Nineteen lawyers in Chengdu, capital city of southwest China's
Province, have recently submitted a jointly-signed proposal to
the Law Committee of the National People’s Congress, appealing for
the protection of virtual property on Internet.
He Jialin, a lawyer from the Chengdu Hetai Law Firm, is the
sponsor and organizer of the action. "I remember there was a
discussion about virtual property in the law field in 2002. In 2003
alone, I heard at least 10 consultants complaining that their
'equipment' in online games had been stolen. We think the problem
has now entered the sphere of legislation and judicature," he
Two test cases have offered an opportunity for Mr. He and 18
other lawyers to take the action.
Mr. Zhao, an online gamer in Chengdu, found his "fortune" and
"equipment" in the online computer game The Legend of Mir
disappeared abruptly last December. In order to accumulate his
virtual property, he spent a large sum of money. He hired a person
to test the game around the clock for three months and paid him
1,500 yuan (US$181) each month. He also spent several thousands of
yuan purchasing top-notch equipment.
After the incident, Mr. Zhao called the operator of the game in
Shanghai, Shanda Networking, to make inquiries, but got no
satisfactory response. The spokesperson from Shanda said, "It's
your player's error, not our company's."
Then Mr. Zhao went to Mr He for help. After analyzing the
situation, He judged the court would probably not accept the
lawsuit. Even if the court accepted it, the decision would still be
difficult to make, because there is no clear legal basis for this
kind of case. Finally, Mr. Zhao had to choose to complain to the
Consumers' Association of Sichuan Province.
Another test case happened in February last year. Li Hongchen,
an online gamer, discovered all the equipment he owned in the
online game Hongyue, or Red Moon, was looted. So he brought
a case against the game operator – Beijing Arctic Ice Technology
Development Co Ltd. The Chaoyang District People's Court of Beijing
accepted the case. The court in the first instance ruled on
December 18 that the defendant's infringement on virtual property
was tenable and the firm should restore the player's lost items
within seven days after the judgment became effective, as there was
no unified standard in "actual" life on the value of virtual
In He Jialin's view, the judgment isn't encouraging at all. "How
to indeed execute the so-called 'return' of our property. It is
even difficult to tell whether it can be executed. In addition, the
time and energy players expend on improving playing skills is not
fully respected," He said.
In their proposal, the lawyers point out that China's online
gaming industry has been booming in recent years with an annual
income of 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) and tens of millions of
consumers. Meanwhile, virtual properties themselves are being
attached with value and are said to possess the attribute of normal
commodities, and therefore should be protected by law or
regulations. However, the protection of virtual property still
remains virgin territory, as today, regulations or administrative
statutes including the Decision to Maintain Internet Safety and
Regulations on the Safety Protection of Computer Information
Systems stipulate nothing in this regard.
According to Zhang Qiang, another lawyer with the Chengdu Hetai
Law Firm, recognition of virtual property in legislation and
judicature has become a trend. The Republic of Korea (ROK) and
China's Taiwan and Hong Kong have all issued relevant laws and set
precedents in giving criminal sentences to those infringing upon
others’ virtual property.
Related law in the ROK stipulates that online virtual characters
and items possess property value, independent of service companies.
There is no fundamental difference between virtual property and
money deposited in the bank.
Recently, relevant departments in Taiwan issued a rule that
virtual property and accounts in online games should all be
regarded as "electromagnetic records" existing in servers and that
they should be regarded as "movable property" in crimes of fraud
and theft, and be judged as part of one’s private property. Looting
other people's virtual property will be judged as a crime and carry
a maximum sentence of up to three years' imprisonment.
Lawyers who jointly submitted the proposal said that legislation
on virtual property protection aims at guaranteeing the sound
development of China's online industry.
However, He Jialin seems not quite as optimistic about the
effect of their proposal. He said, "At present, a lot of issues
closely related to the country's economy, and people's lives,
urgently need relevant legislation, while the protection of virtual
property is after all a matter concerning a small group of people.
Putting forward this suggestion is our duty as civilians and, at
the same time, as law workers."
(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting and Daragh Moller, January 26,