When Virtual Goods Become Real

By Projjol Banerjea
Sunday, February 6, 2011 / 1 min read

At SponsorPay, we work with virtual goods every day and consequently they’re very real to us. However, now and again we come across stories of the reality of virtual currency being taken to a whole new level.

Last week, a British man was convicted of stealing $12 billion in virtual poker chips that he tried to sell on the RMT grey market. The court decreed that virtual currency, though intangible and infinite in supply, has monetary value and deserves legal protection according to the UK’s criminal laws. As a result, the hacker will serve a “substantial term” in – real – jail for plundering virtual vaults.

In December last year, an interesting case in Beijing, China involved a woman claiming rights to virtual assets she earned with her ex-husband. The couple played online games under a single ID the husband had registered. In court, the wife asked for her share of the virtual goods but the husband refused. Unfortunately, the judge ruled in favour of the latter.

In South Korea, virtual currency has been treated equivalent to real money for a little over a year. If that trend begins to proliferate to other markets, spectacular virtual robberies such as the heist in trading game Eve Online in 2009 will probably become less of a rarity. Professor of law Greg Lastowka, whose new book Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds examines the limitations of conventional legal systems when dealing with this new (virtual) world order, argues that governments need to explore new legislation in the same manner they developed laws related to the Internet and identity theft.

There’s no doubt that virtual goods are highly coveted. As they become increasingly mainstream, they will most likely demand more attention from legislators as well as law enforcement.