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Virtual Theft, Very Real Death
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A Shanghai online game player appeared in court Tuesday for allegedly murdering a rival who he claimed sold his virtual property.


Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People's Court was told that Qiu Chengwei, 41, stabbed Zhu Caoyuan repeatedly in the chest after he was told Zhu had sold his "Dragon Saber" weapon used in the popular online game Legend of Mir III.


Qiu and a friend jointly won the virtual weapon online last February, and lent it to Zhu who then sold it for 7,200 yuan (US$871).


Qiu went to the police to report him but was told the virtual object was not considered real property, so was not protected by law.


Zhu promised to repay the cash but an angry Qiu lost patience and attacked him at his home, stabbing him in the left chest "with great force" and killing him, the court heard.


Qiu gave himself up to police and, on the advice of his lawyer, pleaded guilty to intentional injury, claiming he never meant to kill Zhu.


The public prosecutor told the court: "As virtual property is not protected by any law, Zhu was faultless in this case."


The court has yet to issue its verdict, but whether he is found guilty of murder or intentional injury he could receive a capital sentence.


Qiu would be able to appeal to the city's higher court for a second trial, whose findings would be conclusive.


The case has added to the dilemma over the legal status of ownership of virtual goods, including gaming weapons.


Qiu's is the second high profile case involving this issue to come before the courts.


In November 2003, a 23-year-old gamer from north China's Hebei Province sued Beijing-based online game provider Arctic Ice Technology after he found all the weapons and points he had amassed for months playing the game Red Moon had been stolen.


Now more and more gamers are seeking justice over stolen weapons and credits.


"The armor and swords in games should be deemed private property as players have to spend money and time on them," said Wang Zongyu, an associate professor at the Law School of Beijing's Renmin University of China.


"These virtual objects are often tradable among players," he added.


But other experts have called for caution.


"The 'assets' of one player mean nothing to others as they are by nature just data created by game providers," said a spokesperson from a Shanghai-based online gaming company.


Gaming companies in Shanghai, the city with the most players, are planning to set up a dispute system where aggrieved gamers can seek recourse.


Shang Jiangang, lawyer for the newly established Shanghai Online Game Association, said: "The association has drafted some measures to facilitate the settlement of disputes over virtual assets."


He added: "If any virtual theft occurs, players will be able to report it to the operator, who will then sort it out according to the circumstances."


(China Daily March 30, 2005)

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