The Dutch Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Runescape theft case today. You can find the ruling here, and here's a Google-translated version. The ruling cites to the work of Professor Arno Lodder (who guest-blogged here), who has been keeping close tabs on the case, as well as to my book and to my work with Dan on virtual law & virtual crime.
One thing to bear in mind is that this case involved real violence and the theft of virtual goods. The victim was beaten and threatened with a (real) knife, with the defendants demanding he hand over a mask and an amulet within Runescape. As the court notes, the violence occurred outside of the context of the game. So at the very least, this was a case of criminal assault. The only issue was whether the crime amounted to theft, which hinged on whether or not the virtual items could be classified, under Dutch law, as goods.
The lawyer for the defendants argued that Runescape's virtual items are not goods because they are not tangible and have no commercial value. The Dutch Supreme Court disagreed. Citing to the size of virtual economies as well as to specific sales on eBay of Runescape items, it rejected the argument that the goods had no economic value. It also observed that the victim had invested time and effort to obtain the value of the items, that the game gave him exclusive rights to the items, and that the defendants had, by violence, acquired that value and those exclusive rights from the victim.
In my opinion, the reasoning of the Dutch Supreme Court is roughly analogous to the reasoning in the U.S. decision of Kremen v. Cohen, which found that domain names were subject to civil conversion in California despite their intangible nature. Though I have mixed feelings about the Cohen case, I believe the recognition of the items as goods is the right result in this case. As the Court explains, the victims here were clearly motivated by the prospect of acquiring the virtual items of the victim and they used violence to obtain that value.
Additionally, as the Dutch Supreme Court explicitly notes, the violence here was not in the context of the game. As I explain in Chapter 6 of my book, there can be cases where legal prohibitions against in-game theft of virtual property may be in tension with the rules of a game. (In essence, this is the question of the "magic circle" which we have discussed here for some time.) In this case, however, the theft occurred completely outside the rules of Runescape. Given this, I think the Dutch Supreme Court's recognition of the economic and status value of virtual items is entirely appropriate.
I may have more to say once I get a better translation of the ruling -- Google Translate is great to get the gist of the matter, but I have a feeling I'm missing plenty of nuance.
Update: I should clarify that the cites mentioned above are actually contained in the AG's opinion accompanying the Supreme Court decision. The Dutch Supreme Court apparently does not do cites in its opinions. The AG's office is attached to the Supreme Court and offers advice to the court.