Double Manhunt

Not manhunt.net, although apparently they are “here 24 hours a day”. Manhunt (and in particular Manhunt 2), the video game that presumably missed out on getting the domain name they always wanted!

In one of those coincidences that I love, a few interesting things have just happened. The legal process has (probably) finished with regard to the release of said game in the UK (Eoin has a comprehensive post complete with links to the various decisions) and wonders if an appeal or resubmission is on the cards in Ireland (where, as you may recall, Manhunt 2 was the first video game to be banned in this jurisdiction by the – remarkably named given the context – Irish Film Censor’s Office)

Yesterday, then, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeal in the midwestern US affirmed a district court decision finding that part of the Minnesota Restricted Video Games Act preventing under-18s from renting or purchasing certain violent video games. Manhunt (the original) is one of those cited in the Court of Appeal’s decision. There’s a wonderful passage about violence :

In finding that the video games at issue (the specific contents of which are not described) were protected free speech, the Interactive Digital court described them as containing “stories, imagery, age-old themes of literature, and messages, even an ideology, just as books and movies do.” Id. at 957 (internal quotations omitted). Whether the court would have characterized, say, “Manhunt” in similar terms, we do not know. Granted, great literature includes many themes and descriptions of violence. See, e.g., Judges 4:21 (NIV) (“But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to [Sisera] while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground and he died.”) Indeed, a good deal of the Bible portrays scenes of violence, and one would be hard-pressed to hold up as a proper role model the regicidal Macbeth. Although some might say that it is risible to compare the violence depicted in the examples offered by the State to that described in classical literature, such violence has been deemed by our court worthy of First Amendment protection, and there the matter stands.

As the particular causal relationship alleged by the State was not demonstrated to the court’s satisfaction, and strict scrutiny applied, the law did not survive. See the decision (Entertainment Software Assoc. v. Swanson) here (PDF).

Something I wonder about, by the way : the Irish legislation refers to a ‘video recording’ (which may be the subject of a ban) as follows : “video recording” means any disc or magnetic tape containing information by the use of which the whole or a part of a video work may be produced (s 1). Now, it strikes me that there may be some doubt over whether a download of a video game may be included in that – and the offence under the Act is in relation to the supply of a video recording (not possession). Would it be legal, then, to sell the software online and have the product sent as an attachment via email, for example? On the other hand, possession for the purpose of supply is an offence – would that be enough to capture it?

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