We all know the answer to that one. "

Well, I would say you are right about that. The case probably would not have gone to court without a "real threat". But again, as I stated before, this not only involves *multiple* charges, but it stems from "intent" and admittedly, that is a tricky thing.

I brought up one example in a later reply of someone who threatened to rob a convienence store with a snake; it turns out the snake was a fake/rubber one and he didn't actually rob or steal anything, but he was still charged with a crime; the person believed their life was threatened and took it seriously. Now, we can look and say that is not a "real" threat and can link it up to a "virtual one" (which, admittedly, doesn't have much to do with this case, but is precedent). Meaning, "what if someone threatens you online with violence?" Do "words" carry? Does this enter the territory of "cyber-bullying"? Does it go against TOS for harassment?

Then there is the "common sense" stuff that doesn't necessarily mean anything, but in today's law, would. Take for instance the publicized instances of teenagers who hold up schools with guns just to get revenge. Those incidents have ticked of enough people that put laws into place that are constraining IMO and not too effective. I think we all remember a time when we were young and wished people "death" or "harm" because we were not mature. We may have even scribbled notes in our notebook and plans to do the person harm, but never carry them out. Do you know such notes nowadays can draw the attention and arrest from police if they are found by a "concerned parent"? Many of these notes are not carried out and many are just a way to "blow off steam", but they are treated as "real threats" by US law enforcement. There have been several cases like this and, in fact, there was one case where a high schooler was writing a script to make a Zombie movie and he was using the school's name/backdrop as a setting and I think he also used several friends and faculty. This piece of fiction got him arrested.

I get your point of the "knife incident" being separate from the virtual item-stealing thing, but again, many law makers punish on motive alone, especially now, and not the actual "action". Also, it seems to me, this offender was trying to squirm and lighten his sentence on one of the charges (stealing virtual goods) and the judge barred that loophole. Justice (and revenge) is a weird/sad/tricky thing in our (and other's) society.

I figure if the lawyer for the attacker got his way and dismissed the stealing charge, that would lighten his sentence. The lawyer could then turn around and argue, "Well, if the virtual items are essentially worthless pieces of nothing, why is my Client being held?" And while you are rightly thinking that he still assaulted someone, whatever the cause, the attorney could then open up another "escape clause" and talk about "emotional development" and/or "sanity" that could totally get him off the hook.

"Intent" can be hard to prove, but "motivation" is used, rightly or wrongly, as a reason by prosecutors to point a finger and cement a case against a defendant. Without such motivation, jurors would wonder and question, "Why did he do it then? It makes no sense?" and again, that is where people can squirm out of jail with an insanity plea or somesuch.
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Posted: Feb 1st 2012 2:48AM Space Cobra said

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@Deadalon

Another way to look about the importance of motive in a case:

Someone could run someone over and be charged with "Involuntary Manslaughter" if that person could prove it was an accident. "Involuntary Manslaughter" is different from "Murder" or "Attempted Murder", where motive would figure in. If the prosecutors found out that the driver knew the person they killed, this would open the door to "Murder", which is a more serious charge than "Involuntary Manslaughter". Say that the killer had been sleeping with the victim's wife beforehand. That would provide cause/motive and elevate the charges/punishment against the killer.

See, without the motive of "theft", even of virtual items, these boys probably could say they weren't driven to do it; they were having "fun" and then they may get psychiatric evaluations. Now, maybe they *need* such evaluations in your eyes because, you can't picture anyone threatening someone's life over virtual goods. But the fact is that the added motive/cause puts an extra and needed nail in this case. Sure, one could view it as a separate thing, but one could say the desire for such objects lead these boys to pre-meditate their actions against the victim.
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:09PM Blay said

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I agree, theft is theft regardless of what you took has a money value. You are still taking something that didn't belong to you. The knifepoint part only reinforces this. If the goods "were neither tangible nor material and, unlike for example electricity, had no economic value." why did they use a knife to take said goods? It obviously has value to the victim and criminals or it wouldn't have come to that.

Its about time virtual crimes get treated like their real life counterparts. Like hacking into someone email should carry the same punishment as stealing their physical mail.

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 10:26PM Tachyonic Cargo said

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@Blay

You are touching on a subject matter that is extremely important going forward in the digital age, that is rarely ever talked about, or made an issue of in the US - protection by law, of the digital property rights of the individual. Plenty of talk from big media about their digital property rights, but never a word about ours.

Please read on, this post gets long, but I assure you, is more than worth the read: http://tachyoniccargo.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/decline-of-killer-app-3/
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:12PM h4ngedm4n said

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Wait what was the original story? Did they force him at knifepoint IRL to transfer items in game? How does this work? I am confused. I'm picturing a couple of guys breaking into a house with the intent of making someone transfer virtual possessions instead of simply grabbing other things in the house, and its hard to imagine.

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:23PM smartstep said

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@h4ngedm4n

Kids.

One put a knife to second and said "I 'll gut you if yo don't go to home and transfer items"

Second option , they had a laptop and wireless internet with themself.
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:32PM Space Cobra said

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@h4ngedm4n

As per linked article:

"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 (in-game) objects in 2007."

(Parenthesis) are mine. Basically, they bullied the 13 year old kid into dropping the objects on the game floor, where the other kid(s) picked them up for themselves.
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:13PM Allenomura said

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Did they not get convicted for brandishing a weapon and such? Since they established items were taken, that just seems confusing. The link says there was assault that took place as well, but the court were more interested in the virtual items?

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:20PM h4ngedm4n said

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@Allenomura
I agree with you that the assault should be more serious. It is strange to seemingly ignore the assault and focus on the virtual item theft. Maybe they got charged with both theft and assault, but the news article was trying to sound interesting.
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:25PM Lenn said

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@Allenomura The kid was taken to the home of one of the others, forced to log in, drop his items and they used their accounts to pick them up.

The two criminal kids were convicted a few years ago but appealed the theft charges, which has now been overruled by the highest court in the country.
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:28PM smartstep said

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@h4ngedm4n

Thing is we did not get an exact age of people involved. While I agree that no matter the age punishment should be harsher ,but I can imagine court took lighter stance if offender was for example 12 years old and it was his first crime
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:33PM Lenn said

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@smartstep They were 14 and 15 at the time.
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:54PM Space Cobra said

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@Allenomura

Like in the states, there could have been separate charges. One for "Assault and Battery" (the beating), one for "threatening to kill" or even "Intent to kill" (What would happen if the kid refused to hand over the items at the end?) and then tacking on "Robbery".

It seems the two attackers tried to get free of the third charge. Mostly, at least in the US, these charges are dealt separately.
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 6:23PM kgptzac said

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@h4ngedm4n

I'm pretty sure in truth the assault is indeed more serious, which should be induced per common sense. Of course massively is going to focus on the virtual item part because this is the point of debate and related to MMO in general. It will be more interesting whether in game scam and fraud can be prosecuted under this precedence... that is if the mass media don't put a bad spin on online gaming before that happens...
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Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:18PM Deliverator said

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So did the kid ever get his items back and how could he be sure that they were his? (think)

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:28PM Bhagpuss said

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Click through the link, guys.

Or to save you the trouble, here's the explanatory detail:

"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."

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:43PM Space Cobra said

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While the assault and intent to harm was the most important thing, the criminals tried to wiggle out by saying it was "nothing". Of course, I've heard cases (in the U.S.) such as someone robbing a store with a snake that turned out to be a rubber one. He was still prosecuted, even though he said, "It was a joke" and did not take any money from the store.

I do not know Dutch law, but intent to harm is pretty serious and has even gone, IMHO, a bit too far in American-interpretation, but that is beside the point.

To make sure these guys did not "wiggle out", the prosecutors argued:

"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."

That is the most important part of the story relating to MMOs. Yes, it is a tragedy that the 13-year-old got bullied and held up. Yes, they got punished, but the quote has set a precedent that, IMHO, cannot be denied, even if it boggles some folks.

This could potentially apply to Blizzard's RMT Auction House in Diablo 3 (at least in Denmark). Again, "time and energy invested". Just like a "job" has value. Even if you restore an antique car or build a model plane from scratch as a relaxing hobby, you invested time (and probably money) into it. If someone wrecks your work for "whatever reason", that is an attack on your property.

Granted, it could stretch thin, but we probably are gonna see more of these types of stories as time goes on.

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 5:55PM Chris Atlas said

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Could this ruling be applied to the large scale thefts and Ponsi schemes comon in EVE? Could a Dutch player effecivley bring criminal charges against another player for theft?

Posted: Jan 31st 2012 6:02PM Space Cobra said

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@Chris Atlas

Well, that's a trickier kettle of fish.

With a few (famous) Eve-story exceptions (that have been proven false), you are stepping into Virtual threat for Virtual gain. Also, the the company behind EVE promotes such behavior. In fact, it is encouraged.

At this time, I would say not. But the future? Who knows? I know "Pain and Suffering" tends to get dismissed out of many cases. Of course, in the future, "time/work invested" may be used to argue against, but I'd think there'd have to be a real-life component here, like the exchange of real money (or laundering under a plan) or real-world physical threat.

Definitely, this could grow into a sticky situation.
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