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Dutch court convicts teens for stealing pixels

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A pair of Dutch teenagers have been convicted of theft for stealing virtual items from a classmate.

Leeuwarden district court sentenced the boys, aged 14 and 15 to community service for punching, kicking, and threatening their 13-year-old victim with a knife until he agreed to transfer a virtual amulet and mask from the game Runescape to their own accounts.

Radio Netherlands reports the attacks occurred in September 2007. Apparently, the issue wasn't the assault on the lad, but on whether virtual items should be considered tangible goods that can be stolen.

The prosecutor argued because the items have value to the owner, they should be considered real and tangible. He also noted Runescape objects can be sold for money in the real world.

As with many online games, Runescape's Terms and Conditions specifically forbids exchanging game items for real-life money or benefits, although this doesn't stop many from making such trades on sites like eBay.

A lawyer representing the culprits argued that legally, the items don't exist and therefore can't be stolen, RNW reports.

The court rejected the defense's argument, stating that "these virtual goods are goods, so this is theft," in a summary of its ruling. It cited an earlier decision that electricity can be considered a material object for the purpose of criminal law and that stealing electricity is theft. The same principle can be applied to virtual objects in this case, it ruled.

The 15-year-old was sentenced to 200 hours service, while the 14-year-old got 160 hours. ®

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