As more people log on to online worlds, or virtual worlds, to interact, play and socialize, there are growing calls for virtual property to be defined and bound by laws that will protect it from theft and plagiarism.
A man in Guangzhou, the capital of South China's Guangdong Province, was found guilty of online theft last week, becoming the first person to be punished by the courts for stealing virtual property in the province.
The man, Yan Yifan, 20, started playing an online game "Dahua Xiyou" in 2002.
In 2004, he was invited to work as a temporary employee by the game's publisher, NetEase.com, Inc, when it was celebrating the second anniversary of "Dahua Xiyou II."
During this time Yan gained more than 30 players' personal information and counterfeited their identity cards (ID cards).
Saying that all the players' passwords had been stolen, Yan faxed the counterfeit ID cards to NetEase and changed all of their passwords.
Taking the new passwords, Yan sold the players' game IDs and pieces of their game equipment to other players, making a profit of more than 4,000 yuan (US$500).
NetEase's game was inspired by an ancient Chinese fairy tale "Journey to the West."
Yan was sentenced to a fine of 5,000 yuan (US$617) by the court of Guangzhou's Tianhe District in the first trial in December last year.
Yan lodged his appeal to the higher-level Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court later, claiming virtual property should not be protected by laws.
According to the court, online game players have spent time, energy and money to gain the game's equipment, imparting value and use value to the virtual goods.
Moreover, Yan gained money from selling the equipment to the other players.
The court affirmed the original judgement.
While disputes about stealing virtual property soar, a legal explanation about the ownership of virtual property should be released to the public, Wang Xiaodong, a lawyer on intellectual property rights (IPR) from C&I Partners (Guangdong), told China Daily yesterday.
Wang said he was pleased with the court's judgement.
"As Chinese Criminal Law doesn't have a definition on what virtual property is and whether it is protected by laws, it leaves a loophole for the lawbreakers to exploit," he said.
He said he believes the Supreme People's Court will soon make a specific law to protect virtual property in the future, as long as similar cases continue to be heard by the courts.
Source: China Daily