Category Archives: Law

Landmark EU ruling permits resale of digital downloads/licenses [updated]

A political map of Europe, overlaid with the stars of the flag of the European Union and a pair of golden scales in the middle

So, here’s an interesting divide between USA law and EU law. In the USA, you almost never buy software or video games. No, the license says you’re only buying a license to use the software (which is conveniently being loaned to you free-of-charge on a disk or as a digital download or whatever) under limited circumstances as laid out by the license. Did you buy a copy of Windows or Call of Duty or whatever? No. The paperwork says you bought a right to use that software until the publisher says otherwise, and that the software remains the property of the publisher.

This arrangement has been upheld by US courts on a number of occasions, so no, you’re not buying those games. They’re just loaned to you under a limited set of circumstances. This holds doubly true for digital downloads, in the main.

What makes this a bit weird is that the USA’s Uniform Commercial Code (variations of which exist in most countries) has always maintained that once a purchase has been made, no further conditions can be imposed. That is, any license agreements and the like have to be agreed to before the purchase takes place and not (for example) once you open the box or start installing. US Court rulings on End-User-License-Agreements (EULAs) and shrink-wrap/click-through agreements say much the opposite, however, and it is what is ruled in court that matters.

And that brings us to the Court of Justice of the European Union, which has basically ruled that all those EULAs, and click-through license agreements are basically bunk as far as this is concerned and that you actually did buy the software itself.

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R18+ classification for games passes Oz Federal houses for 2013

An image of each of the Australian Classification Markers, from left to right, "Check the Classification","G","PG","M","MA15+","R18+","X18+"

It’s been a rather long and shameful road for Australia’s media classification system. The system itself requires that most forms of media sold, rented, displayed or traded within Australia be properly classified and labelled, but the system has been … well, uneven, at best.

While all other media had six classifications, computer and video games had just four, restricting the allowable content for games to that which was deemed suitable for a fifteen year old audience of minors.

The lack of an R18+ classification led to some games being restricted from sale, while others wound up getting grouped into an overstretched MA15+ classification, which seemed to contain an increasing amount of inappropriate content.

It has been announced today that the new classifications category has finally (after many years of wrangling and obstacles) finally passed the Australian Federal Parliament and Senate – to commence on 1 January 2013 – but that’s not the whole story.

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Both unjust and unfair

Today was to be the announcement of an Australian R18+ rating for games – or lack thereof. Today it is a lack, because unanimity is required, and one State Attorney General held back.

If we accept that a ratings system for films, television and suchlike are necessary to protect children, then it is likewise necessary to have parity by applying the same ratings categories to games. The average age of gamers is now 35 – the same average age as that of film-goers.

Every month a number games that would rightly earn an R18+ rating (if one were available) and be restricted from sale to minors are instead categorised as MA15+ and permitted to be sold to under-18s.

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Stop that game!

Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video-game following the fictional story of a man of Sicilian descent who joins an Italian crime family in the period around 1950, a time when Italian crime families were near the height of their power and influence. It’s a familiar theme, having been portrayed in books, games, movies and television for decades.

UNICO National, the largest Italian American service organisation in the USA who have never seen or played the game, nor apparently been in contact with anyone who has (because at the time of their complaint, it had not been released) are calling it “a pile of racist nonsense” and demanding that the game not be released until all Italians and Italian-Americans are removed from it.

It strikes me that this would result in a rather substandard story.

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Vulnerable adults

As you’re probably aware, Australia doesn’t have an 18+ rating for video games (though it does for other types of media such as films and publications). It’s not a stretch to see why. At the time the legislation was applied to video games, such games were the province of the young, and it is only recently that they’ve grown up, right?

Wrong.

From their inception, video games (particularly computer games) were played by all ages.

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When is an act not an act?

In the USA, measures to outlaw sales of mature-rated games to minors have failed repeatedly on constitutional grounds (maybe someone needs to seek a constitutional amendment for that, rather than just wasting money on laws that will be overturned as unlawful).

Over in the UK, though, the Video Recordings Act(1984) restricts the sales of mature-rated videos and video games to minors. Except… whoops! It doesn’t!

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Could Australia be barred from Second Life access?

Darn straight they could. Second Life could be on the hitlist, the more so because of the Zindra continent for adult content.

While Second Life clearly isn’t a game, I doubt that anyone involved in the process really cares about that trivial little detail. We’re all pretty sure this isn’t really about games anyway, right? After all, the current list also censors religion, political opinion, veterinarians, and school lunches.

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