A short and sweet and mildly thought provoking piece over at Terra Nova asks the question: "Why not qualify the taking away of virtual objects as theft?" The author speaks in reference to Dutch law specifically, but a few cases have cropped up in recent months (Shanda getting sued after forgetting to return some virtual items; the case that this post was based on, where virtual theft in Habbo Hotel led to a real life arrest) that raise the question of what do you do with virtual items when they're stolen? Slap a pair of real life cuffs on the thief's wrists? Ignore it, since the items never left the virtual space they inhabited?
Is it relevant for the qualification as theft whether the stolen fortune stays officially in game? Well, not to me. I see no reason for distinguishing between virtual and physical theft. The original owners of the stolen Habbo furniture obtained the items after they bought credits with real money, and do attach value to those items. As long as the original owner looses something of value (such as virtual items) due to the act of another individual who gains possession over the item, it should in my opinion be qualified as theft, no matter whether the locus delicti is in the physical or the virtual world.
I love this virtual law stuff, so many areas are so vague - I do wonder what sort of changes are going to be going on the books in the next decade or so.