Dutch youths convicted of virtual theft
Two youths have been sentenced to community service for stealing virtual items in a computer game.22 October 2008
LEEUWARDEN - A Dutch court has convicted two youths of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to 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". According to the NRC, it is the first time someone has been convicted for virtual theft in the Netherlands.
The Leeuwarden District Court says the culprits, 15 and 14 years old, coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a "virtual amulet and a virtual mask" from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts.
The culprits, who cannot be named due to their age, kicked, hit and threatened their classmate with a knife before the 13-year-old gave in and transferred the Runescape items to his attackers' online accounts.
The public prosecutor argued that virtual items used in the game should be considered as real and tangible goods as they have real, tangible value for the owner.
The prosecutor noted that winning, collecting and trading Runescape objects play an important role in the virtual world and can also be sold for money in the real world.
According to the public prosecutor, if these items are valuable to their owner and he has been forced to hand them over to somebody else, it should be considered theft.
The lawyer representing the culprits argued that legally, the items do not exist and therefore cannot be considered to have been stolen.
The court dismissed the defence lawyer's argument and cited an earlier ruling that electricity can be considered a material object for the purposes of criminal law and stealing electricity is theft.
The court ruled that the same principle can be applied in this case and stealing virtual Runescape items is theft as the owner was forced to hand over his possessions.
Identities of the minors were not released. The 15-year-old was sentenced to 200 hours service, and the 14-year-old to 160 hours.
[Radio Netherlands / AP / Expatica]