The real world ends at a WLAN router or an Ethernet connector – and this is exactly where the virtual space of the internet begins. The law, however, does not stop at the borders of the World Wide Web. It also has a substantial say in matters there too.

Ever since the time of merrily flashing AOL GIFs, politicians and lawyers have had to deal with the internet and its excesses. Just a few years ago, the German Minister of Justice suggested that access to indecent websites should be prohibited during the day (up to 11 pm!) in order to protect young people from offensive and obscene images and videos. But how? There certainly must be a way!

And just recently the German Chancellor announced with a slight smile that the internet is still new territory for everyone involved, and for that reason there is no justification in placing blame on the authorities if they are not yet completely familiar with it.

Even so, German courts have passed down some startling judgments from the start, particularly in Hamburg. In 1988, a website operator had to appear before a judge because he had placed links to a site with dubious content. The court found him equally responsible for all content on all linked websites. Even today, German website operators outdo each other with ever longer and more absurd disclaimers in which they distance themselves in advance from anything that could happen or appear by clicking on a link.

The reach of the law extends even into cyberspace

Turkey blocks Atatürk
Certain countries with not so liberal policies are clamping down on the internet when it concerns law and order in the country. In Turkey, for example, it is strictly forbidden to make fun of the country’s founder, Atatürk. Greek nationalists have taken repeated advantage of this by showing videos of Turkey’s founding father doing a frivolous belly-dance, or coloring his lips and fingernails red and then uploading the image to the web. The state reacts immediately and blocks YouTube so its people are not subject to these images. True, only a few videos appear when you enter the search terms “Atatürk – gay”, but it amuses the Greeks when the Turkish authorities, through their blockade, also make it impossible for their people to access some 40,000 Atatürk videos with titles such as “The charismatic leader” or “A hero’s story.”

The stolen Phoenix shoes
In 2009, Bochum Police Department investigated a completely new type of case. Through a nasty trick (a prompt to press a specific key combination), one gamer kicked out another from an online game. By the time that person had made his way back in, all his avatar’s accessories had been stolen. The loot: a heaven’s tear bracelet, a Siamese knife, seven million yang along with Phoenix shoes – and it goes without saying these were real +9 level Phoenix shoes with a value of two tiger fangs, a blood-red pearl and 150,000 yang!
They may be virtual treasures, but they cost real money: properly equipping a powerful online avatar can cost well over CHF 1,000. Who would be happy to see that stolen?
The German penal code defines theft as the misappropriation of someone’s movable goods, but is it possible to apply this to a pair of pixilated shoes? Luckily, the Bochum police found another reason on which to base the investigation: a computer offense along the lines of data espionage and modification, for which the offender could be penalized with a fine or up to two years in custody. In this case, though, things did not go as far as an arrest or a conviction. In the Netherlands, however, several young gamers were handed down sentences of community service after they forced a friend to hand over virtual objects. Here at least the requirements for the offence of coercion were met…

No more fun and games
Dear friends, such stories might be very amusing, but please consider this: things get serious when it comes to copyright violations by stealing, uploading or using music, images or movies for which you do not own the rights. In these cases, the investigative authorities are already well prepared. A greedy German tort lawyer is waiting behind every virtual dark corner and if something is discovered, things can get expensive. You won’t be able to pay your legal fees with a frog’s tongue, sparkling pearls or a few paltry yang!

The reach of the law extends even into cyberspace

Sandro Bertschinger

He didn't find computers very interesting for quite some time. An Amiga 500 as a games machine was the high point at that time. Computers began to move into his focus with the advent of the internet and the possibility of building cool websites. In 2001, he crossed paths with an internet company by coincidence.