Recently, a British politician suggested that theft of virtual items in online games should be punished like real theft. Mike Weatherley – by day the chief adviser on intellectual property to the Prime Minister, by night a mighty hero of Azeroth in the MMORPG World of Warcraft – asked the British Minister of State for Justice to propose legislation “to ensure that cyber criminals who steal online 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.” So if you steal an in-game magic item worth a real-life $100 (or £50, since we’re talking about England), you would get charged with theft of £50. (If this does become a real thing, I’d like to propose that this area of law be dubbed “WoW-Crimes.” “World of WarCrimes” has a clever ring to it, but it also sounds too much like a Rwandan genocide simulator, and the world really doesn’t need that to exist.)
Mr. Weatherley tells it like this, “The perception from some people is that if you steal online it’s less of a crime than if you steal physically.” I imagine that most of us would agree that such a perception is a faulty one. As in-game purchases become a bigger and bigger thing, there might be a need for these kind of law. Heck, the amount of time that my 3-year-old son and I spent playing Pokémon Y together is staggering (and well worth it). I’d be furious and heartbroken if someone robbed the Pokémon Bank.
But, like just about everything to do with computers, the law is not well equipped to deal with these issues. Continue reading