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Legal Trouble For MMOs In Australia 207

Posted by Soulskill
from the under-scrutiny-down-under dept.
Zonk tips a story at Massively that has uncovered a potential legal controversy in Australia where some MMOs are concerned. Under Australian law, all games require a formal rating to be sold. Due to an oversight, many MMOs do not carry such a rating, yet they have been sold since release without anyone realizing the problem. "According to the Act, selling a single copy of an unclassified game attracts a penalty of AU$27,220.80 or two years. Selling unclassified games in commercial quantities (50 or more) can have a much steeper schedule of penalties, and additional penalties apply to advertising unclassified material, or simply omitting the correct ratings labels on the merchandise. ... publishers and distributors at some point misunderstood their obligations with respect to MMOG classifications in Australia, and operated under the belief that no such rating was required here." Reader Clomer points out that this has been brought to the attention of the Australian media, so hopefully the issue will be resolved soon.
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Legal Trouble For MMOs In Australia

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  • Pisses me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:09AM (#26723115) Homepage Journal

    Adults should be free to buy whatever the hell games they want. Requiring a rating on games, movies, music, etc, is just censorship by another name.

  • no surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thermian (1267986) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:18AM (#26723147)

    As long as there are politicians in need of a platform to rant on in order to get elected, nonsense like this will happen.

    Since the overwhelming majority of people neither play, or possibly even understand, computer games, its a soft touch for some 'fear inducement' followed by 'and I can save the children from it'.

    Thus far it hasn't stopped the games industry raking in billions over the years, nor will it in the future.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:19AM (#26723155)

    Adults should be free to buy whatever weapons they want. Requiring licenses and waiting periods is just tyranny by another name.

    Adults should be free to buy whatever drugs they want. Banishing marijuana and LSD is just oppression by another name.

    Wow, this is a ridiculous comparison. Maybe they should outlaw cars too? They kill and hurt a lot more people than games do.

    How about we outlaw stairs? Single story buildings ONLY. Stairways kill and hurt more people than games do!

    While we're at it, let's outlaw solid food. People choking on solid foods have a higher mortality rate than people playing a video game.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IBBoard (1128019) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:26AM (#26723181) Homepage

    Would those adults that should be free to buy whatever they want be the ones who are over 18 and hence generally (unless some countries have odd certificates/classifications) both old enough to be considered adults and old enough to buy any game because the classifications stop at 18?

    "It's terrible censorship that games and movies have ratings that stop at 18, thereby not stopping anyone 18 years old or older (who at that age is considered to be an adult) from watching or buying them"!

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daimanta (1140543) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:26AM (#26723183) Journal

    `Wow, this is a ridiculous comparison. Maybe they should outlaw cars too? They kill and hurt a lot more people than games do.`

    I mean, its not as if you need to have a license to drive or anything like that.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by powerspike (729889) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:29AM (#26723195)
    welcome to Australia, we have 7 people all required to say new to change the ratings system, one of them currently in a religious nut, so won't even allow a r rating, so that's not going to be changed any time soon. How does this affect you, well publishers are dumbing down games to get past the 16+ rating in Australia, i believe the last one was fallout3, but alot of major titles are doing it...
  • Re:no surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thermian (1267986) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:39AM (#26723237)

    Yes, it's not like 97% of American teens play computer games [foxnews.com] or over 50% of American adults [foxnews.com]

    Strangely enough, most of the world aren't Americans, and this story isn't about America either.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:44AM (#26723261)

    Adults should be free to buy whatever the hell games they want. Requiring a rating on games, movies, music, etc, is just censorship by another name.

    No, it's not, and conflating the two is extremely counter-productive.

    Not all media purchasers are adults. Not all adult media purchasers are purchasing the media for their own use. A ratings system is they so they are able to make *educated decisions* about what it is they are purchasing. A ratings systems - in and of itself - does not prevent an adult from buying anything they want.

    Now, a ratings system might have a "Not Rated" or "Illegal" rating that means no-one is allowed to sell anything that is rated as such, however, that is simply a problem with the individual ratings system, not with the entire concept. Australia has such a problem, in that there is no "R" equivalent for games. This doesn't mean all the other ratings given out to games are meaningless or pointless.

    Ratings systems are _good_ and should be encouraged. They allow consumers to make educated decisions about their purchases and substantially deflate genuine pro-censorship arguments.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mog007 (677810) <Mog007@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @08:29AM (#26723457)

    Now, a ratings system might have a "Not Rated" or "Illegal" rating that means no-one is allowed to sell anything that is rated as such, however, that is simply a problem with the individual ratings system, not with the entire concept.

    The distinction between something being at the highest or "worst" rating and being unclassified is akin to censorship. Watch the movie "This film is not yet rated." It shows how the MPAA is censoring films that it doesn't agree with, and that's in the United States with a non-public controlled rating system. At least when a film gets hit with NC-17 here, they can sell the film on the internet, or change it a little bit, call it unrated, and have no problems getting it to be sold at a store.

    Stores are afraid to stock NC-17 titles, because they're usually associated with porn. The problem with Australia's method is that the board that makes the rating decision could, someday soon, decide that a game is sending the message that the Aussie government is evil, and refuse it classification.

    Now, you won't get arrested for having the game yet, but you can't even buy the unrated version like you can here in the US. It IS censorship by another name, and if you believe otherwise, the spin doctoring that the Australian government is doing seems to be working its magic.

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @08:44AM (#26723513) Homepage

    you do realize america has that second category too. Who do you think votes republican every election?

    The white racists who vote democrat are simply more circumspect about their racism. Instead of burning crosses, they've spent the last 40 years getting most blacks to believe that they could not EVER succeed without the government slamming the door open for them, not to mention undermining the black family at every step of the way through welfare policies that have made the presence of fathers economically unnecessary.

    I'd also like to point out that David Duke was a Democrat until 1988 and Robert Byrd, the most senior Democrat in Congress, was a grand-something-or-other in the KKK. You don't get to where Byrd was in the KKK if there is even a hint that you're sitting the fence on what you think black people are. Yet, somehow, even though he has used a certain n word "by accident" on national television, he is simply regarded by most Democrats in power as "senior constitutional scholar."

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:2, Insightful)

    by senorpoco (1396603) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @08:47AM (#26723531)
    "Adults should be free to buy whatever the hell games they want" That is why ratings are there, to protect non adults from inappropriate content.
  • Re:Pisses me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @08:51AM (#26723543)

    The distinction between something being at the highest or "worst" rating and being unclassified is akin to censorship. Watch the movie "This film is not yet rated." It shows how the MPAA is censoring films that it doesn't agree with, and that's in the United States with a non-public controlled rating system.

    Er, you sound surprised, but this is exactly the kind of result that would be expected from a privately (or "industry") -run ratings system. They have movies to sell, after all, so it pays well to come up with ways of excluding movies that they don't derive an income from.

    Stores are afraid to stock NC-17 titles, because they're usually associated with porn. The problem with Australia's method is that the board that makes the rating decision could, someday soon, decide that a game is sending the message that the Aussie government is evil, and refuse it classification.

    Which will be very quickly reported on and general public outrage will fix the problem.

    I would trust our Government-funded, but independent, ratings board (and its publicly disclosed membership and standards) for objective and reasonable ratings long, long, long before I would trust any group of media companies attempting to do the same.

    Now, you won't get arrested for having the game yet, but you can't even buy the unrated version like you can here in the US. It IS censorship by another name, and if you believe otherwise, the spin doctoring that the Australian government is doing seems to be working its magic.

    Censorship is the active banning of material, it also means it is illegal to own the material.

    Refusing classification because the rating system lacks a suitable rating even though one exists for identical content in other media is a minor lacking in the ratings system.

    If you think the two are identical then you're just trying to use paranoia to sensationalise the real problem which, as I said previously, is extremely counter-productive.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geminidomino (614729) * on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @09:23AM (#26723739) Journal

    Ratings systems are _good_ and should be encouraged. They allow consumers to make educated decisions about their purchases and substantially deflate genuine pro-censorship arguments.

    When they are used only informatively, this is correct.

    When there are laws connected to the ratings, preventing unrated games from being sold, and the same group can refuse to rate, it is censorship. The government is deciding what can and cannot be expressed. There's no other word for it, and no equivocation is going to make it not the case.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Wildclaw (15718) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @09:24AM (#26723749)

    "Wow, this is a ridiculous comparison. Maybe they should outlaw cars too? They kill and hurt a lot more people than games do."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_inspection [wikipedia.org]

    "How about we outlaw stairs? Single story buildings ONLY. Stairways kill and hurt more people than games do!"

    http://www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/buildingregulations/ [communities.gov.uk]

    "While we're at it, let's outlaw solid food. People choking on solid foods have a higher mortality rate than people playing a video game."

    http://www.fda.gov/ [fda.gov]

    You were saying?

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @09:34AM (#26723849) Homepage Journal

    Shouldn't being an adult be enough "license" to play or watch whatever you want?

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @09:36AM (#26723855) Homepage Journal

    Censorship is the active banning of material, it also means it is illegal to own the material.

    Refusing classification because the rating system lacks a suitable rating even though one exists for identical content in other media is a minor lacking in the ratings system.

    If you think the two are identical then you're just trying to use paranoia to sensationalise the real problem which, as I said previously, is extremely counter-productive.

    But by your own account, it is illegal to own unrated games, so that is state-sponsored censorship.

    I'm just finishing work on a mod for an RPG. The publishers of the RPG want to publish the mod, but want us to tone down some of the content in order to do so. This is because if they publish it it would push the classification of their game into 'Adults Only', which for commercial reasons they don't want. We probably aren't going to agree...

    I don't have any problem with our work being rated 'Adults only'. It is intended for adults. But I do have a problem with it being banned outright - that seems to me a dangerous intrusion into free speech.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Snowman (116231) * on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @10:12AM (#26724151) Homepage

    You can't trust any single organisation to condense a complex game / movie / whatever into a single number, telling you the minimum age for which it is appropriate. Opinions on what is appropriate will vary wildly from person to person.

    If consumers want to make educated decisions, they'll actually have to educate themselves. Read the back of the box, read a review or two online. But don't expect a single number on the box to tell you what's okay for your child.

    I like the idea of rating various elements that would normally go into a rating, but separately. For example, separate ratings for sex, nudity, violence, and drug use. Provide facts for each category: do not rate it for an age group, but state what it has. For example, the nudity category might have "brief glimpses of a boob or two," "no nudity," or "this is porn." Violence could be "what your big brother did to you growing up," "gratuitous mowing down of Charleys with a machine gun," or "this is a movie about the pope."

    The problem with rating systems in general (so far) is people are relying on other people to dictate morals. When I see a movie is rated R, I am forced to rely on someone else's view of what people under the age of 17 should or should not see in a movie. It does not tell me, directly, what kind of cool stuff is in the movie. I learn so much more by listening to reviews, including word of mouth. Ratings alone, as they are in the U.S., are fairly worthless.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mog007 (677810) <Mog007@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @10:37AM (#26724405)

    If history shows us anything, it's that once something is made illegal to sell, it doesn't take much effort to make it illegal to own.

    I'm sensationalizing it for a reason, and that reason is simply because censorship in ANY form is fucking wrong. And it's VERY wrong when it's being done by the government. This is censorship, plain and simple. The government is saying "no, the citizens aren't adult enough to make the decision to watch that, we're going to make the decision for them."

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flitty (981864) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @10:50AM (#26724605)
    It may not be illegal to OWN such media, but the summary above does seem to ban the selling of any unrated material

    Under Australian law, all games require a formal rating to be sold.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Joe U (443617) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @12:02PM (#26725881) Homepage Journal

    When cases like this come up, I like to do this:

    Replace the word Games with the word Books. Games are an interactive story, so calling them books isn't a huge stretch.

    Now, re-read the story with the new words. Worried yet?

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv...vadiv@@@neverbox...com> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @02:32PM (#26727881) Homepage

    Correct.

    Any parent using a rating system is a fool. It's a useful tool to let parents start with knowledge of a game, and in some cases that's enough...if your 14 year old wants to buy a G-rated (Or whatever the equiv is.) game, you can just let them. But you might want to check on the next level up. And if they show up with an 'R' game you'll need to go specifically go and find out why it got that rating and if you're okay with it.

    No, the point of the rating systems, the only reason they shouldn't be scrapped altogether, is to keep kids from buying the games without their parent's knowledge.

    And, no, that doesn't really require 'irresponsible' parents. No parent can keep track of how much money their children have if said children have any sort of allowance, and games get pretty cheap when they're a year old. And no parent can be 100% sure that their children will never have the opportunity to purchase said game, or just get a friend to buy it for them.

    And I know, in theory, that parents should monitor their children's computer use, and that works for 12 year olds, but not for kids who are old enough to, and do, stay home by themselves. There are levels of responsibility, and it's entirely likely that children would be trusted enough to do that, and yet their parents would still not like them playing GTA.

    Of course, it's a somewhat silly system, consider that kids just pirate the games. But whatever.

  • Re:no surprise (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv...vadiv@@@neverbox...com> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @02:54PM (#26728137) Homepage

    At some point real soon, there is going to be a backlash against the 'protect the children from video games' crap.

    We're hitting the ~25 year mark for video games in people's houses, both in computers and consoles like the Atari and NES, which means that almost everyone under 35 grew up with them to some extent. Even if they didn't have any, they knew people who did, and played them.

    If we assume that 'children who need protecting' are children 10-18, and that people have kids when they're 20-30, the young end of those parents are already people who grew up with video games and understands the demonization for what it is.

    And that group will just continue to grow over the next decade as the older people fall off the end of being parents. We're already at the point in time where very few people who did not grown up with games will become new parents. (That is, people who didn't grow up with video games are past the general child-bearing age now. At least the women, the men have another five years or so.)

    At some point, parents are going to stop responding to the dangers of video games. They'll know damn well that different games are different and aimed at different people and ages, and that any moderately competent parent can tell them apart.

    Politicians don't get this, as the most powerful ones are almost uniformly older than 35.

  • Re:Pisses me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @04:46PM (#26729445)

    You don't understand. Somebody somewhere may be playing games that *they haven't approved of.* This is obviously unacceptable.

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