China announces criminal penalties for theft of digital assets including NFTs

China announces criminal penalties for theft of digital assets including NFTs


The Chinese government has officially declared that the theft of digital collections, including NFTs, will be legally treated as property theft, signifying a significant shift in the nation’s approach to digital asset regulation.

On Nov. 10, the Chinese government issued a significant statement regarding the legal status of digital collections, including nonfungible tokens (NFTs), within its jurisdiction. This announcement marks a notable stance on digital property rights and cybercrime in a nation known for its stringent regulatory environment.

The statement delineated three perspectives on categorizing the theft of digital collections. The first two views classify it either as data theft or digital property theft. However, it’s the third viewpoint, treating digital collections as both data and virtual property, that falls under “co-offending.”

“The theft of digital collections violates the protection law and interests of the crime of illegally obtaining computer information system data.”

This approach underscores the multi-faceted nature of digital asset theft, involving both intrusion into computer systems and the theft of virtual property.

Emphasizing the dual nature of such theft, the statement clarifies that stealing a digital collection involves illicitly accessing the system hosting it, thus constituting a violation of laws protecting computer system data and property rights.

The Chinese government labels digital collections as “network virtual property,” asserting their recognition as property in a criminal law context. This classification is crucial, as it implies that digital collections can be the subject of property crimes.

NFTs, a technology largely developed abroad, use blockchain to create unique, non-replicable digital assets with secure and permanent storage features. Despite China’s 2021 ban on most cryptocurrency-related activities, the recent developments hint at a nuanced approach towards digital assets like NFTs.

Interestingly, there have been indicators of a growing interest in NFTs within China. For instance, Alibaba’s Xianyu removed restrictions on the search terms “nonfungible tokens” and “digital asset” on October 25. Furthermore, on October 6, the state-run China Daily announced plans to develop its own NFT platform, committing 2.813 million yuan, or $390,000, for its design and implementation.

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