Our resident gaming lawyer explains why the world of copyright is a terrifying place.
By Patrick Vuleta on December 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm
This week, Tim told me I couldn’t write about the legality of killing a tiger: Toby already did it. “How about those daylight savings hours, then?” I said. “No? Damn.” In desperation, I turned my mind to the next-most-popular comment-bait topic—copyright and piracy.
Yet even if this article’s merely a shameless grab for page views, copyright is important to gaming. DRM only exists because of copyright. The heavy pirating of games (and movies) is often used to support harsher copyright restrictions. That… and American babies.
The Stop Online Piracy Act was a proposed—and rather harsh—copyright law, but happily defeated by public pressure. One of its supporters, Republican congressman Bob Goodlatte, has said he’d continue to get such internet laws enacted because (brace yourselves) they’d help save American babies who’d otherwise die after eating counterfeit baby formula.
I assume that makes perfect sense to someone on some level.
This man is still banging on about piratical miscreants stealing babies’ internet copyrights and whatnot— getting praised by Hollywood for it, naturally—and was just recently elected to chair the Congress panel that writes American copyright law. Not exactly good news. Today, let’s look at what else has happened in copyright recently, and why you should be concerned.
The United Nations wants to give control of the Internet to governments
While the U.N.’s most known for its general failure to prevent the conflicts that serve as plots of modern first person shooters, its internet arm—the International Telecommunications Union, is intent on succeeding at handing control of the internet to governments.
Much of what’s going on here is behind closed doors. However, leaked documents suggest the binding, international treaty being drafted is somewhat on the totalitarian side. Leaked drafts of the treaty show that the U.N. Is proposing to allow governments to suspend their citizens’ internet access on a whim, and prevent citizens from being anonymous online.
If the treaty went ahead, it would become binding international law, meaning that governments that signed on would be expected to give effect to their international obligations in domestic law. Indeed, our Constitution gives such powers to the Federal Government—almost any law is valid as long as it has an international treaty behind it.
Google wants the world to know about the U.N.
Unsurprisingly, many are unhappy about the U.N.’s new project. Google, known for its strong opposition to the aforementioned Stop Online Piracy Act, has launched its own petition against the U.N.
Google’s main concern is that the U.N.’s international membership allows countries, like Iran, which have traditionally curtailed internet freedoms, to influence policy in the western world. As they state on their website:
“There is a growing backlash on Internet freedom. Forty-two countries filter and censor content. In just the last two years, governments have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression.”
Google believes that the internet needs to be regulated by the same people who shape it. In other words, them.
Cyberstalking Bill Defeated in America
Well, cyber intelligence, to be correct, but it may as well be stalking. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act was meant to give American governments the ability to monitor anyone’s internet activity.
While the bill—like everything else—was justified on grounds of stopping terrorism (and by extension saving babies), the provisions also allowed spying on those suspected of copyright infringement.
Fortunately, the law was stopped by a filibuster in the American Senate. A filibuster is mostly just a form of protracted, shoe-throwing argument used to defeat often-needed financial reforms, but sometimes it does good. In this case, senators recognised that the law would be simply too broad. It does illustrate, however, that advocates of strong copyright laws will take some roundabout detours to achieve their aims. Because terrorism.
So what does it mean for gaming?
A recent move by Sega highlights how copyright can come back to gaming, even for those who buy their games legitimately. Sega is releasing a new Shining Force game for the PSP (it’s a console RPG), and by sheer coincidence is on a massive campaign to rid YouTube of anything to do with the Sega Saturn’s Shining Force III. YouTube has to comply with Sega’s requests, since technically Sega does own the copyright.
However, according to Destructoid, even videos made by fans talking about Shining Force III– with no gameplay footage whatsoever—are being targeted for ‘copyright violations’. The only possible reason I can think of for this is that YouTube’s search engine strength means a search for Shining Force will show some random RPG geek talking about Shining Force 3, not Sega’s new game.
Where it gets sobering is there is really no difference between these videos and an unfavourable game review, for example. Extreme copyright laws could allow publishers to take down negative comments about their games on grounds of copyright infringement. It would sound silly if it hadn’t already started happening.
This is clearly beyond the scope of copyright, and an abuse of the service YouTube gives to copyright holders in good faith. It’s a clear example of how if publishers are given the means to use copyright laws for their advantage, they will, even if such uses go well beyond the original intent. If some of the more extreme proposals are enacted, we can expect impacts on gaming that go beyond just DRM, digital piracy, and internet tributes to Kelly.
Mr. Burns image via Gizmodo.