Excuse the l33tspeak, but it's gonna be a while before I get it out of my system.
Now that we have this brand new forum (thanks be to Teddy C) on interesting social aspects of virtual worlds, I wanted to start out with a question that's been bugging me for a while. A little while ago the fabulous Julian posted a fabulous entry on his fabulous Play Money blog.
Like most of his Play Money deals, it involved him acting as the middleman in the sale of a virtual asset in UO. But this particular asset was very unusual and he quickly discovered that it had been "stolen" in-game by an avatar with high-level thieving skills. So he became a virtual fence for an asset that he knew to be stolen. He questioned the ethics of this action but concluded that, since stealing is an in-game skill, the theft took place in-world and was not properly thought-of as theft.
My question is whether this holds up IRL? Could the victim bring a criminal action against the thief or Julian? It's undeniable that the asset has a tangible value IRL, and that the asset, as the usual common law definition requires, was "appropriated with the intention permanently to deprive" the owner of it. Is the argument that "theft" is permissible in-world sufficient to insulate Julian from a fencing charge?
Maybe. But I want to be in court the day that you try explaining skill-trees to the 70 yo judge...