Does it make sense to charge people for “crimes” that are committed inside virtual worlds? Mike Masnick at Techdirt argues that it doesn’t really, and that the Dutch kids who “stole” the Runescape amulet and mask from another teen at knifepoint should properly have been charged with assault rather than theft. The Dutch court, however, argues that virtual goods are just as worthy of protection as real-world goods, and so theft is the proper charge. This is an issue that some have been thinking about for awhile now, and one Wagner James Au has argued should be a concern for plenty of Web 2.0 companies as well, since they effectively deal in “virtual goods” such as reputation, etc. and user-generated content.
The fascinating thing with virtual theft and other “crimes,” of course, is that there are so many different ways of stealing money and property and engaging in all sorts of other bad behaviour inside Second Life or some other virtual world. You can hack the game to generate money or credits, you can run scripts that copy artefacts and property (which you can then sell inside the game), and you can sell the money you got illegally to noobs and then virtually mug them to take it back inside the game. The possibilities are endless. Should they all be real-world crimes too?