MP calls for MMO crimes to have real-life punishments

July 25, 2014 // 9:11 a.m.

Tags: #crime #law #member-of-parliament #mike-weatherley #mmo #mmorpg #parliament #punishment #theft #tory #world-of-warcraft

A Conservative MP has called for the theft of in-game items to be punished with the same level of severity as the theft of real-world objects, despite their ephemeral nature.

In one of the rare instances of a member of parliament speaking up about gaming in a manner that doesn't excoriate them as murder-simulators corruption the nation's youth, Mike Weatherly MP outed himself as a World of Warcraft subscriber eager to see real-world justice for crimes that occur in Azeroth. In a speech aimed at Minister of State for Justice Mike Penning earlier this week, Weatherley is reported by the Independent to have compared virtual thefts to real-world crimes.

'The video games industry has raised concerns with me on behalf of gamers who have clearly being targeted by hackers and while I’ve not personally been a victim of online theft, but certainly sympathise with those who have had something stolen from them,' Weatherley, chief adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron on intellectual property policy, told the paper in a follow-up interview. ;Legitimate in-game theft of something with a real-world monetary value should be treated in the same way as people who steal physical items. Small individual thefts might seem trivial, but if targeted and carried out hundreds or thousands of times it does present a serious problem.'

The punishment of virtual theft under existing laws is problematic on several levels: the items in question exist merely as entries in a database, they have no intrinsic value and could be cloned or restored to their original owner quickly and easily should the company behind the game get involved. Weatherley argues that while the virtual items have no value as data, they have real-world worth thanks to the time and effort put into obtaining them - and, in cases where games have approved or illegitimate trading routes, often change hands for cold, hard currency.

Weatherley stopped short of stating the exact level of punishment he would like to see for the theft of a virtual sword, gun or suit of armour, but told the paper 'crimes committed online should not be treated differently from crimes committed offline, as I believe that it sends out the wrong message.,' suggesting real-life prison sentences would not be considered disproportionate.

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