A landmark ruling

Something just happened. Something important.

On Tuesday, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that when two boys forced a third (by violence) to give them two of his Runescape items, that it was theft.

Now, you might think that that is a landmark ruling for digital goods as lawful property. It isn’t. Well, it is, but it isn’t in the way that you might think. It’s far more interesting than that.

You see, in pretty much every legal jurisdiction in the world, digital goods already are property and well-covered under existing property law. However, they’re not usually your property. In Runescape, World of Warcraft and Second Life (as examples), all the digital goods belong to the service operator according to property law, and according to the terms and conditions that go with the service that each user agrees to.

But here’s what happened. The Dutch Supreme Court established the precedent (rightly or wrongly) that the property belonged to the victim and therefore constituted theft, established law and the operators’ terms and conditions notwithstanding.

Jagex’s terms of service for Runescape say “You agree that all intellectual property or other rights in any game character, account and items are and will remain our property.”

Well, forget that. For the Dutch, that is no longer entirely true. They own those items.

Likewise in the Second Life terms of service: “Linden Lab owns the bits and bytes of electronic data stored on its Servers.”

Not entirely, anymore, my friends.

It’s a brand new day in the Netherlands, and yes, this particular ruling will undoubtedly cause more than a few corporate lawyers to go into shock.

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