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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.

    • 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 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wisty (1335733)

        Yep, Australia is turning into a nanny state. I wonder how they will deal with MMORPGs though? Can't the publishers dynamically update quests and monsters? I can think of all sorts of ways this could be used to work around the ratings systems.

        • They should just do what the ESRB does. "Online content may change game experience. Online content not rated." Admit there's not much they can do about it, and be done with it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Chris Mattern (191822)

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

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

      by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@@@gmail...com> 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@gmail.TEAcom minus caffeine> 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.

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

          by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@@@gmail...com> 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Simon Brooke (45012)

            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

            • by drsmithy (35869)

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

              It's not illegal to own unrated media.

              And, again, "not rated" and "banned" are different in both execution and intent. One is a passive action, the other is an active one. It's like the difference between manslaughter and premeditated murder.

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

            How will people know about it if it can't be released?

            And assuming they're anything like people in the US and UK, they wouldn't care anyway. I would say sheeple, but some might take offence.

            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 it's really minor it'd be trivial to fix. Seems to me

            • by drsmithy (35869)

              How will people know about it if it can't be released?

              Possibly because various news rags would be all over it like a bad smell ?

              If it's really minor it'd be trivial to fix. Seems to me like there's deliberate intent to keep that bug (or is it a feature) in place. That would indeed be censorship.

              From a procedural perspective, it is trivial to fix. All they need to do is expand the current R and X ratings to encompass computer games as well as other media. There are lots of minor problems in the world

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

            by mog007 (677810) <Mog007@gmail.TEAcom minus caffeine> 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."

          • 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.

            If you think that censorship can't happen simply by refusing to rate something you live if your own special world. How do you think drugs became illegal in the U.S. it all started with stamps [wikipedia.org] and while we're on the subject lets go back a bit further we can see how require a special stamp [wikipedia.org] aka a rating sticker can have damaging effects on all kinds of things.

          • by Sloppy (14984)

            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.

            But the beauty of a media company group's ratings, is that you don't have to trust them. You can use anyone's ratings to select your movies. You would have to hate the whole human race to say there's no one out there you can trust. It's pretty damn easy t

          • 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.

            My naivety meter just went through the roof. The past decade should be proof to anyone living in America that it's very eas

        • > "Watch the movie "This film is not yet rated." It shows how the MPAA is censoring films that it doesn't agree with"

          I watched that documentary, and the entire time I kept thinking, the problem isn't that there's a rating system, it's that there's only one rating system. There's nothing wrong with having someone warn southern Christian parents that they might not find a movie appropriate for their kids because it contains content they'd object to, such as homosexuality. The problem is the stranglehold th

      • by Atreide (16473)
        Not all media purchasers are adults. Not all adult media purchasers are purchasing the media for their own use.

        Besides, some adults
        do not want to watch/play with some material.

        For instance
        I am not interested in horror films or games.

        To take original post words
        I would be "pissed of"
        if a game ellusively introduced such material.

        Some would argue
        I have to read games reviews before I buy,

        why should I do that ?
        Instead of simply pick up a game
        and being confident
        the game won't bring subjec
        • First off... that's your problem. Just because YOU might not want to play it doesn't mean it needs to be banned so that others who do cannot. If you are, ostensibly, an adult, then cope.

          Secondly, the enter key is not punctuation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geminidomino (614729) *

        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.

        • by drsmithy (35869)

          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.

          There is a difference between not rating because no suitable rating exists, and not rating because the objective is to ban it.

          Conflating the two is neither valid, nor productive.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by geminidomino (614729) *

            There is a difference between not rating because no suitable rating exists, and not rating because the objective is to ban it.

            Conflating the two is neither valid, nor productive.

            When the same group (government in this case) gets to create the ratings AND rate the games AND make the laws, that's clearly false. If no suitable rating exists, it is entirely in their power to create one. If they do not do not create a rating appropriate for "games where you impale babies on spikes," Occam's Razor says it's because they don't want to rate it == they want it illegal.

            I'm hoping they do create a rating for MMOs though... the Aussie guild in my alliance is a good bunch of guys.

            • by drsmithy (35869)

              If they do not do not create a rating appropriate for "games where you impale babies on spikes," Occam's Razor says it's because they don't want to rate it == they want it illegal.

              You have choices like apathy, incompetence and pandering to special interests, but the simplest explanation you can come up with for boobies and gore in computer games (when the same thing shown on IMAX screens is fine) not getting a rating is because the government is trying to ban them ?

              Clearly Occam's Razor needs some sharpe

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by geminidomino (614729) *

                Can't be apathy. If that were the case, unrated games wouldn't be illegal for sale because they wouldn't care.

                Incompetence I'll grant as a possibility, but, George W Bush notwithstanding, mouth-breathers with room-temperature IQs tend to have trouble getting into high office. The level of incompetence would have to be staggering even by US Government standards[0], so that's not a particularly simple explanation.

                Pandering to special interests == they want it banned because they were bribed by those who want

                • by drsmithy (35869)

                  Can't be apathy. If that were the case, unrated games wouldn't be illegal for sale because they wouldn't care.

                  Er, no. Any unrated media (eg: films as well) is illegal to sell. Ergo, apathy applies quite well (they can't be bothered extending the R and X categories to cover games).

                  Incompetence I'll grant as a possibility, but, George W Bush notwithstanding, mouth-breathers with room-temperature IQs tend to have trouble getting into high office. The level of incompetence would have to be staggering even

          • Whether it occurs intentionally or accidentally, it still boils down to censorship as the government through it's own action (or lack thereof) has made it illegal to sell certain games, based on their content. Censorship says nothing about willfully, or maliciously preventing the sale of something (although it is generally implied).
      • by Sloppy (14984)

        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.

        And if the British government requires a rating system for pamphlets like "Common Sense," that doesn't prevent any colonists from getting the pamphlet. Just require labeling of subversion, so t

    • by El Torico (732160)

      Adults should be free to buy whatever the hell games they want...

      Yeah! Bring back Lawn Darts [cpsc.gov]!

      • Adults should be free to buy whatever the hell games they want...

        Yeah! Bring back Lawn Darts [cpsc.gov]!

        god forbid kids toys reflect real-world dangers.

        If your kid is incapable of hurting himself with the toys he owns, he will not learn proper self-restraint.

        • by El Torico (732160)

          If your kid is incapable of hurting himself with the toys he owns, he will not learn proper self-restraint.

          Yes, but if he is capable of hurting himself with the toys he owns, he may not make it to adulthood. OK, my original post wasn't a fair comparison, but I just wanted to point out that usually laws exist for good reasons.

          • Yes, but if he is capable of hurting himself with the toys he owns, he may not make it to adulthood.

            there's always that risk. parents need to learn to live with it or never eat steak in their homes again, or else they're hypocrites.

          • So, net win for the rest of us either way.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by HungryHobo (1314109)

          The lawn darts were a bit extreme but I have to agree.
          There seems to be more and more of an obsession with stopping kids from hurting themselves in any way at all.
          I hate to imagine how dull my childhood would be if I had it over now, when did letting kids climb trees go out of fashion?
          When did playing with candels and matches(where it wouldn't burn down the house) become a sin?
          I went through scouts and now help out the local group occasionally and it's as if most of the kids these days reach the age of 12 w

          • Well that sucks then. My childhood foray in to matches involved burning an entire swamp, a big one, filled with bone dry reeds about 8 feet tall. That thing went up like a huge Roman candle in seconds, I'm thinking seriously cool at that time, though the two schools located just meters on either side did not share my outlook. I learned a very valuable lesson that day - the point at which ones own stream of urine can successfully extinguish a fire on a blustering hot and windy day is just a few seconds.

            I've

          • The lawn darts were a bit extreme but I have to agree.

            what was extreme about them?

            Read the notice.

            How many kids have been killed by being struck with baseballs before or since? Baseball bats? Surely more than 3.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by senorpoco (1396603)
      "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.
    • by DrWho520 (655973)
      Beside the point. "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." This is not about protesting censorship, this is about a dumbass move. Oversight? An MMO is a video game, video games require a ratings label, a label was not applied (that is the law right now, whether anyone agrees with it or not)...stupid.
      • For sale. Reasonable rates.
        Banned in Australia?

        Chess
        Go.
        Tag.
        Red light green light.
        Mother May I
        Simon Says
        Old Maid
        Truth or dare
        Cops n Robbers
        Smear the.. I mean, Chase the Ball Around
        Cowboys and Aborigines
        Duck Duck Wallaby
        Go Fish

        Are each of these rated?

    • 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.

      What other name is that? Seems to me like it's just "censorship." Period.

    • How this got modded insightful is beyond me. A little misplaced righteous indignation perhaps?

      Requiring a rating on games, movies, music, etc, is just censorship by another name.

      No, it's really not. Not even close.

      Adults should be free to buy whatever the hell games they want.

      They are.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Joe U (443617)

      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?

  • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NightRain (144349)

      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'.

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

      • 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.

        • by NightRain (144349)
          And surprisingly enough, I'm not American either. However, if I had have posted that without specifying that it was based on Americans, I'd have got singled out for that as well
    • by ghmh (73679)

      Since the overwhelming majority of politicians neither play, or possibly even understand, computer games*, they'll agree to whatever the minority holders of the balance of power in parliament ask for in exchange for support for other policies they're pushing.

      * Insert any minority concern here

      There, fixed that for you.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by DavidTC (10147)

        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

  • I was led to believe that the Aussies were criminal types that we kicked out and the first American Colonists were people who were too uptight even for us English types.

    So why then do we have the Aussies being uptight about foolish things and the Americans being pretty chilled out about most things?

    My belief in stereotypes has been shattered!
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      The "North America founded by a bunch of religious zealots" argument is a common misconception that always irks me. In fact, that's only true of the New England colonies. In Jamestown and the southern colonies, and and in New Amsterdam/New York and the middle colonies, settlers were interested mostly in economic gain and opportunity, not in bible-thumping (with a few notable exceptions, like the Huguenots in South Carolina). The puritans were just one group of settlers in one region, they are not the sole "
  • by Patito (1088621) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:49AM (#26723281)

    AU$27,220.80 or two years? I for one vote for doing things like in the old days: Just send all the convicts to Australia...

  • publishers and distributors at some point misunderstood their obligations ... or did their lawyers simply say "hey I think we can get away with this, some others already in this arena are doing it!" I find it hard to believe a whole squadron of expensive suits "overlooked" this.

  • Start selling games as academic, sociological research tools. I don't think you need a rating on those.

  • Does the law cover rented or leased games? You don't actually "buy" a MMO, you pay a monthly fee to play.
    • by flitty (981864)
      On top of that, Don't most EULA's state that you paid for a license to play the game, not the game itself? It's not illegal to sell licenses to unrated games, is it? Guess there is one upside to the whole "you don't own your software" for aussies.
  • Is there even a rating system available when someone sells a game via the iTunes Store? Are all iPhone/iPod touch game developpers world-wide targeted for lawsuits from the Australian government?!

  • by kabocox (199019)

    I think that Australia should just fine each involved company to the max. They shouldn't give any of them a "free pass." As long as they make the entire industry that tired to dance around the law by ignoring it the same or similar punishment, then it'd be mostly favor.

    If the Australian government wants to make video games unprofitable for them, then more power to them. The effect could be an entire industry boycotting a country though. Or worse, use Australia as the "bad guys" in the next series of games i

  • by finelinebob (635638) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @01:17PM (#26726877) Homepage

    ... the MMO's penalize YOU!

  • ...this has been brought to the attention of the Australian media, so hopefully the issue will be resolved soon.

    You are obviously not very familiar with the Australian Media.

    "This game is ILLEGAL in Australia. Is YOUR child playing it? Details at 6"
    "Police aware of rampant smuggling operation, do nothing"
    "Software smugglers face decades in prison if caught"
    "Prime Minister announces new anti-terrorism/unclassified games task force"

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