Should virtual theft be treated like real world theft? A UK MP says yes.

I couldn’t resist blogging quickly about this intriguing story, courtesy of The Guardian: a British MP wrote a formal question to the British government asking them to ensure that in-game theft be treated the same as real world theft.  Answer: nope (ish), but it does raise a real question which judges are already addressing… Continue reading Should virtual theft be treated like real world theft? A UK MP says yes.

Games Law Round-Up: January 2012

There’s so much going on these days in games law, I don’t have time to write about everything sadly. So, I thought that every month or so I’d do a round-up of the notable developments.  Here’s the first one – let me know what you think…

It has been a BUSY start to the year in the world of games law.  Here’s the highlights from January, in no particular order:
Continue reading Games Law Round-Up: January 2012

What happens when a game with virtual goods closes?

This is a post by Jas and Jonny Mayner. 

As reported last week (see here and here) casual game developer ZipZapPlay (owned by PopCap since April 2011) will be putting up the “Shop Closed” sign at Baking Life on 31st January 2012. The Facebook game reportedly once attracted 6.7 million users per month, but at present only around 760,000 users are rolling their virtual dough each month. 

Gamer/Law’s ten 2012 predictions

You’ve guessed it: I thought I’d jump into the it’s-a-new-year-let’s-make-some-predictions business for 2012.  And, like all forward-looking predictions, I’ve mixed a few safe bets with some slightly more “punchy” predictions (which FYI is lawyer-speak for taking a massive bet on something!)  Here goes, in no particular order:

Blizzard, Valve and the future of virtual goods

This is a long(ish) post about some moves that Blizzard and Valve have recently announced regarding Diablo 3 and Steam respectively, and what they mean for the future of virtual goods in games.  Here’s the short version for lazy sods:

The second virtual goods crime: is Runescape theft, theft?

The Dutch Supreme Court will be invited later this year to conclude that the theft of virtual goods from Runescape constitutes theft under Dutch criminal law; indications to date suggest that it may conclude that theft of virtual currency/goods IS criminal theft.  To my knowledge, this is only the second time that a Western court has considered the (increasingly important) issue of the relationship between virtual goods and criminal law, the first time having been a UK criminal court earlier this year over Zynga chips.*

According to Futocop, this Dutch case apparently forms part of a long-running matter which began in 2008 when two boys were sentenced to community service and suspended juvenile detention after they forced a 13-year old to transfer a Runescape virtual mask and a virtual amulet from one avatar to another under the threat of physical violence.  The detail is not entirely clear from Futocop, but I think what happened next is that the case was appealed, but the Court of Appeal ruled against the defendants and the case is now going even higher, to the Supreme Court.

One point in particular is worth noting.  As part of the referral of the case to the Supreme Court, the Dutch  Advocate General (a sort of legal expert whose job is to assist the court to make its decision) said that the economic value of the virtual goods is of particular interest to the question whether there is theft:

Virtual objects can represent an economic value both inside and outside the game. They are also individually distinguishable and transferable“.

This comment is interesting because, if it was accepted by legal authorities, then basically that on its own could bring virtual goods and currency within the existing law.  Put it another way: if both physical goods and virtual goods are recognised as having the same economic value even though one exists in the real world and one does not, then that is a powerful argument for both of them to be protected in the same way legally.  In a way this is nothing new really: after all shares, electronic money and electricity are all legally protected even though you can’t physically touch them.  But it is taking some time for courts to recognise that virtual goods fall into this category too.  Of course, once that recognition is made, it opens up a whole new can of worms for the games and tech industry: who owns virtual goods?  What can you do with them?  What classes as virtual goods – game items, ebooks apps? And so on (more details on that here).

Anyway, in the meantime this case is due to go to the Supreme Court in October 2011, so expect more details later in the year…

* For those virtual goods scholars who are reading this post, to clarify: I know there have been previous opportunities in the West to consdier the legal status of virtual goods (e.g. Bragg v Linden Labs), but to my knowledge all of them resulted in settlements etc with no judicial pronouncements being made.

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Gold farmer turns WoW gold into real gold, loses it, sues

An Australian woman is suing her insurer over the theft of 74 bars of real gold bullion worth $74,549, which she bought using profits made from gold farming in World of Warcraft.

Adelaide Now reports that Kristina Fincham was a (clearly successful) gold farmer in WoW who sold in-game gold to players in return for substantial profits.  She then decided to convert the profits from the WoW gold into real-world gold bullion.  [EDIT: as Daniel points out in the comments below, gold prices are doing well at the moment, which is a good reason to buy gold atm]

The bullion was allegedly stolen from her home in March 2008.  She is now suing her insurer, AAMI, for failing to reimburse her for that theft.  AAMI’s response appears to be that the theft was staged by Fincham and therefore it has no obligation to pay her.  They said “Ms Fincham was not covered for any loss caused by, or arising from, fraud or fraudulent means used by her or anyone acting on her behalf”.  Trial is set for May 2011.


So this Australian woman farmed WoW gold, turned it into real gold and then allegedly faked its theft?  Good grief.

I’m afraid this case sets no new legal precedents, since the fact she was a WoW gold farmer does not appear to be an issue.  The real issue is what happened to the gold bullion.  Still, the whole case seems so mad, I had to blog about it!

Of course, this would be a lot a more interesting if she had tried to insure the gold that she farmed from WoW, but I suspect we’re some distance from that kind of thing yet…

(NB Adelaide Now reports that this case could be the first case to recount in-game WoW events in a trial.  That’s not right – it’s happened many times before, such as in the WoW Glider case.)

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Image Credit: Activision-Blizzard/Wired