Today, our website will introduce the most recent crime adopted by courts in some regions of China to combat online game cheating programs: the crime of damaging computer information systems.
III. The crime of damaging computer information systems
Although there problems with all of the crimes previously discussed for combating cheating programs, with the strengthening of legislation, the online game industry finally found a suitable crime in 2011. According to Article 286 of the Criminal Law:
“Those who violate the law by deleting, modifying, adding, or interfering with the function of computer information systems so that information systems are unable to run normally, which leads to severe consequences, may be sentenced to imprisonment of no more than five years of detention; when the consequences are especially severe, the violator may be sentenced to imprisonment of more than five years. Those who violate the law by deleting, modifying, or adding data or applicable procedures to the storage, processing, or transmission programs in computer information systems, which leads to severe consequences, may be punished as per the preceding paragraph.”
Because there are no applicable standards for “severe consequences” and “especially severe consequences,” however, the regulation has rarely been used to combat cheating programs.
In September of 2011, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate jointly issued and implemented the Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning Application of Law in Handling Criminal Cases of Damaging Computer System Security (the “Joint Interpretation”). The Joint Interpretation quantified the consequences for the crime of damaging computer information systems, which has greatly lowered the difficulty of using this crime to combat cheating programs.
The following is a representative case. The accused, Mr. Su, using his own computer knowledge, used software to modify the data in the server of the online game Tian Long Ba By, and installed a cheating program. Mr. Su used these technological measures to acquire virtual currency and items in the game, and thereafter sold them for profit. His hacking used a large number of accounts to collect in-game money, which severely damaged the game’s virtual economic system. Moreover, this activity caused a bad jam in the game’s data exchange such that players were unable to sign into the game and, the game operators were forced to shut down the server to protect it. All of this caused the company to suffer large losses.
The Linghe People’s Court in Jing Zhou City held that Mr. Su, and his accomplices Lin, Zhou, Li, and Pang had used cheating programs to modify data on Tian Long Ba Bu’s server. This caused the Beijing Changyou Gaming Company’s server be unable to operate normally. Additionally, the consequences of the crime were severe, the facts were fully proven, and the proof was certain and sufficient. On these grounds, the first instance court found the defendants guilty of the crime of damaging computer information systems and sentenced them to thirteen months imprisonment. Some other defendants received a lighter sentence of six months with one year probation. All the gains produced from the crime and all of the tools involved in the crime were confiscated.
The case is different from the traditional cases of developing and selling cheating programs, which attack the development and sales of the cheating programs. This case, on the other hand, struck against earning currency within the game, so-called “gold farming,” and selling it to other players for profit. The dispute in the game industry over whether gold farming companies using cheating software constitutes a crime has always been rather large. A fairly representative case comes from a Nanjing court that held that using cheating software for gold farming could constitute illegal operation, but there are no administrative restrictions forbidding the use of such software. Therefore, the conflict in this case was very large. If, on the other hand, the charge of damaging computer networks is used to deal with large-scale gold farming instead of illegal operation, it is obviously more appropriate because this kind of activity does create the criminal consequence of preventing normal operation of computer systems.
In closing, criminal punishment involves the life or freedom of the accused; therefore, it must be seriously handled. Although cheating programs have caused great damage to the online gaming industry, the strike against cheatings program must strictly comply with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law. To judge the issue from the development of specific high tech criminal offenses used to prosecute cheating programs, although conflicts exist in each stage of the process, no one can deny that development is moving in reasonable and complete direction. Therefore it is clear that although progress of the law has been lacking, it will not lag behind for too long.