UK Politician Calls for Real Life Sentences for Virtual Item Thieves

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UK Politician Calls for Real Life Sentences for Virtual Item Thieves

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Mike Weatherley, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hove & Portslade, wants virtual criminals to get the same penalty as real world thieves.

UK Conservative Party MP and David Cameron's chief adviser on intellectual property, Mike Weatherley, has called for those who steal virtual items with a real world value to get the same jail time as someone who steals real world items. Weatherley, a keen World of Warcraft player, says it's all about protection; people who own virtual stuff should expect the same level of protection as those who just own regular, mundane stuff.

"The perception from some people is if you steal online it's less of a crime than if you steal physically," says Weatherley. "If it genuinely is someone who's paid in the game and they've had that stolen, that's probably no different to something in the physical world."

Weatherley took the question to the House of Commons, asking the Secretary of State for Justice if he would bring forward proposals to ensure that those who stole "items in video games with a real-world monetary value received the same sentences as criminals who steal real-world items of the same monetary value." He met with a chilly response; Mike Penning, Minister of State for Justice and Policing, responded that the current law concerning theft and fraud online was adequate, and that sentencing was a matter for the courts.

Which is true so far as it goes, but it's hard to believe your local constable is going to be too happy if he has to investigate your claim that Darth_Lasagna nicked the guild's treasury, or any other MMORPG item with a real-world value. Weatherley isn't wrong when he says it's about perception, not value; but he's unlikely to get what he's after any time soon.

Source: Guardian

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Christ, just wait till they tell him about EVE.

SacremPyrobolum:
Christ, just wait till they tell him about EVE.

Thing is, isn't it pretty much sanctioned in EVE? As in, that's pretty much part of the game, acknowledged by CCP, and people actually find that alluring as a unique aspect of that player-run universe. From what I gathered anyway.

We don't have enough room for the crims we already have never mind people who steal virtual items. That being said next year is an election year and he is a Conservative who are about as popular with younger voters as EA.

Ugh, I can understand the sentiment but it would be a minefield to enforce. I mean, what about online games where you're legitimately allowed to kill other players and take their stuff, would that then also be against the law or only if the offending 'thief' hacks the game? How about exploits?

"The perception from some people is if you steal online it's less of a crime than if you steal physically."

It is less of a crime. It's a game. If you let someone into your guild and they take your crap, that's all permitted in the game. It's on the host of the game if they want to proceed on this. In my headcanon, Mike Weatherley is only pursuing this because his WoW guild got jacked and there is Blizzard is doing nothing about it.

Cowabungaa:

SacremPyrobolum:
Christ, just wait till they tell him about EVE.

Thing is, isn't it pretty much sanctioned in EVE? As in, that's pretty much part of the game, acknowledged by CCP, and people actually find that alluring as a unique aspect of that player-run universe. From what I gathered anyway.

I think the MP is just refering to people who hack accounts or steal items outside of the game's systems. And for paided for items, I think its not a bad idea. It's not clear from here if he does JUST mean that though.

Butthurt much? So if this does get launched, does that mean that the culprits behind EvE-Online's 'Guiding Hand Social Club Heist' are going to get well and truly screwed? This is just going to draw attention to him. Someone will find his character name in WoW and make him cry lol

They're already eligible for real world jail time for hacking. Given that a virtual item that Blizzard can instantly restore is never really gone arguing that there is any loss would be difficult. Just leave it as a hacking crime. Otherwise, you've criminalized Standard Operating Procedure for games like EVE. You'd criminalize any game that focused around PvP in any meaningful way.

Gizmo1990:
We don't have enough room for the crims we already have never mind people who steal virtual items. That being said next year is an election year and he is a Conservative who are about as popular with younger voters as EA.

Please. The Tories wish they were as beloved as EA.

OT:Virtual goods are something that we need to talk about, but I HIGHLY doubt this is the right time or way to do it.

I think he is strictly talking about hacking and stuff like that, not exactly stealing the stuff inside the game like in EVE or other MMOs. For example, beating the shit out of the enemy and taking some ships/content (idk, I dont play EVE) would be cool but hacking the account of the owner of those ships/content and sending over to the thief would be a crime.

It has some sense since its stuff that even though virtual do have a real life price to it but it would be really hard to work with it and the best option seems to simply put better security measures and means of punishing the thief by banning the IP, user, etc..., since its virtual the item can probably be tracked and delivered back? Again, I dont know.

What next? Some companies will make insurances of the stuff that got stolen from you?

Scarim Coral:
What next? Some companies will make insurances of the stuff that got stolen from you?

Actually, that sounds like a genuinely workable business model - I can easily imagine there would be demand for it

It would be great if this went to a court and it was deemed that these virtual items paid for with $$$ were not actually of any value and therefore perhaps perpetuating out to make it unlawful to charge/produce stupid stupid stupid DLC (lookin at you EA) and go back to the good ol' days where updates were something you didn't pay 15$ for each time.

Chances of something like this happening though = 0%

JoJo:
Ugh, I can understand the sentiment but it would be a minefield to enforce. I mean, what about online games where you're legitimately allowed to kill other players and take their stuff, would that then also be against the law or only if the offending 'thief' hacks the game? How about exploits?

I agree, its a sentiment that you can agree with, the problem is it would be almost impossible to enforce, especially when games are often from multi-national companies. For example EVE online's developers are from Iceland, but the actual server that runs the game is in London. Who's law takes precedent? That and most law maker and enforcers don't seem to care about this.

But I suspect as the internet and social media become more and more central we may end up having to answer this.

It's nice how grown-up the reporting both here and on the Guardian's website is on this matter.
For years people have been complaining that companies and governments are behind the digital times, playing catchup and failing miserably. Here a politician actually sparks a debate about digital ownership and what protections you should expect to be in place for items you have paid for and he's greeted with scorn.
Jim Stirling and Shamus Young have both written about how, as an industry, games aren't taken seriously; nice perpetuation of that with such an amateur take on this issue, tabloid journalism at its finest.

Yes, if he is talking about hacking and stuff that isn't part of the game, I can see where he's coming from.

But I also don't know enough of law or how these kinds of online-games work to say much more than that.
Since an item that's just data is a bit different from an actual physical item, and could be duplicated or copied.

Also how does this relate to something like stealing money from someone's bank account? Since that's just ones and zeroes too.

exobook:

JoJo:
Ugh, I can understand the sentiment but it would be a minefield to enforce. I mean, what about online games where you're legitimately allowed to kill other players and take their stuff, would that then also be against the law or only if the offending 'thief' hacks the game? How about exploits?

I agree, its a sentiment that you can agree with, the problem is it would be almost impossible to enforce, especially when games are often from multi-national companies. For example EVE online's developers are from Iceland, but the actual server that runs the game is in London. Who's law takes precedent? That and most law maker and enforcers don't seem to care about this.

But I suspect as the internet and social media become more and more central we may end up having to answer this.

If only there were some governing body representing a large group of nations who have tied themselves economically together that could enforce laws beyond just their own borders and with enough clout to make threat of economic sanction something companies feared enough to stay in line...

Given there's already precedent on this, hell the article cites a 2008 case where a Dutch court convicted two teens for online item theft, I'd guess the enforcement would be a lot easier than you'd imagine, especially with it being virtually impossible to erase your tracks from the internet.

This really depends on how we're defining 'stealing', or at least how things are being stolen.

Generally speaking, the only way for someone else to get your virtual items is either with your consent, through completely legitimate gameplay, or via hacking.

The first don't make sense to punish in the real world, and the latter is typically a real world crime anyways, so what exactly are we talking about?

Best I could guess is that it would be a good ol' fashioned theft charge added on to the typical hacking charges (whatever those are), and can't say I have a problem with that.

Of course, then you get into the mess of maybe it being the game companies responsibility to sort out that sort of thing, and what if the game shuts down? It happens, does that count as the company itself robbing it's players just because they chose to spend more money on intangible items?

I don't know, maybe just stick with charging people with hacking stuff, let the game deal with the rest.

Cartographer:
It's nice how grown-up the reporting both here and on the Guardian's website is on this matter.
For years people have been complaining that companies and governments are behind the digital times, playing catchup and failing miserably. Here a politician actually sparks a debate about digital ownership and what protections you should expect to be in place for items you have paid for and he's greeted with scorn.
Jim Stirling and Shamus Young have both written about how, as an industry, games aren't taken seriously; nice perpetuation of that with such an amateur take on this issue, tabloid journalism at its finest.

But as a number of people on this thread have pointed out, while on the face of it it's an interesting idea and worth pursuing, the whole thing does fall down when you examine it in any depth, so I don't think it's unreasonable to treat it humorously (not to mention that that is pretty much the house style for news reporting on the Escapist)

Just to summarise the reasons others have given, the suggestion makes no sense because:

1) Games are a fantasy world in which, by definition, the normal rules of the real world are suspended. If you can be prosecuted for stealing someone's stuff, how can you fantasy role-play as a thief?

2) If items are stolen by means of hacking or other exploits, existing laws of fraud and cybercrime should cover that. What's more, since all game code is under the control of the developers, there is nothing stopping them from redressing the issue and restoring the 'stolen' items to you.

So it's hard to think of any circumstance in which any new law is required. Perhaps the only thing that might be worthwhile would be a new extension to data protection, requiring game developers to safeguard the virtual property of their players. I could very easily imagine a circumstance in which that might be helpful.

Mike Hoffman:
"The perception from some people is if you steal online it's less of a crime than if you steal physically."

It is less of a crime. It's a game. If you let someone into your guild and they take your crap, that's all permitted in the game. It's on the host of the game if they want to proceed on this. In my headcanon, Mike Weatherley is only pursuing this because his WoW guild got jacked and there is Blizzard is doing nothing about it.

Yeah, this is utterly stupid. You don't own a damn thing in any Blizzard game. You are paying for access to their content, as stated in their terms of agreement, and none of the things your account has access to is owned by anyone other than Blizzard.

I hope your headcanon is true, because I can't see how it could be anything else.

Cowabungaa:

SacremPyrobolum:
Christ, just wait till they tell him about EVE.

Thing is, isn't it pretty much sanctioned in EVE? As in, that's pretty much part of the game, acknowledged by CCP, and people actually find that alluring as a unique aspect of that player-run universe. From what I gathered anyway.

I think this is more for if someone threatens you with a knife for your account name/PW, they get charged with aggravated armed robbery rather then an assault charge because they did not steal anything with monetary value.

if not they are in for a rude awakening when it comes to how games work.

Cartographer:

Given there's already precedent on this, hell the article cites a 2008 case where a Dutch court convicted two teens for online item theft, I'd guess the enforcement would be a lot easier than you'd imagine, especially with it being virtually impossible to erase your tracks from the internet.

a more likely way things may change is not from states cracking down on virtual crime, but states cracking down on online crime. Let say a law is passed with penalise companies that are found to not have done enough to protect against the stealing of virtual items with real world value.

Baring EULAs while this law on paper appear to be focused around iTunes account or the like it could easily be applied towards virtual game items. If an item which was brought with real money (from a store, not in-game cash (though that also may be problematic if you consider gift cards)) and its stolen in-game. Does this constitute a crime under the above law?

And for those EVE players in this situation I would be talking about something like the Genolution 'Auroral' AU-79, an in-game item only available from the 10th anniversary collection, paid for in a real store.

Theft of virtual items can be undone by restoring the items though... Not something easily done with real items. But what's next? Prosecuting gankers for assault and battery? If the game in question allows bodies to be looted, like the various zombie apocalypse survival sims lately, could you be arrested for mugging someone in game?

I'll concede that if someone hacks your account and takes your shit there should be a penalty. My thoughts on that are though:

1) I don't think stealing a $10 mount should get you time in the slammer. I'm thinking community service or the like. I really don't think, unless the case is extremely high profile stealing tens of thousands in items from people, the punishment should be the same as someone who robs a store at gunpoint.

2) Hacking is already illegal.

3) If a corporation in EvE gets infiltrated and looses like 30,000 PLEX that should be fine. It's part of the game.
(Note I don't play EvE, so if this isn't possible I'm sorry!)

No one tell them about what happened in Diablo 3.

Flatfrog:

1) Games are a fantasy world in which, by definition, the normal rules of the real world are suspended. If you can be prosecuted for stealing someone's stuff, how can you fantasy role-play as a thief?

Not what he referred to, in fact that is the somewhat childish tack taken by the report itself.
The conversation to be had is about digital property, the protections that are and aren't in place and how the law views digital theft. Stealing 100 Robes of Power or whatever in a game is nothing more than "Reductio Ad Absurdum", taking a ridiculous, extreme conclusion to try and trivialise an issue.

Flatfrog:
2) If items are stolen by means of hacking or other exploits, existing laws of fraud and cybercrime should cover that. What's more, since all game code is under the control of the developers, there is nothing stopping them from redressing the issue and restoring the 'stolen' items to you.

Which is what the issue is about, minus the nonsense reported by the apparent "journalists". Cyber crime laws have and continue to lag behind, way, way, way behind what is possible yet whenever they're brought up, by anyone in a position to actually do something about them (read: not just a blogger or internet personality) they're trivialised by people crying about prosecuting someone for online play (see above), or attacked as a privacy infringement. You don't get to decry the slow movement of governments/companies on an issue on the one hand while mocking anyone who attempts to treat the issues seriously on the other, it's hypocrisy.

Flatfrog:
So it's hard to think of any circumstance in which any new law is required. Perhaps the only thing that might be worthwhile would be a new extension to data protection, requiring game developers to safeguard the virtual property of their players. I could very easily imagine a circumstance in which that might be helpful.

There are plenty of people, on this very site, who will argue that digital theft isn't the same as real life theft (see any conversation around file sharing) I'm guessing you're not one of them then?

I don't think the laws that exist at present have anywhere near the scope, safeguards or guidance necessary to cover what was possible digitally 10 years ago, let alone today. It is frankly sad to see people lambaste and mock any attempted discussion on how governments need to change in light of the digital age, hence my initial post.

Flatfrog:

Cartographer:
It's nice how grown-up the reporting both here and on the Guardian's website is on this matter.
For years people have been complaining that companies and governments are behind the digital times, playing catchup and failing miserably. Here a politician actually sparks a debate about digital ownership and what protections you should expect to be in place for items you have paid for and he's greeted with scorn.
Jim Stirling and Shamus Young have both written about how, as an industry, games aren't taken seriously; nice perpetuation of that with such an amateur take on this issue, tabloid journalism at its finest.

But as a number of people on this thread have pointed out, while on the face of it it's an interesting idea and worth pursuing, the whole thing does fall down when you examine it in any depth, so I don't think it's unreasonable to treat it humorously (not to mention that that is pretty much the house style for news reporting on the Escapist)

Just to summarise the reasons others have given, the suggestion makes no sense because:

1) Games are a fantasy world in which, by definition, the normal rules of the real world are suspended. If you can be prosecuted for stealing someone's stuff, how can you fantasy role-play as a thief?

2) If items are stolen by means of hacking or other exploits, existing laws of fraud and cybercrime should cover that. What's more, since all game code is under the control of the developers, there is nothing stopping them from redressing the issue and restoring the 'stolen' items to you.

So it's hard to think of any circumstance in which any new law is required. Perhaps the only thing that might be worthwhile would be a new extension to data protection, requiring game developers to safeguard the virtual property of their players. I could very easily imagine a circumstance in which that might be helpful.

I would add:

3) Virtual items have no inherent value; Their scarcity is arbitrarily decided on by the creator.

How do you determine the penalty for stealing something with no set value? Usually thefts or insurance claims are based on the amount of money required to replace the items, which in this case could strongly be argued to automatically be $0 (maybe a few cents to pay for the few seconds a developer spends replacing the item) but could also be argued to be any ungodly amount based on whatever value the market or community thinks it's worth.

Weaver:
1) I don't think stealing a $10 mount should get you time in the slammer. I'm thinking community service or the like. I really don't think, unless the case is extremely high profile stealing tens of thousands in items from people, the punishment should be the same as someone who robs a store at gunpoint.

Well obviously it shouldn't. Because one is just theft and the other is theft AND threatening someone with a deadly weapon. So it should be like shoplifting a $10 item from said store. Or maybe breaking in and stealing something worth $10 from your house. As people mentioned, hacking is already a crime, but so is breaking and entering, but in both cases it's only fair that if they steal something that's worth money, they can be prosecuted for that too.

Jadak:
Of course, then you get into the mess of maybe it being the game companies responsibility to sort out that sort of thing, and what if the game shuts down? It happens, does that count as the company itself robbing it's players just because they chose to spend more money on intangible items?

Mmmmmmmaybe. I mean, like you said, it happens; keeping an online game operating requires a constant inflow of resources, and sometimes a company straight-up runs out of them. On the other hand, if a company shuts down a free-to-play game that has been in operation for less than a year and immediately releases another one in the same franchise, with no way to transfer items you already bought in the older game, it's a pretty clear-cut case of highway robbery, innit? What if the game itself cost money and the company shuts down their DRM, locking you out of the game entirely? What about the Kindle debacle, where Amazon de-listed a bunch of books from their system and remotely wiped them from everyone's ebook readers? They all got full refunds, if I recall, but supposing they hadn't. Supposing Amazon had just wiped everyone's Kindles and been like "Thanks for the free money, suckers!" Where do you draw the line? It's something worth discussing in a world where an increasing amount of what we own is of a non-physical nature.

Johnson McGee:

3) Virtual items have no inherent value; Their scarcity is arbitrarily decided on by the creator.

How do you determine the penalty for stealing something with no set value? Usually thefts or insurance claims are based on the amount of money required to replace the items, which in this case could strongly be argued to automatically be $0 (maybe a few cents to pay for the few seconds a developer spends replacing the item) but could also be argued to be any ungodly amount based on whatever value the market or community thinks it's worth.

Weeeeeell, I don't know about that. Surely *nothing* has 'inherent value' in that sense, and everything is worth precisely what people are prepared to pay for it. If people are prepared to spend thousands of dollars on a virtual farting pink pig on DotA, then that's what the virtual farting pink pig is worth. That's a basic principle of market capitalism.

However, as I said, you're right that because these digital objects are created virtually and have no replacement cost, it's hard to see how it's possible to 'steal' them in that sense. Which was my point - just as banks are legally required to reimburse you for money stolen through online fraud (if it wasn't your own fault), site owners should be legally required to replace items stolen through nefarious means.

Cartographer:

The conversation to be had is about digital property, the protections that are and aren't in place and how the law views digital theft. Stealing 100 Robes of Power or whatever in a game is nothing more than "Reductio Ad Absurdum", taking a ridiculous, extreme conclusion to try and trivialise an issue.

All right, but the point still remains - what kind of digital property is it possible to 'steal' in such a way that the content provider couldn't instantly replace at no cost to themselves?

As far as I can see the only protection we need is from content providers themselves, who are the only ones in a position to take away from us things we have paid for. That's a genuine concern and not one I think was being addressed here. What protection do the players of EVE Online have against the site simply closing up tomorrow and taking all their money and digital possessions with them? For that matter, what protection do we have against Google doing the same thing?

Ok I can see fines being given to in-game scammers and thieves if these items are bought with REAL MONEY, but not jail time. Unless the item in question costs a shit-load of money. Other than that, it is foolish to give people jail time for stealing $15 items and the like.

I think people are missing the fact that he did mention: "If you've paid real money" so we're talking things like 100 in game purchasable like say: Chest keys, etc.

Which sure there are many games that smartly bind such items to your account, but just as many that don't. I think he's clearly talking about situations where people are hacking accounts, stealing items purchased with real money and leaving the account bare. I also believe this is more about placing additional charges on top of the hacking.

In effect, you work so you can buy your TV with real money, if that get's stolen, you'd have every right to be pissed, so if you work to buy a cool set of armour with real money, then you'd also have every right to be pissed.

Finally, a reasonable way to deal with all those bastards that need roll everything!

Flatfrog:

Cartographer:

The conversation to be had is about digital property, the protections that are and aren't in place and how the law views digital theft. Stealing 100 Robes of Power or whatever in a game is nothing more than "Reductio Ad Absurdum", taking a ridiculous, extreme conclusion to try and trivialise an issue.

All right, but the point still remains - what kind of digital property is it possible to 'steal' in such a way that the content provider couldn't instantly replace at no cost to themselves?

As far as I can see the only protection we need is from content providers themselves, who are the only ones in a position to take away from us things we have paid for. That's a genuine concern and not one I think was being addressed here. What protection do the players of EVE Online have against the site simply closing up tomorrow and taking all their money and digital possessions with them? For that matter, what protection do we have against Google doing the same thing?

I would truly love to live in a world where replacing an item was all it took to make theft okay, where the only negative consequence of stealing could be undone by simply returning or replacing the item. I don't 'cus this ain't.

Further, no cost to themselves? Doing so undermines any sort of economic model that may be in existence. There is no such thing as free, even in a digital world; the content had to be created originally, it took time and effort that needed to be paid for. On top of that, it would take time to police and we all know what time is (insert popular MMO joke here).

I don't play Eve, never have, but I'd be extremely surprised if the TOS didn't explicitly spell out that you have no right to anything in the event of a server termination; you're right that any discussion about the value of digital items would by necessity have to address the value of all digital accounts and would have to address the trend of "services" rather than "products" that companies have been shifting to of late as they realise it's more profitable not to sell you a product once every 10 years, but rather charge you for a service monthly.

But, trivialising and mocking the people who bring it up helps how exactly?
It's shoddy reporting and hypocrisy, from a site that should know better since it's called for just this discussion to begin on numerous occasions.
(Frankly, the Guardian piece is crap and what I'd expect from a newspaper of its quality.)

He's probably recently been hacked and he's really, really butthurt about it.

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