[MUD-Dev] BIZ: Who owns my sword?

Tamzen Cannoy tamzen at worldbenders.com
Thu Oct 2 21:36:28 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

This whole issue is starting to hit the mainstream from time to time.


Does virtual crime need real justice?
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

Wizards, warriors and witches are nothing new in the online gaming
world, but have they been joined by real life criminals stealing
virtual goods worth hard cash? South Korea's police are already on
the case.

It might seem strange to talk about real crimes being committed in
computer games that revolve around slaughter.

But for people who invest hours of every day in the character they
control in multi-player games such as EverQuest, Ultima Online, Star
Wars: Galaxies and others these virtual crimes are just as painful
to deal with as the real world version.

Players in some online games have had their virtual homes invaded by
gangs who kick them out of the house and steal all their virtual

Others have been conned out of powerful magic items that, in some
cases, took months of work to obtain.

New crimes

The police in South Korea - a country as mad about gaming as the UK
is about football - report that of the 40,000 or so cybercrimes
reported in the first six months of 2003, more than half (22,000)
had something to do with online gaming.

The problems of online crime are made more serious by the growing
numbers of people making a living from trading items from the games.

A game account that gives someone control of a powerful character
can change hands for thousands of pounds. Even single powerful magic
items can command a hefty price.

So given that virtual items, mere bits in a datastream, can be shown
to have real world value is it about time that the police started to
be called in to investigate some of these crimes?

Dr Roger Leng, a lecturer on criminal law from the University of
Warwick, said the law has no problems treating the intangible as

"It's certainly possible to steal intangible property. It's possible
to steal any form of property right which is not represented by
tangible objects," he says.

The most common form of intangible property that many of us lose is
the credit balance in our bank accounts.

"In law a bank account is a credit balance. It's not a pile of money
that can be stolen even though it is not representing anything

Crime and punishment

Jennifer Granick, an expert on technology law from the Center for
Internet and Society at the Stanford Law School, says courts had no
problem treating intangibles, such as intellectual property, as
things that can be stolen.

"I'm not sure that governments would care to prosecute thefts of
online goods at this point in time, but I have no doubt that the
argument that such items are valuable is strong."

One problem she sees is that the auction sites and online stores
that sell characters, money and artefacts from games are not good
guides to the actual value of the goods in questions.

A player keen to advance a character they have invested hours of
time to develop may be happy to splash out hundreds of pounds on a
particular item, but the man in the street is unlikely to share this

The other problem could be convincing a judge that a crime has taken
place because online games are, still, so far out of most people's
everyday experience.

Building up a body of evidence to prove a crime had taken place
could also be difficult given the ease with which computer data can
be manipulated.

Mike Large, a community manager for game services firm Alien Pants,
says the fact that these crimes were taking place online could mean
a different type of justice is meted out.

"In a virtual world the rules of right and wrong that control our
society do not necessarily apply. The thief, if discovered, could
find themselves at the hands of a form of vigilante in-game

He warns virtual thieves: "You can't run, you can't hide and they
will find you."  Story from BBC /archives/meow?group+

Published: 2003/09/29 10:09:00 GMT




"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin
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