Hello! This is my first post over here, so hopefully you all will be kind, and allow me to run my legal mouth off just a touch. ^.^
In honor of the Hallmark Holiday that is the fourteenth of February, I thought I’d revisit an oldie but goodie from the annals of “Seriously? It’s just a game!”
I used to play a number of MMORPGs, and the one that held my attention for the longest was a Korean-based free-to-play one called MapleStory. It was fun and cute and you could play through most of the quests without actually having to interact with
too many people, at least in the States. Where things started getting a little sticky for players and the company, however, was when they introduced the ability to “marry” other players. You got special items and could go on special quests as a couple, and apparently you could have problems in real life as well.
After being dumped by her online husband in 2008, a Japanese woman hacked into his account, and deleted his character. After being interviewed by the police and admitting that she was responsible, she faced up to years in prison or a $5000 fine. But wait a minute, I hear you saying, can you really “kill” an online character? Should that be punished the same way as “real” crimes?
It’s not clear from the various news stories who focused on the jilted lover aspect of the story, but it’s likely that the crime for which she was punished was the “hacking into his account” and not so much the “deleting his character.” In the States, we have the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (
CFAA) which makes it unlawful to use someone else’s login information to do illegal things, and Japan probably has similar provisions. Technically, even if she’d had his information for legitimate reasons, she still could have been prosecuted, because there is a provision about “exceeding the authority” to use that account or computer.
Even if she had been within the law in how she accessed his character, did she break the law by deleting his character? Is an avatar “human” such that it can be “killed” under the law? Well, probably not. The worst charge would probably be one of theft or conversion, or malicious mischief at the lowest end. And online games have an additional layer of complexity about who owns pixels, because with “free-to-play” and online games there isn’t a physical transfer of ownership which would constitute a “sale” in the legal sense.
Even if you pay money to use premium content (like if you want to get married in MapleStory…) the Terms of Service makes
it clear that players lease the game from the developer, and don’t actually “own” any of it. So the spurned woman may have caused problems for her erstwhile lover, but the property she “destroyed” didn’t even belong to him. He was just using it under a license for as long as he followed the rules.
But “Woman Arrested for Hacking Lover’s Computer” doesn’t have the same sense of absurdity, does it?