Dutch supremes rule virtual goods are real

An important court case in Holland has ruled that virtual possessions can be treated as real objects if they are stolen.

A 13 year-old kid was beaten up and threatened with a knife until he logged into an online fantasy game and transferred ownership of a magic amulet and mask. Lawyers in the case tried to reduce the importance of the assault by claiming that it was not aggravated theft. The kid who threatened the owner of the amulet and mask claimed that he could not have been charged with aggravated theft because nothing real had been stolen.

Courts traditionally see a smack in the face as bad, but a smack in the face to obtain lunch money as being much worse. In this case police do not appear to have changed the kid with the knife with ordinary assault.

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

The case got all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court which decided that it did not matter if the goods could be seen in the real world or not. They upheld the theft conviction of a youth who stole another boy’s possessions in the popular online fantasy game RuneScape. They felt that 144 hours of community service should sort the brat out.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Dutch Supremes said that 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 offender, who was born in 1992, 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. While both were convicted by a lower court in 2009, only one of them had appealed.