Real world punishment for virtual crimes

The case of the Japanese woman who ‘murdered’ her virtual husband and has received 5 years in a real prison has received significant media coverage in the past 24 hours. There has been surprise that someone could be imprisoned for a virtual crime.

This is something of a non-story. Disingenuous copy-writing by mainstream media (shame) has created something out of very little. The case revolves around virtual reality website Maple Story. A piano teacher had been ‘married’ to a man, whom she never actually met in real life, in Maple Story.  He ‘divorced’ her without telling her and in anger she logged into his account (with the  login details he has shared with her while they were married) and deleted his profile.

There are a number of potential points of law here – the validity of the marriage; was it consumated virtually for example, the divorce and the murder. None of these would have been debated in the real world court room since the only actual crime here was the unauthorised access to the account. The woman was on trial under laws around illegal access to a computer. Hacking to death is not murder…

As we spend more and more or our time online, interacting with others there will indeed be discussion about where real world rights cross with virtual world rights. Currently much of the law that governs online activities is law written before the Internet was ever conceived. Existing laws certainly should apply to online interactions, but presumably only where there is an infringement that impacts in a real sense. It is difficult to try and separate real and virtual in today’s world. A crime is a crime, no matter where it is committed. However, labelling the deletion of a person’s online profile ‘murder’ really does none of us any favours.

Meanwhile I’m off to Maple Story to see can I find me a virtual wife. Hopefully the real one won’t find out or there could be a real hacking to death.

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