Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Theft of Intangibles

An interesting question came up with a chavrusa.  To understand the question, you need to know that there are many online games that are essentially multiplayer computer simulations.  One of the ways the game providers make money is to offer etools of various sorts for a price (real dollars).   The game provides provisions for players to buy/sell/loan such tools among themselves, as well as from the game provider.

Here's what transpired (names changed to protect the innocent and to comply with the laws of Lashon Hara even about the guilty):
Shmuel and Yehuda are friends playing in a game that offers, among other things, virtual e-swords for sale to be used in the game.  Shmuel owns an e-sword, but will be offline for a month, so he loans it to his friend Yehuda.  "Loan" is the term they use between themselves.  As far as the game is concerned, Shmuel has sold his e-sword to Yehuda for $0; Yehuda and Shmuel, though, have an oral agreement (no dispute on this) that Yehuda will give (that is, sell for $0) the e-sword back to Shmuel in a month.  At the time of the transaction, e-swords were going for $100.  Yehuda sees after a week that the price of e-swords is going down, so he sells the e-sword for $85.  (As far as the game is concerned, Yehuda owns the e-sword.  The lender/borrower relationship is a verbal agreement between Yehuda and Shmuel.)  At the end of the month, e-swords are now going for only $50.

Yehuda tells Shmuel that he'll either buy him a new e-sword or give him the $85 he made by selling it.  Shmuel says he wants the $100 the e-swords was worth when he lent it to Yehuda.
  1. Was Yehuda allowed to sell the e-sword in the first place?  All e-swords are exactly equivalent and always available.
  2. Can Yehuda force Shmuel to accept a e-sword in lieu of payment?
  3. If they decide on cash, how much does Yehuda owe Shmuel?
I sent this question to the Business Halacha Institute; an organization to whom I have been directed in the past by rabbanim that I consulted.  They answered as follows:
The answer to your inquiry is that Yehudah owes Shmuel “$85” the value of the e-sword at the time that he stole it by selling it.  If he “buys” an e-sword and gives it to Shmuel he fulfills his obligation to return the stolen property.  See REPLACING DRINKS IN A HOTEL REFRIGERATOR for a discussion of this last point.
Note that Yehuda was not allowed to sell the e-sword.  Even though he has exclusive rights to use it and he has every intention to replace it.  Theft is forbidden, even if one has in mind to return it; just as eating pork is forbidden even if one has in mind to purge.

The fact that Yehuda can force Shmuel to accept a (new, albeit indistinguishable from the original) e-sword in lieu of payment is sort of a reverse application of the usual "takanas ha'shavim" enacted to make the path to doing t'shuva as smooth as possible for a robber.  In this case replacing the "item" (that is, identical exclusive rights access to the e-sword software module) will cost less that returning the value at the time it was stolen.  Interestingly, Chazal discuss a similar case where someone stole beer before Pesach then returned it a week after Pesach.  Same beer, but now worthless because it is chameitz that was owned by a Jew over Pesach, which is forbidden by rabbinic decree.

Moral: Stop playing those ridiculous online games and get thee to a beis medrash!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…