Welcome to The Lawbringer, WoW.com's weekly tour of the intersection between law and the World of Warcraft. I'm a third-year law student acting as your crossing guard, trying desperately to avoid getting run over myself.
Medieval England (the time period from which law is still recovering) had a bifurcated justice system. If someone had violated a contract, the aggrieved party could sue in a court of law for damages. These damages could be the amount of money necessary to put the victim in the position in which they were before the contract was made. (Example: I promise to mow your lawn, and you pay me $20 ahead of time. I don't mow your lawn; you can sue me for the $20.) Depending on the case, the victim might receive the amount of money necessary to put him in the position in which he would have been had the contract been followed. (Example: same scenario, except not only do I have to pay you back the $20, I have to pay $20 to get someone else to mow the yard.) This is just fine when a problem can be resolved with money.
But what if the problem is something that money just can't solve? Say your neighbor has erected a pig sty near your property. You don't really want your neighbor to pay you for marginally lowering the value of your property now that it stinks. You just want him to get rid of the pigs. You can't sue him in a court of law, since they can only award monetary damages. Instead, you go to what was known as a court of equity, wherein the magistrate -- originally the King's chancellor, but later a separate court system -- could grant an injunction to force your neighbor to stop.
So let's set the DeLorean back to the present. Current civil law allows the victim of a breached contract to sue for monetary damages and equitable measures like an injunction. If Blizzard were actually able to haul Shenhua, IGE or the various other gold sellers into court, Blizzard could sue them for the monetary damages they inflict on the game and get court orders to stop them. And if Blizzard were in any business other than computers, that would be the extent of what could be done to gold sellers.
Selling gold is a crime
But as you might have guessed from the title, gold selling is a crime under a formerly little-known law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The CFAA gained prominence a few years ago, thanks to Lori Drew.
Lori Drew is the paragon of parenting who felt the need to micromanage her teenage daughter's social life to the point of creating a fake persona on MySpace to befriend, exploit for embarrassing secrets and then dump Megan Meier, an acquaintance of Drew's daughter. The break-up prompted Meier to kill herself, and after an investigation and public outcry, the federal prosecutor tried to convict Drew under section 18 USC 1030 (a)(2)(C) for "intentionally access[ing] a computer without authorization or exceed[ing] authorized access, and thereby obtain[ing] information from any protected computer." To determine whether someone has violated this law, the acts are analyzed using a three-element test:
- Did the defendant intentionally access without authorization/exceed authorized access of a computer?
- Did the defendant's access of the computer involve interstate and foreign communication?
- Did the defendant obtain information from a computer used in interstate or foreign commerce or communication?
So remember folks, when you buy from gold sellers, you are buying from yet-to-be convicted federal criminals. Stay tuned until next week, when in honor of U.S. Tax Day (4/15), we'll be looking at how to fill out a U.S. tax form if you are a gold seller.
This column is for entertainment and should not be considered legal advice. If you have a real legal problem, talk to a real lawyer. If you have questions about law or law school, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @wowlawbringer. And in honor of the copyright prof who showed us this in class, Hitler Learns His Law School Teaching Schedule.