Dutch Virtual Theft Case Involved Real-world Violence

The Associated Press reports that two Dutch teens have been convicted of stealing virtual game items from a third boy. All three played Runescape, a popular online RPG. At issue is ownership of two virtual items, an amulet and a mask.

While the ruling was the subject of some mirth in the U.S. gaming press, Antal Princen, a Dutch reader of GamePolitics, wrote in to say that there was much more to the story. The AP simply mentions that the victim was coerced, but Antal says there was some nasty real-world violence involved:

[The media reports] omitted a few important details: The duo not only stole the virtual goods, but actually beat the other kid up and threatened him with a knife. They extorted an amulet and mask. In Runescape they’re worth a lot of money and in real life people buy them for real money, which is one of the reasons the judge said it was theft.

 

The boys were convicted for "violent theft". They lured the victim to their house, caught him in a chokehold and kicked and hit him. They used a kitchen knife to threaten the victim. Both thieves showed no regret and didn’t acknowledge they did something wrong, which is never good if you find yourself in a Dutch court… The lawyers will appeal.

Indeed, Antal directed us to Dutch website Parool.nl, where we were able to translate the story sufficiently to confirm Antal’s account. That being the case, the issue of whether one can steal virtual goods seems to take a back seat to the sheer thuggery of the would-be amulet robbers.

GP: Dank u wel to Antal Princen for the report!

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28 comments

  1. HalfShadow says:

    Update: Victim to join two teens in community service punishment for being lame enough to pay to play Runecape in the first place.

    (‘Popular?)

  2. Erik says:

    Uh, not to be rude or anything.  But you do realize that 99% of the readers here are going to have no clue what any of that means.  Wall of text is one thing.  Wall of text in a foreign language is a whole other ball of wax.

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  3. jeuridique com says:

    http://www.jeuridique.com

    Hello!

    Please find enclosed a link to the case.

    The traduction (google) is kinda bad but it is way better than what I could do. Sorry for the long text. I wouldn’t cut any part of it.

    I will personally write a post (in French) on my website about the case.

    Best regards,

    Peter-Olivier Dumas, esq.

     

    ====

     

    Full text…

     

    LJN: BG0939, Leeuwarden Court, 17/676123-07 VEV Print uitspraak Print ruling

     

    Datum uitspraak: Date ruling: 21-10-2008 21-10-2008

    Datum publicatie: Date of publication: 21-10-2008 21-10-2008

    Rechtsgebied: Territory: Straf Criminal

    Soort procedure: Type of procedure: Eerste aanleg – meervoudig First Instance – multiple

    Inhoudsindicatie: Contents Indication: Diefstal virtuele goederen, diefstal met geweld, online computerspel, veroordeling. Virtual property theft, robbery with violence, online computer game, conviction.

     

    Uitspraak Pronunciation

     

    RECHTBANK LEEUWARDEN COURT LEEUWARDEN

    Sector straf Criminal Division

     

    parketnummer 17/676123-07 VEV Prosecutor number 17/676123-07 VEV

     

    vonnis van de meervoudige kamer voor de behandeling van strafzaken dd 21 oktober 2008 in de zaak van het openbaar ministerie tegen de verdachte verdict of the full bench for the treatment of criminal dated October 21, 2008 in the case of the prosecution against the accused

     

    [verdachte], [suspect],

    geboren op [geboortedatum] 1992 te [geboorteplaats], born on [birth date] 1992 [birthplace],

    wonende te [adres verdachte] residing at [address suspect]

     

    De rechtbank heeft gelet op het ter terechtzitting gehouden onderzoek van 7 oktober 2008. The court has given the investigation at the hearing held on October 7, 2008.

    De verdachte is verschenen, bijgestaan door mr. RA Schütz, advocaat te Leeuwarden. The suspect appeared, assisted by RA Schütz, lawyer to Leeuwarden.

     

    Telastelegging Telastelegging

    Aan dit vonnis is een door de griffier gewaarmerkte fotokopie van de dagvaarding gehecht, waaruit de inhoud van de telastelegging geacht moet worden hier te zijn overgenomen. This is a verdict by the Registrar certified photocopy of the subpoena attached, revealing the content of the telastelegging should be considered to be over here.

     

    In de telastelegging voorkomende schrijffouten of kennelijke misslagen worden verbeterd gelezen. Telastelegging occurring in the clerical or manifest miss layers improved read. De verdachte is hierdoor niet in zijn belangen geschaad. The suspect is not in its interests.

     

    Vordering officier van justitie Claim Prosecutor

    De officier van justitie heeft ter terechtzitting gevorderd: The prosecutor argued at the hearing sought:

    – veroordeling voor het primair telastegelegde; – Conviction for primary telastegelegde;

    – oplegging van een werkstraf voor de duur van 180 uren subsidiair 90 dagen jeugddetentie, alsmede voorwaardelijke jeugddetentie voor de duur van vier weken met een proeftijd van twee jaar; – Imposition of a labor for the duration of 180 days 90 hours jeugddetentie alternative and contingent jeugddetentie for four weeks with a probationary period of two years;

     

    Overweging ten aanzien van het verzoek van de raadsman tot het horen van getuigen Consideration regarding the request of the counsel to the hearing of witnesses

    De raadsman heeft ter zitting bepleit om de zaak aan te houden als bedoeld in artikel 328 juncto artikel 315 van het Wetboek van Strafvordering, nu het volgens hem noodzakelijk is dat aangever, medeverdachte en de verbalisanten die het verhoor van verdachte hebben afgenomen als getuige worden gehoord. The counsel argued at the meeting called for the case to be held as provided for in Article 328 in conjunction with Article 315 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, now it is necessary that principal, co-defendant and the compiling of the interrogation of suspects have declined as a witness be heard . De rechtbank geeft het door de raadsman hiertoe aangevoerde hierna letterlijk weer: The court gives the counselor put this back literally below:

     

    Cliënt ontkent de verweten gedragingen ten stelligste. Client denies the alleged conduct strongly. Hij stelt zelf geen geweld te hebben gebruikt en niet te hebben gezien dat de medeverdachte het geweld heeft gebruikt dat volgens de aangifte zou zijn gedaan. He claims himself to have used no violence and not to have seen that the co-defendant has used the violence that the declaration would be made. Het geweld en de bedreigingen die volgens de aangever zouden zijn verricht door [verdachte], past volstrekt niet bij het beeld dat van [verdachte] wordt verkregen uit de rapportage van de Raad voor de Kinderbescherming. The violence and threats which the declarant would be made by [suspect], not totally fit with the image of [suspect] is obtained from the reporting of the Council for the Child. Het is eigenlijk onvoorstelbaar dat iemand als [verdachte], zoals hij door de diverse referenten beschreven wordt, zomaar ineens een en eenmalig dergelijk gewelddadig gedrag zou vertonen. It is really inconceivable that someone like [suspect], as he described the various reviewers are, simply and suddenly a single such violent behavior would show. Volgens [verdachte] heeft de aangever ten onrechte de handelingen die mogelijk mededader [medeverdachte] heeft gepleegd, ook in verband gebracht met [verdachte]; mogelijk was de aangever door de handelingen van [medeverdachte] in de war, zodanig dat de aangifte een onjuist beeld geeft van de feiten. According to [suspects], the principal wrongly acts that may co-offender [co-defendant] has committed, also associated with [suspect] was the principal by the acts of [co-defendant] in the war, so that a false declaration picture of the facts. Uit het dossier blijkt dat de aangever flink overstuur was. The file shows that the principal was quite upset. Het feit dat medeverdachte [medeverdachte] [verdachte] ook belast, kan volgens [verdachte] mogelijk verklaard worden uit het feit, dat [medeverdachte] mogelijk heeft gedacht er zelf beter vanaf te komen als hij de schuld deels zou kunnen afschuiven of delen met [verdachte]. The fact that co-defendant [co-defendant] [suspect] also charged, in accordance with [suspect] may be explained by the fact that [co-defendant] may have thought themselves better from there to be partly to blame as he could buck or part by [ suspect]. [verdachte] geeft aan dat hij in eerste instantie heeft ontkend bij de politie, maar dat hij toen de politie hem niet geloofde en hem vertelde dat hij mogelijk veel langer op het bureau moest blijven, vervolgens maar de verdenkingen heeft beaamd. [suspect] indicates that he initially denied to the police, but when the police that he did not believe him and told him that he possibly much longer at the agency had to continue, but then has echoed the suspicions. Uit het proces-verbaal komt de in eerste instantie ontkennende houding van [verdachte] niet naar voren. The minutes in the first instance, the negative attitude of [suspect] is not raised.

    [verdachte] acht het op grond van het voorgaande noodzakelijk voor de waarheidsvinding dat de aangever, [medeverdachte] en de verbalisanten die het verhoor hebben afgenomen, als getuige worden gehoord; de aangever en [medeverdachte] om door te nemen in hoeverre de aangifte cq de verklaring juist zijn met betrekking tot de voor [verdachte] belastende onderdelen; de verbalisanten om te horen of [verdachte] in eerste instantie een ontkennende houding heeft aangenomen in het verhoor, en of [verdachte] de in zijn verklaring opgenomen tekst geheel spontaan heeft verteld, of delen van de aangifte en wellicht de verklaring van de medeverdachte die mogelijk zijn voorgehouden, heeft beaamd. [suspect] considers it on the basis of the foregoing necessary for the truth that the principal, [co-defendant] and the compiling of the interrogation have declined, as witness be heard, the principal and [co-defendant] to take the extent to which the declaration or the statement is correct with regard to the [suspect] incriminating parts, the compiling to hear or [suspect] in the first instance, has adopted a negative attitude in the interview, and whether [suspect], the text included in his statement has totally spontaneous told, or parts of the declaration and perhaps the statement by the co-defendant who may be held, has echoed his comments.

    Aangezien wegens een typefout in het adres in de brieven die ik [verdachte] in eerste instantie stuurde, deze brieven werden geretourneerd (in een laat stadium) en [verdachte] dus niet hebben bereikt, kon de zaak niet voor vrijdag 26 september 2008, zijnde tien dagen voor de zitting, met hem op kantoor besproken worden, hetgeen de reden is geweest dat niet tien dagen voor de zitting is verzocht de hierboven genoemde getuigen op te roepen. Since due to a typographical error in the address in the letters that I [suspect] in the first instance sent these letters wer

  4. Twin-Skies says:

    I am amazed at how fucking pathetic some fellow players can get when it comes to digital gear.

    An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

  5. face777 says:

    Could someone refresh my memory, regarding a Japaese case like this.  I remember the one who was murdered for an in-game sword, but wasn’t their a seperate case involving stolen digital items which, while it had no real life violence attached, carried a court-ordered punishment?

     

    Or am I daydreaming again? 😉

  6. Michael Chandra says:

    For a case like this to get found out, go through multiple systems (what with the ones involved being minors) and finally reaching a verdict? Not that much no.

  7. Father Time says:

    You don’t consider a year a long time?

    —————————————————-

    "What for you bury me in the cold cold ground?" – Tasmanian devil

  8. Father Time says:

    Here’s a simple equation that I use.

    Guy steals thing X from someone else (not copy, but steal). If thing X is worth money guy should be punished (excepions being that it was originally his property and that someone else stole it from him). Now whether it be a civil or criminal matter is something else.

    —————————————————-

    "What for you bury me in the cold cold ground?" – Tasmanian devil

  9. Doctor Panda says:

    Hah, it’s pretty obvious that the law as it is is a blunt instrument to deal with this sort of crime. If you decide virtual items have value and can be stolen, then you have to ask about whether or not you can prosecute somebody who cheats online to dupe an item, hacks a server, etc. Here the boys had already comitted a crime and would have that recorded anyway, so it’s less of a big deal. But in some cases it could turn questions of player cheating into criminal offences. Take the people who scammed accounts in diablo 2 by getting people to drop items? It seems like the law isn’t the best way to deal with them. On the other hand, if you do accept real money for selling an item online, and misrepresented that you had the item or the qualities of the item, then it seems pretty clear that you *should* be prosecuted, even though at market value the offence could well have involved less funds.

    Point is? I don’t think the law is up to dealing with these cases (it hasn’t managed to catch up with pretty much any technology post 1960 so i don’t think that’s suprising). For now I think deciding that these items had value will probably have effects much more far-reaching than is immediately obvious and perhaps it would have been better to simply charge them with whatever the dutch system charges people with who threaten people with knives unless you do what they tell you to do; and wait for a concerted effort to help the legislation catch up. But historically those catch up attempts haven’t really worked out so well so maybe putting it in the hands of judges is for the best – most of the ones i’ve met (no, not because i’m being prosecuted) have been fairly clever and open minded folk.

  10. Michael Chandra says:

    According to the article, the theft happened on "6 september vorig jaar." That’s 6 september of last year. I’m going ahead and assume that’s before the end of last year that you mention. So yes, it’s a ‘long’ time ago.

  11. Aprincen says:

    The courts aren’t very fast in Holland, it’s possible this happened before that trade cap was installed. The investigation, the hearings, etc. probably took a long time.

  12. Father Time says:

    As a guy who plays runescape (I’m not going to try WoW for fear of getting addicted, I’d rather stick to an RPG that I can stop playing for a while if I need to), let me add my insight to the article.

    The mask they are talking about are probably the discontinued Halloween masks which are rare and fetch a pretty penny. As for an amulet there are no rare discontinued amulets and the most expensive amulet fetches less than one fourth the price of the cheapest Halloween mask (numbers taken from the grand exchange).

    Now for the part that strikes me as very suspicious.

    It’s the part where they forced him to give the mask and amulet to him. In an attempt to stop real world traders a long time ago (I think around the end of last year), Jagex introduced a lot of updates one of these was a trade cap. Meaning that in a trade one person cannot receive a combined benefit of more than around 30 or 50k (forget the number). In other words they couldn’t possibly have traded him the mask unless they put up something in exchange worth 30k less than the mask itself (or greater). To put this in perspective, the masks are worth over 10 million gp (again getting my numbers from the grand exchange). There’s no way around this either, Jagex made sure of it. So basically if this crime took place recently there was no way the victim could have given them the mask and amulet for free (and trust me 50 or 30k is not an amount people will threaten other people over unless they are new players).

    The only conclusions are that this attack happened a long time ago and we’re just hearing about it now or that the bullies didn’t know it would be impossible for him to give them the masks, and if those are not the case than something is seriously wrong with this story.

    As for the goods themselves they are property of Jagex, and yes some people exchange them for real money, but if Jagex catches you doing that (either buying or selling), than they will ban you immediately.

    —————————————————-

    "What for you bury me in the cold cold ground?" – Tasmanian devil

  13. DoggySpew says:

    "All items are property of Jagex Limited. Taken from their terms of Service "You agree that all intellectual property or other rights in any game character, account and items are and will remain our property". Because of this, they could not, at least in the U.S., be charged with theft on the grounds that people buy the items (a violation of ToS and other legal issues)"

    Actually, that applies pretty much to all products you buy. If you buy a CD, the CD will still be technically owned by the producer of the CD. Same with movies and even cars.

     

  14. Zevorick says:

    All items are property of Jagex Limited. Taken from their terms of Service "You agree that all intellectual property or other rights in any game character, account and items are and will remain our property". Because of this, they could not, at least in the U.S., be charged with theft on the grounds that people buy the items (a violation of ToS and other legal issues). Go to any item selling site for MMO’s and you’ll see the clause (Items are owned by (game), you are not buying the item, but the time required and invested to find the item).

    However, they certainly did threaten the kid with a deadly (depending on the type of knife) weapon  and that should be in violation of the law no matter where you live. I say the kids got what they deserved.

  15. Aprincen says:

    According to wikipedia: The Dutch law, or at least the Dutch civil code (the Burgerlijk Wetboek) cannot be easily placed in one of the mentioned groups, and it has itself influenced the modern private law of other countries. The present Russian civil code is in part a translation of the Dutch one.

    We got big influences from Roman and French laws, so I guess Dutch law is mostly civil law. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know that much about the law. Have there been any virtual theft rulings in the U.S.?

  16. nighstalker160 says:

    Interesting.  Is Denmanrk?  Netherlands?  a civil law system?  That might make a difference.  The U.S. used common law which can make things…kinda fun.

  17. Michael Chandra says:

    When I first read about this on TeleText, my response was "BOOYAH!!! Score one for the good guys!" I didn’t know they threatened him with a knife though, that’s even more disgusting.

    "It is nothing and it stays nothing. (Thin) air." As to be expected from a laywer but if it’s just air, then why did they go through the trouble of using physical violence to get their hands on it? And why on earth do they not realize why robbing someone like this is just plain wrong? Even for kids from fourteen/fifteen years old, that’s really disappointing. They’re lucky they’re not going to jail, god knows I think they deserve it.

    "Sometimes virtual goods are also bought and sold for money, at the internet or at the schoolyard."
    Good motivation by the judge. Even if it’s virtual, it having real value means it’s substantial enough to judge over it. Just like, as mentioned in the article, giral money and electricity.

  18. Zerodash says:

    What kind of buffs could a virtual item provide that would make someone want to harm others to obtain it? 

  19. Aprincen says:

    according to the article, the theft was also punished: Volgens de rechtbank hebben virtuele zaken voor gamers wel degelijk waarde. The main argument of the lawyers was that virtual goods don’t have real value and are in possesion of Runescape. This ruling was about virtual theft, the extortion just made in violent theft instead of just theft.

  20. Austin_Lewis says:

    Just because there’s no Patriot Act doesn’t mean you’re not being watched.  I know, I know, everyone likes to think their government loves them and values their freedoms, but in reality all governments keep tabs on their citizens.  America has just come out and said it in public.

  21. Freek says:

    Virtual or not, the player was forced to surrender his items. I strongly support this verdict. Whereas Nightstalker argues: 

    Obviously, and what is somewhat concerning, is the implication of prosecuting cases of theft of items in MMO’s.  The government could assert that IT has a right to police these virtual worlds because REAL laws are being broken.

    First: In my (limited legal skills, fluent Dutch) understanding, the extortion was the fact that was punished, not the "virtual item" theft. Therefore no precedent was set on "virtual" items or policing MMORPG`s.

    Second: We have no Patriot Act in The Netherlands, so I`m not worried about the goverment policing MMO`s just yet. If this were an American verdict, I probably would be.

  22. Aprincen says:

    The lawyers actually argued that the items belonged to Runescape. I don’t know if my country actually has laws about such things. 

    The lawyers also said those items don’t really exist. I think the fact that other people were willing to buy those items really makes it theft. Besides, the culprits wouldn’t rob those items if they didn’t have value.

  23. nighstalker160 says:

    This is actually a very interesting legal issue.

    Theft of virtual goods raises some pretty unique questions.

    Do those items have "intrinsic" value, are they, in fact, worth anything?  Can their "value" be considered "sentimental" in nature.  Which normally doesn’t factor into a monetary judgment.

    Are they in fact that kid’s "property" or are they properly the property of the creators of Runescape?  To put it another way, is my sword in WoW MINE or Blizzard’s?

    In the U.S. I think those kids would have been charged with assault, but there’s a decent chance a judge would have had reservations about "theft" since there was no actual "item" or maybe the "item" didn’t belong to the victim.

    Obviously, and what is somewhat concerning, is the implication of prosecuting cases of theft of items in MMO’s.  The government could assert that IT has a right to police these virtual worlds because REAL laws are being broken.

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