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China: Gold farming couple handed down heavy sentence

In contrast to Cory Doctorow's recent novel For the Win, which made gold farming appear liberating and focused on the players, a court in Shanghai earlier this month chose to take aim at the two operators of a gold farm, one of many across the country, plotted between Nanjing and Shanda‘s Mir 2 servers in Shanghai.

With all the means, notes Shanghai blogger Ruan Yifeng, who has been following [zh] the trial since it began in 2007, available to a company as large as Shanda in dealing with things like power-levelers, game bots and mods, nobody expected that the court would go so far as to sentence the husband and wife team who ran this gold farm to six and three years in prison, respectively, with RMB 1.6 and 1.4 million in fines, and an additional four years probation for Dong Jie's wife, Chen Zhu, who suggests she was pregnant for most of the ten months during which the farm was in operation.

It is, Ruan writes

…我国迄今第一起因为使用外挂(并非制作外挂)而判刑的案件,大概也是判得最重的一起。
国家司法机关如此保护大公司的利益,创造出对资本家有利的司法解释,将没罪的人送进监狱,真是令人发指。
有了这个判例,从今以后,网游公司赚钱就更容易了,谁敢用外挂,就把他送进监狱!面对滚滚财源,谁还在乎小人物的权利。董杰和陈珠的人生被毁掉了,没关系,只有这样才能让其他的小偷感到害怕。再说谁叫董杰和陈珠昏了头,竟敢在老虎身上拔毛?

…likely the first case in China in which a sentence has been handed down for the use (as opposed to the production) of a game mod (外挂), as well as the heaviest sentence for such a case.

It's loathsome to see the state judiciary serve to protect the interests of a company in such a way, and to issue a judicial interpretation which benefits Capital and sends those who haven't committed any crime to prison.

Now, with this judicial precedent, it'll be far easier for Internet game companies to profit as anyone who dares use a mod can be sent straight to jail! Faced with such roaring profits, who will care about the rights of the little people? Dong Jie and Chen Zhu have had their lives destroyed, but who cares if, this way, we succeed in putting the fear in other thieves? In any event, nobody forced Dong and Chen to lose their heads and go start plucking the hairs off a tiger.

Among the news articles and court documents relating to the case and Shanda's war against gold farmers going back to 2006 that Ruan has collected is a letter sent to him by Chen herself. In it, she notes that in addition to the couple's fine of RMB 3 million, 90 desktop computers and RMB 80,000 were seized separately on the grounds that they had been illegally obtained, as well as a range of items including bank cards, phone cards and bank books to access previous wages and property income, leaving the couple destitute; she adds:

指控我有罪的证据,仅仅是我招聘过1个人,以及业务用的QQ是我和老公共用的。就这样判决我三年有期徒刑(缓刑四年),罚金140万,太牵强了。还说我参与对账,那账本在哪里呢?还是我口头对账?为什么没有一点证据就能定我也有罪?

作为一个孕妇,我从不去工作室,那些做代练的小孩从来也没有到过我的卧室,证词里有人说我也会到网上银行查询每天的收入情况,我问是这个人看见的吗?还是他个人以为呢?法院叫我这些话到二审的时候提出。

我今天质问法官很多,法官不回答我任何问题,只叫我上诉。很让人绝望,就象掉入很深的黑洞,法官只说判决不是他们自己能决定的,我不知道到底是谁能决定,他们说是上面决定的,那上诉还用吗?

As for proof of the crime of which I'm accused, it's merely that I once recruited a person, and that both my husband and I used the QQ work account. Just for that, I got sentenced to three years in prison and four more on probation, with a fine of RMB 1.4 million. They went too far. They even think I handled the billing, but if that's true then where are all the account books? Or did I keep it all in my head? How can they charge me with a crime without any evidence of one?

As a pregnant woman, I never went into the work area, and the kids doing the gold farming never came into my bedroom. In the testimony, someone claims that I would check the bank accounts online every day to keep track of how much was coming in, but I ask, did that person actually see me do this? Or did they just suppose I had? The court just told me to wait until a second hearing to bring this up.

I had many questions for the judge today, but the judge wouldn't answer a single one of them, telling me just to appeal. I'm so disappointed, it's like I've fallen straight into a deep, black hole. The judge just says that the verdict isn't decided by them, so I have no idea who to talk to. They say the verdict gets sent down from above, so then what's the point of appealing?

Chinese MMORPG Tian Long Ba Bu, from Flickr user SimoneKaczmarz

Back to Ruan's blog, the text of the final judgment goes into detail regarding the scope of the couple's gold farming enterprise, from the name of the mod (Legend of Freezing Point) which was custom-adapted for the venture, how much customers were charged and gold farm hands paid, and the QQ (chat transcripts included), bank and broadband accounts used to process the nearly RMB 2 million that was earned over ten months.

It also gets into the technical details of how Legend of Freezing Point functioned, confirming that it was in fact a mod, that it circumvented standard client-server protocol for Mir 2, tampered with systems for identifying users, and disrupted normal operation of the game, leading to numerous complaints and Shanda's inability to properly operate the game, all violations of Mir 2 terms of service.

Public prosecutors argued that, with multiple instances of Legend of Freezing Point running on each computer in the gold farm, considering the scale on which Chen and Dong were able to power-level for customers, and that ‘Freezing Point’ relied on decrypting intercepted packets and intruding servers, among other things, the actions of the gold farm constituted disruption of financial transactions for Shanda, making this a violation of national law, a criminal act.

Lawyers for Chen and Dong, on the other hand, argued that at most the actions of their clients violated administrative regulations surrounding computer and network security and, possibly, the operation of a business without a license, warranting fines, not felony convictions.

The court, it seems, went with neither argument, and instead ruled that Chen and Dong's gold farm, specifically with the distribution of ‘Freezing Point’, definitely constituted operation of an unlicensed business, and cited major violations of China's laws concerning Internet publishing and digital rights, as well as of Shanda's copyrights.

So, does the punishment fit the crime?

Ruan's post has already received nearly 200 comments, here are a few:

是否损害运营商或者开发商的利益我不关心。
但外挂代练确实损害了不用外挂不代练的普通玩家的利益。
我花钱玩网络游戏,这里面包括了一个公平的游戏环境。
很多年以来,我一直觉得厂商可恶,没有能力维持公平环境,
而最可恶的就是这些外挂代练垃圾人,利用人性的弱点,谋人钱财害人时间。

All-You-Need-to-Know-is-How-to-Open-a-Blog:

I'm not really concerned about harm done to the interests of providers or developers.
Gold farming, however, truly does harm the interests of average players who don't rely on power-leveling.
I pay to play online games, and that includes having a fair playing field.
For years, I thought game owners were the bad guys, lacking the ability to maintain an equal playing environment, but even worse are these trash who take advantage of people's weaknesses, scheming to make money and wasting people's time.

楼上的,我怎么有一种智商的优越感
使用外挂是应该谴责,但是说要判刑七年,就……..,最多是民事,怎么成了这样
在这片神奇的土地上

jimmy:

You seem to have a sense of intellectual superiority
Use of gold farms should be criticized, but come on, seven years? At most this is a civil case, so how could this happen?

法律的公正性何在?贵国的法律似乎早已沦为权势集团欺压民众的工具了。求助于媒体就能解决问题吗?我看贵国的媒体也好不到哪儿去。
2L的,外挂代练固然违法,但你不觉得这种判罚太重了吗??如果你不这么任务,那我只能说我也认同3L的看法。

“Expert”:

Where has justice before the law gone? It seems that the law in this country has long since turned into a tool for the establishment to use to bully the public around. Does turning to the media solve any problems? I don't see much use in our country's media these days.

问题的关键是当事人应负民事责任还是刑事责任?是违法还是犯罪?是商业违规还是商业欺诈?

Fat Panda:

The key question here is whether those responsible ought to be dealt with under civil or criminal law. Was this merely illegal or was it a crime? Was it a commercial violation or was it commercial fraud?

当官的有钱的要干谁就能干了谁 悲

Secret dealings:

Officials have money, they can take down whomever they choose. Tragic.

我觉得可以向盛大施加压力,无利不起早,如果盛大没有进行过公关活动,法院不可能这么主动的审判同时还这么重的判罚,盛大肯定在里面动了手脚,在对法院质疑的同时可以对盛大施加压力。

Shameless Shanda:

I think we should put pressure on Shanda. People only hustle when their interests are at stake, and I think that if Shanda hadn't done any PR over this, there's no way the court would have been so forthcoming in bringing this to trial, and at the same time delivering such a heavy sentence. Shanda definitely stuck their fingers into this, and at the same time that we're raising doubts about the court, we should also be putting pressure on Shanda.

盛大是杀鸡儆猴啊,不知道有没有刑事附带民事诉讼。如果没有的话,盛大貌似也拿不到钱。
我看了判决书,觉得定罪的依据很成问题。法院说这个外挂程序属于“非法出版物”,这个非法出版物扰乱了市场秩序,所以触犯了法律。关键是普通的程序怎么就一定要说出版物呢?我自己随便写一个软件,放到网上 供人下载,也是在做非法出版吗?

sinopitt:

Shanda just wants to make an example out of this. I'm not sure if criminal proceedings can arise from a civil suit, but if that's not possible, then Shanda wouldn't have made any money from this.
I read the verdict, and there seem to be some problems in the evidence used for the conviction. The court said that the mod used constituted an “illegal publication”, and that this illegal publication led to disruption of the market, therefore was in violation of the law. The key is whether standard applications can be said to be publications. If I write some random piece of software and put it online for people to download, does that also count as an illegal publication?

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