Victory for the Mom & Pop MetroCard businesses that have been sprouting up across the city! A New York Court of Appeals judge ruled that charging passengers less than the fare for a subway ride, then swiping them in on an unlimited MetroCard, is not larceny. Justice Jonathan Lippman wrote in his opinion that the MTA "never acquired a sufficient interest in the money to become an 'owner,' " which is necessary when pursuing a case of petit larceny. Sort of like how that guy strumming "Wonderwall" for 40 minutes straight in the subway station technically stole our heart, but really it belonged to the B-boys on the R train all along.

The Times reports that the MTA "did not seem to be amused," and a spokesman stressed, "No matter how you classify it, selling swipes is illegal and makes the fare more expensive for all law-abiding transit riders." Indeed Judge Lippmann did note that the act was "decidedly criminal in nature," but that it had to be prosecuted under other laws than larceny, such as "unlawful sale of transportation services."

Folks who've been charged with larceny for the scam can appeal, but not many are expected to because the punishment isn't very severe: community service or a day or so in jail. Still! Who do we have to thank for this restoration of underground laissez-faire market sector? "Judge Lippman, a resident of the East Side of Manhattan, has developed a reputation for issuing scrappy, liberal and anti-orthodox opinions." Sometimes liberal "activist" judges actually help the economy.