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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Some Notes For The Coming War

Well, any hopes that laws like the Illinois one will die quickly and quietly or that controversies over explicit content will move to a more rational sphere rather than a sensational one seem to be diminishing rapidly. I was talking to The Girl about this last night and we remarked that it seems the best hope right now for things to return to normalcy is that everything get so ridiculous so quickly that everyone is suddenly caught unaware as to how stupid the whole thing can get and immeadiately stop talking about it.

Our old Floridian lawyer, for instance, really stumbled when he first put the focus on a "cheat code" in the Sims 2 and then mumbled something into the microphone about mods. Thank God he did and that he chose the Sims as his next target, since they are more like warm fuzzy teddy bears to Rockstar's howling badger ... and nobody wants to see warm fuzzy teddy bears get pulled off the shelf. I'm watching this like a hawk so far, and it doesn't seem like he's going to get the kind of buy-in we saw with Hot Coffee. It's like that great line from William Petersen in Manhunter where he tells the maniac that he had a disadvantage for being, you know, insane.

But now we've got parents who are actually defending themselves for buying their young, impressionable games about cop-killing and hooker-banging (yes, I plan to use every euphemism for sexual intercourse with prostitutes during the course of this affair ... it's just what I do) ... and they're going to defend themselves en masse, which is quite convenient for the gaming industry.

Now when Rockstar has to go in front of the FTC about the villainy at foot with kids accessing inappropriate material, they'll have an entire witness list already prepared for them. It would make for great scene in a movie, wouldn't it? Calling in each one of these plaintiffs before Congress and forcing them to explain themselves before everyone?

Yeah, probably won't happen. Would be sweet though.

For the rest of us will be watching things unfold, here are a few notes to keep in mind ... because there's a lot of confusion out there.

You don't own your software. Common misconception. What you purchase when you pay for that box at Best Buy is actually just the media, manuals, packaging and a license to use the included software. That license, called the End User License Agreement, is inherent for the most in simply installing the software ... and limits what you can and can't do with programs. For an easy example, it's why if you started copying CD's of Windows that Microsoft gets to come by your house and take away all your toys. Although, that would probably fall under copyright laws anyway. A better example is that you aren't usually allowed to go into the software in an attempt to reverse engineer it.

Mods can't do just anything. It's sad but true. For the longest time, though, the biggest concern mods really had was copyright law. And trust me, most didn't even understand that very well. Even if the EULA never specifically states it, there's just things you can or can't do with someone else's IP. Now the ESRB is saying there are things you can or can't do with someone else's content. While some of that existed previously under the EULA, like reverse engineering, one of the problems with the ESRB statement is that they've actually raised the bar past the EULA to include their own rating system.

It's not just creation, it's distribution. Remember, the ESRB didn't just call out the third party modification - but also it's broad distribution. Most people think that the attention to mods will be insane because you can't stop people from diddling with software on their hard drive. Not only is that true, to a certain extent it's even allowed under fair use. However the distribution of mods can and has been halted or regulated ... and with a fair amount of success. Mods get foxed all the time, and even parent companies like Valve or Epic need to be mindful of mods potentially releasing code that they weren't supposed to have access to or that could be harmful to the original product. So in other words, the mere existence of a pornographic mod wouldn't meet the same criteria the ESRB stated - it would also require easy accessibility.

Some links:

- Great explanation of EULA's (and even how they compare to GPL style agreements)

- Discussion on copyrights and mods, from my old stomping ground

- The actual ESRB statement revoking the Mature rating in San Andreas

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