Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Is stealing pretend goods a crime?

A Dutch teenager has been arrested, and several others are under investigation, for stealing virtual furniture from the “rooms” of social networking site Habbo Hotel

On one hand, somebody actually spent $5800 to populate their room with these objects, and they no longer have “use” of the furniture. So the basic concept of theft seems to fit. Also, online fraud in the form of phishing may have been part of the crime. That is a separate issue though. On the other hand, we are talking about pretend stuff on a web site. If Dutch teenagers commit a virtual crime on a web site hosted in the US, against a party living in some third country, who has jurisdiction?

I think we are barely entering the wild west days of online law. There is simply so much about life online that doesn’t neatly fit into our existing legal framework. This should be an interesting case to watch.

written by Chris O'Donnell