Dutch Teenager Arrested for Virtual Property Theft

Dutch Teenager Arrested for Virtual Property Theft

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A Dutch youth has been arrested for stealing virtual furniture in Habbo Hotel, a virtual community aimed at teenagers and young adults.

The 17-year-old was accused of stealing over $5800 of virtual property after Sulake, the company behind Habbo Hotel, contacted police with the complaint. Five 15-year-olds have also been questioned in connection with the incident. The six teenagers are suspected of moving the stolen furniture into their own Habbo Hotel rooms.

"The accused lured victims into handing over their Habbo passwords by creating fake Habbo websites," a Sulake spokesman said. "In Habbo, as in many other virtual worlds, scamming for other people's personal information such as user names has been problematic for quite awhile. We have had much of this scamming going on in many countries but this is the first case where the police have taken legal action."

The spokesman said the growing number of sites that imitate Habbo Hotel in order to steal users' login details led to the company's involvement, and that the police were brought in because real-world currency was involved. "It is a theft because the furniture is paid for with real money," the spokesman said, adding, "The only way to be a thief in Habbo is to get people's user names and passwords and then log in and take the furniture."

First launched in Finland in 2000, Habbo Hotel has since expanded to over 30 countries, and now boasts over six million unique users worldwide.

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This sets a bad precedent, I think. Though I'm not in or near the Netherlands, I think the outcome of this case will be very important and worth watching.

A bad precedent in what way?

Clearly, if you pay for something, even some MP3, and someone steals it, it's violation of the law.
If the law recognizes the existence of such virtual material to boot, though.

Besides, the fake sites is another aspect of the problem, and that, at least, we know it's reprehensible.

I think the case will set precedents, I'm just not seeing how it's very likely they'll be bad. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. If virtual items are legally recognized as property in more-or-less the same fashion as tangible, real-world stuff, it could have some interesting repercussions across the MMOG genre.

I suppose I just don't have a lot of faith in the ability of a courtroom to determine what separates this kind of theft from, say, an item in a subscription-based MMOG that you can sell on eBay. To say nothing of the liability this could add to database errors! Does the amount of time you spent acquiring an item count toward its value? The price in an official store? The price you can get for it unofficially?

If the items were stolen by hacking into an account, then is it the case that the amount of harm done by stealing someone's login information varies based on what the thief does once they've logged in? Is it better or worse to impersonate the account owner to all their friends? Since it's all just tables in a database, wouldn't this be better-handled by the database's owners, with law enforcement only getting involved if somebody breaches a contract?

It has the potential to introduce intrusive levels of bureaucracy not only for the developers, but for the players and the police as well. That's the worst-case scenario. The best scenario is that a person who breaks into another person's account is fined for it.

I just don't think the potential benefit of virtual theft being criminalized at this time outweighs the multitude of bad, binding decisions that a non-technical court might make in haste or ignorance.

Be prepared to tick the "MMO item stealing" box option in your insurance form.

Bongo Bill:
I suppose I just don't have a lot of faith in the ability of a courtroom to determine what separates this kind of theft from, say, an item in a subscription-based MMOG that you can sell on eBay. To say nothing of the liability this could add to database errors! Does the amount of time you spent acquiring an item count toward its value? The price in an official store? The price you can get for it unofficially?

I'm sure that the result of this case could lead to a lot of scrambling by MMOG companies to update their EULAs, as well as possibly some changes in the practices of item sellers, gold farmers and so forth, but I don't think you can get around the fact that this is a criminal act we're talking about here. There has to be repercussions. Otherwise, you're establishing an even worse precedent - telling people this kind of thing is perfectly alright.

Not everything wrong need be illegal. Surely it'd be enough to categorize breaking into somebody's account as "breach of contract," wouldn't it?

Bongo Bill:
Not everything wrong need be illegal. Surely it'd be enough to categorize breaking into somebody's account as "breach of contract," wouldn't it?

Unless you had a contract with the thief, I'd say no. It's definitely illegal in my eyes.

The only problem is that it still feels like a lot of fuss for something that does not exist really.

But then, let's think what would happen if you started to steal, or even erase, the banks' money stored in computers, that has no tangible counterpart in real life.

Reminds me of that story, a book I think, where all that monetary stuff got hax0rzed, then stored in one single computer only, and the person had that machine stuck on some rock in the middle of a sea.
I think it ends with all powers on Earth rushing to save that machine... and the hijacker destroys it in front of them.

I think we need to consider that virtual goods can be more than just monetary numbers.

The difference between Habbo hotel and many other mmorpg's is that one buys furniture with credits...which have been bought with real money. Because of this, this virtual property does represent real money directly, and it might be somewhat easier to make a case out of it.

There's already an awful lot of webgames where you can buy stuff with credits, which you actually get in exchange of real money, or by directly buying items with real money.

There's some potential for a new market.

Part of the problem is what happens when your virtual items and gold in say a MMORPG get real world value and are considered property you could be forced in some circumstances to pay taxes on some of those goods. Another example would be the auction house in WoW or other such games. Some people play the games with the goal of being economically successful in the game so they can buy better gear and the like. Some people, thankfully not many yet, want to be able to tax you on that income because the gold that was earned has a theoretical real world monetary value. That would be a bad turn of events in my opinion. However, I think that this person should be tried and convicted... probably not receive a massive sentence.. but still, like shoplifting, there should be some punishment.

this shouldnt have anything to do with any "items" or their potential value, but the fact that the account itself was stolen.

another difference is that in WoW, legally the items always stay property of blizzard, and I believe the items are really your property. Makes quite the difference in a case.

 

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