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Murder in the Virtual World

Written by Ben Evans on 27 October 2008

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An interesting case has turned up in Japan over the killing of a virtual character.

Anyone who has been on the internet over the last few years can't have missed so called 'virtual worlds' such as Second Life or World of Warcraft. Whilst most of the issues raised by these virtual worlds have been that of intellectual property ownership and the rules relating to online contract formation there has been an increasing number of 'crimes'. This particular case involves the game: Maplestory, now whilst gamers will tell you that this is different from a virtual world (and they are probably right due Mapletory's emphasis on fun and challenges as opposed to merely 'living') the basic legal principles are the same.

Basically a man and a woman (who of course are real people) logged onto the game and as part of their enjoyment their avatars (in game characters) got 'married' (in an online sense). Having got fed up with the marriage the husband divorced her, however he didn't tell the wife. Upon logging on and finding herself divorced the defendant (using details given to her by the husband) logged onto his account and deleted it. Users of these online games (or worlds) often spend countless hours and a not insignificant amount of money developing their avatar and having found his account deleted the husband (who is unnamed) went to the police. As a result the defendant was arrested and has been charged with illegally accessing a computer and manipulating data. In Japan these offences carry with them a prison sentance of up to five years and a fine of up to $5000. The defendant stated: "I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry,".

It will be interesting to see how the case progresses. In the UK such a case would be governed by the Computer Misuse Act 1990. The Act states three categories of offence into UK criminal law: Unauthorised access to computer material, unauthorised access with intent to commit a further offence and unauthorised modification. For further information on the Computer Misuse Act please see Computer Hacking, How Best To Solve It.

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