Yep, this is a serious question right now because Mike Weatherley, an MP and David Cameron's chief advisor on intellectual property, has asked ministers to consider passing a law that would see people who steal virtual items with significant monetary value face the same sentences as criminals who steal something that's real.
Before you say anything, Weatherley is a World of Warcraft player himself, so sounds like somebody nicked his loot and he got bit pissed off about it.
Joking aside, he is being rather logical about it, having said that minor theft (£5 was the figure he used) would be a waste of police time, but if someone stole away items collectively worth £500 then it's no less of a crime than if you stole a £500 TV from somebody's living room. Just because it's a collection of ones and zeros in a machine doesn't mean something has no value.
Internationally, prosecution for this sort of thing isn't unheard of. In 2008 a woman in Tokyo was jailed because she hacked into her virtual husband's account and deleted his avatar after finding out he had divorced her. In a similar case, two Dutch teens were found guilty of forcing someone to give them virtual items in Runescape. Courts ruled that under Dutch law virtual goods and physical goods were the same thing, so theft is theft.
I feel like prosecution and a criminal record is taking things a bit far, but I'm sure I'd be pretty angry if I found out someone had stolen things I'd spent hundreds of pounds obtaining. [The Guardian]