I think I’m a clone now

Dr. Tom Phillips worked on a CREATe project with me, as a research associate (Dr. Keith M. Johnston was the co-investigator).  Our project on Games and Transmedia dealt with a wide range of issue pertaining to law, business and these emerging creative industries – including art/business tensions, formal and informal regulation, and how risk and disputes are handled. One point that we kept coming to, from a range of starting points, was the tricky and often emotive subject of ‘cloning’ in the games industry. I had a few paragraphs on this in my article last year, but the real outcomes of these discussions can be found in Tom’s article, published as open access today (free for anyone to download) in the journal Cultural Trends.

In “Don’t clone my indie game, bro”: Informal cultures of videogame regulation in the independent sector (click to read/download), Tom reports on the history of cloning as an issue, informed by events and conversations in the games world, and academic and legal developments. The article also gives a great insight into discussions we had with a fascinating group of developers and others in December 2013, as part of the project. Tom has made use of many of the key points from those discussions, to try and provide a greater understanding of how the rights and wrongs of cloning are discussed within the industry (or industries). He concludes by wondering whether we have reached a position where further legal interest is inevitable.

Do read the article – and I address this in particular to legal readers of the blog, because Tom’s take on how law affects the development of and conversations within a fast-moving industry is worthy of your consideration.


In the contemporary games sector, independent developers feel there is an inadequate level of protection for their intellectual property, particularly with regards to game clones. There is also a sense that neither players nor policy-makers completely understand the specificities of how IP may be creatively, if not legally infringed. As a result, there has increasingly been a shift towards the construction of a culture of self-regulation for indie developers, attempting to publicly shame cloners via social media, directly impacting infringers’ reputation and sales and bypassing formal regulation.This article uses interviews and workshop discussions with developers to examine the manner in which this informal culture of regulation has been perpetuated in relation to current videogame copyright legislation, and suggests how the interrelation between producers and policy-makers may help to inform the direction of future policy decisions. Examining the way appropriate practice is informally managed in independent gaming, the article considers the soundness of policy in the contemporary videogames industry.

Games and gambling

Two pieces of mine have recently appeared in online law journals. They are available without charge or login from the journals concerned; both journals are open access journals. You can also download the articles from SSRN.

The first article emerges out of the CREATe project on games, transmedia and the law. Along with my UEA friends Dr. Keith M. Johnston and Dr. Tom Phillips, I have been thinking about legal and business issues in and around the games industry, with a particular interest in new and emerging business models. This particular piece, “Multiplayer Games: Tax, Copyright, Consumers and the Video Game Industries” (European Journal of Law and Technology | SSRN) is a discussion of the impact of legal measures in each of the three cited fields.

The successes of the games industry requires an analysis of the way in which the state is influencing, or attempting to influence, the development of the sector. Drawing from a research project on games, transmedia and the law, including a roundtable with developers and others from the industry, a critical perspective is provided on the impact of three types of law (tax, consumer and intellectual property) on the UK industry. The negotiation and eventual approval of a tax credit for video game development expenditure is reviewed. This is an example of the games industry lobbying for and welcoming the creation of a specific (but film-influenced) legal status for the “video game” – but the passage of the scheme raises troubling questions about the cultural status of games. A significant commercial issue, that of consumer protection, is then discussed. Consumer legislation may prove to constrain certain developments in relation to games; it is argued that there is a special impact on new platforms, because of the (deserved) official attention now being paid to in-app purchases. In relation to intellectual property, the alignment (or misalignment) of copyright law with concepts of value in the sector is considered, with particular reference to “cloning”. In conclusion, the particular impact of the three fields on new platforms, and the different degrees to which legislation is contributing to the development of the games sector, is considered. It is argued that the emerging business model of F2P non-console games is not handled as well as it should be, particularly as compared with other business models in the sector.

The second, shorter piece is an update for the law and technology journal SCRIPTed on recent developments in online gambling law. I discuss two particular developments: a significant retreat from the ‘deregulatory’ Gambling Act in Great Britain (amended to provide for greater control over foreign providers advertising or doing business in the UK), and a further step in the EU’s attempt to get to grips with the field – a Recommendation from the European Commission. The piece is “When The Dealin’s Done? Recent Developments in Online Gambling Law and Policy” (SCRIPTed | SSRN) and, to my great delight, was submitted on Kenny Rogers’ 68th birthday.


Recommended reading, 14-20 February 2013

News, blog posts, etc

Lisa Campbell, ‘Is Netflix just a novelty?‘ (Broadcast 14 February 2013). Given my interest in VOD (primarily how it is regulated but to get there requires understanding the market), the last few weeks have provided much to think about.  I can’t decide whether to be impressed at the Netflix coup of launching House of Cards as an all-at-once release or cynical about how its press releases were parroted by some in the press.  I think both.  Anyway, the coverage in Broadcast does look at it from a number of different angles. (Thought I will return to although I’ve probably said it before: if the standard for being covered by EU audiovisual media law includes being ‘TV-like’ subject to interpretation in a ‘dynamic’ way, does this sort of move make a difference?)

Jeremy Phillips, ‘Save our hyperlinks! Paws for reflection as Profs Opine‘ (IPKat 15 February 2013).  Commentary on the intervention of academic group the European Copyright Society (does it have a website? cannot find) in a very important case on hyperlinks, Svensson.  The case is before the Court of Justice of the EU shortly and takes up a question much loved by IT textbooks more or less since they started to exist: is a link one of the acts restricted under copyright law?  If so, then the consent of the author of the target page may be necessary – but the consequences are significant.

Claire Porter, ‘Google ‘flaw’ puts users’ details on display‘ (News.com.au 16 February 2013). Another tricky story about apps and privacy; this one is about the Google Play store.  Worth noting that there is a bit of discussion about the way the story has been reported (and amended) – see e.g. here.  Original link via Slashdot.

David Streitfield, ‘Tech Industry Sets Its Sights on Gambling‘ (New York Times 18 February 2013). Discusses the implications of any change in the law on online gambling in the US for social networks and for the casual gaming sector.  Also mentions the interesting issue of gambling and Diablo.

William Turvill, ‘News agencies’ fear over impact of copyright law proposals‘ (Press Gazette 20 February 2013). It looks like the lobbying against the proposed implementation of the Hargreaves Review is well underway now.  I think there is a fair point to be made about the constitutional problems (the typical, pernicious turn to secondary legislation in place of proper parliamentary scrutiny), although the substantive arguments tend to the alarmist.  For example, I can see why the photographer groups who were critical of orphan works proposals in the past are sceptical about extended collective licensing.  Less obvious to me is why that opposition extends to the long-overdue proposals on parody.  Perhaps there’s just general opposition.  We’ll see.  Given that some of these recommendations are still overdue from Gowers 2006, it would be a shame to get stuck at this stage..

Academic publications

Speaking of parody: Kris Erickson, ‘Evaluating the Impact of Parody on the Exploitation of Copyright Works: An Empirical Study of Music Video Content on YouTube‘ (Bournemouth University for IPO, 2013).  Fascinating attempt to measure the consequences of protecting (or not protecting) parody.  Via Rebecca Tushnet.

And more on copyright: Lee Edwards, Bethany Klein, David Lee, Giles Moss, and Fiona Philip, ‘Framing the consumer: Copyright regulation and the public’ (2013) 19 Convergence 9-24 (£). Multi-disciplinary perspective on attitudes to copyright, with a particular interest in downloading (other articles in the same issue also explore the theme of attitudes and IP)



Neither fish nor fowl: video games and the law

Last month’s decision of the US Supreme Court in Brown v Entertainment Merchants’ Association (PDF) (formerly Schwarzenegger v VSDA) has attracted a lot of attention.  For some academic background on the story leading up to the case, see Rousse’s thorough ‘Electronic Games and the First Amendment’ (SSRN), or my own piece of last year, ‘The regulation of video games: past, present and future‘.  All the filings in the case are available via SCOTUSblog.  This blog post, written in honour of what was apparently Video Games Day in the US last Friday, brings you some comments of my own – bits of this have appeared previously in a nice piece by Ben Maxwell on Edge Magazine’s website, available here.  I’ve used the excellent coverage of press statements by various parties at GamePolitics.com for many of the added links.

The most significant thing about the decision to strike down California’s law on the sale of video games to under-18s was how clearly it was a First Amendment case;  the court was particularly firm in arguing that games were protected in full by the First Amendment.  Scalia (for it is he who writes the majority opinion) goes to great length to compare video games with other forms of expression (from comic books to movies), and even highlights the degree of gore found in the clearly-acceptable Snow White, Hansel and Gretel  and Cinderella, not to mention Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Golding’s Lord of the Files.  The interactivity of good fiction is used to dismiss the claim that interactive games deserve special legal attention.  To some extent Breyer’s dissenting opinion answers this (although see the Citizen Media Law Project’s blog’s puzzled face at how Breyer feels about the First Amendment), as does aspects of Alito’s concurrence (which reads more like a dissent, and anyway Scalia has four votes as well as his own (from the ‘liberal’ wing!) already, so a majority without the separate opinion).  (Thomas also writes a dissent, but it’s about the lack of constitutional rights of under 18s as a broader principle).

Not only does this confirm that games are being taken seriously at the highest legal levels, it also placed a heavy burden on California to justify the restriction.  With this in mind, the court was not persuaded in the slightest by the evidence put forward regarding a link between gaming and aggression, which must come as a disappointment to those who have been arguing these theories for some time.  The Empirical Legal Studies blog has a good piece on the evidential issues.  While the need to be aware of specific issues for under-18s was noted, even this was not enough to justify the intervention.  However, it’s interesting to consider whether there is a gap opening up between the approach of the court to sex and to violence (or indeed to language); the fact that the decision to hear Fox v FCC in 2011/12 (this time on First Amendment grounds alone; last time the focus was on administrative law) was announced on the same day does whet the appetite.

In the US, the decision means that the self-regulatory system (the ESRB) will continue to be the main form of video game regulation for some time, and other states that had considered following California’s lead will probably cease their efforts.  The ESRB pointed to the decision as an endorsement of its system, although there were some harsh words in concurrence and dissent regarding the effectiveness of the labelling system.  I was particularly interested to see the response of the State Senator who proposed the original legislation, Leyand Yee, who focused on the corporate power of the games industry being able to continue unchecked.  I don’t agree with a lot of Yee’s points in the press release, nor with separating video games from other forms of protected expression, but there is a point about accountability and indeed power when the anti-regulation industry is happy to support and fund regulation as long as it is the regulator.

Meanwhile in the UK, we already have a mixture of self-regulation and statutory control.  Most games are exempt, while some (either on the grounds of content – gross violence, etc – or format – significant video content) are presently classified by the BBFC under the Video Recordings Act.  Changes are on the way though (as discussed in my 2010 piece), with two simultaneous amendments to the VRA – the extension of statutory regulation to a wider range of games, and the possibility of designating a separate body for the classification of video games.  Taken togther, this will mean the use of the (existing and non-statutory) Europe-wide PEGI system for statutory classification in the UK, once the relevant orders (envisaged by the Digital Economy Act) are passed.

The High Court has already had one opportunity to consider video games, in a 2008 judicial review of the decision of the Video Appeals Committee (itself an appeal against a BBFC refusal to classify) regarding Manhunt 2, [2008] EWHC 203 (Admin).  On that occasion, the Court found that the VAC was not interpreting the ‘harm that may be caused to potential viewers’ provisions of the Video Recordings Act (as amended) correctly.  The ECHR’s concept of harm was mentioned, albeit briefly.  In future cases, one imagines that the detailed findings of the American courts may be useful (albeit of persuasive value only and subject to the usual concerns around the First Amendment in non-US courts).  The impact of a regulatory decision on the right to freedom of expression as contained in the Human Rights Act is clear.  Of course, the BBFC already states that it takes the HRA into account (alongside other statutory provisions) and one assumes that this will continue under the Video Standards Council for PEGI.  The VSC should declare, immediately on taking up its duties, that it will act as if the Human Rights Act applies to it (which it most likely does) and it should go about its business in a responsible fashion, including asking to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and publishing its decision-making and appeal procedures.

UK developers may be relieved that they do not have to deal with a California-only system as there are already a number of different systems in use around the world, although they will still need to be aware of differences between the ESRB (US) and PEGI (European) systems of classification.Of course, Germany remains outside PEGI, and Australia remains a major ‘market’ for games with a standalone system for classification, which – in essence – has a ‘top category’ of suitable for 15 and above, which means that games classified for over-18s in other jurisdictions may not be acceptable in Australia.  This has been under review for some time.