Dutch Supreme Court 2012: Virtual Theft Ruling a One-Off or First in a Series?

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, September, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 3

14 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2013 Last revised: 20 Nov 2014

See all articles by Arno R. Lodder

Arno R. Lodder

Vrije Universiteit - Dep. Transnational Legal Studies - CLI/Center for Law and Internet

Date Written: September 17, 2013

Abstract

In January 2012 the Dutch Supreme Court decided that virtual objects and pre-paid accounts can be stolen. This paper examines the Supreme Court’s Runescape decision and discusses virtual theft. Virtual theft is legally interesting from various perspectives. First, the rules of Runescape do not allow items to be stolen and are designed to make illegal transfer of objects impossible. Second, normally a person loses ownership of property in case of theft, but the owner of the virtual objects is the producer of the game and loses nothing. Therefore, theft is taking place between two avatars under the all-seeing eye of the owner. Third, it is not clear why classification as theft is preferred over hacking and the transfer of data. This question was reinvigorated during the writing of this paper, when at the same time both a leading cybercrime scholar and a prominent criminal law scholar argued against the theft classification. Following the Runescape decision, the position of participants in virtual worlds towards objects remain the same, but we can anticipate more cases on the theft of virtual items generally over the next five to ten years.

Keywords: virtual worlds, internet law, theft, terms of service

JEL Classification: K10, K11, K14

Suggested Citation

Lodder, Arno R., Dutch Supreme Court 2012: Virtual Theft Ruling a One-Off or First in a Series? (September 17, 2013). Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, September, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 3, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2327008

Arno R. Lodder (Contact Author)

Vrije Universiteit - Dep. Transnational Legal Studies - CLI/Center for Law and Internet ( email )

De Boelelaan 1105
Amsterdam, 1081HV
Netherlands

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