A First Amendment Right to Play Online Games?
A California man who suffers from agoraphobia is suing Sony after it banned him from participating in multiplayer games on its PlayStation Network. The man, Erik Estavillo, claims Sony has violated his right to free speech by removing his only form of socialization. He is asking the federal court to issue an injunction preventing Sony from banning him and to award him monetary damages of $55,000. His complaint alleges:
Sony Computer Entertainment America has caused pain and suffering to an already disabled plaintiff, whom suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Major Depression, and Crohn's Disease. The pain and suffering was caused by the defendant, Sony, banning the plaintiff's account on the PlayStation 3 Network, in which the plaintiff relies on to socialize with other people, since it's the only way the plaintiff can truly socialize since he also suffers from Agoraphobia.
Think it sounds like a frivolous lawsuit? Think again, says Annie Lin, a lawyer who is director of licensing at The Rights Workshop. Writing at VentureBeat, she says she initially considered the suit meritless. On further thought, however, she says there may be at least a colorable basis for the case and that it could have even broader implications for virtual communities in general.
To make a First Amendment claim, there needs to be some kind of "state action." One way to establish this, she says, would be to convince the court that the multiplayer game environment could be considered a sort of "company town" for First Amendment purposes:
If Estavillo can show that MMOG communities and virtual worlds have replaced the traditional (physical) places where the public can congregate, then the community element of Sony’s game will satisfy the public function exception. However, it seems that the plaintiff will probably have a difficult time establishing that the limited features of RFoM, given the game seems to only provide some limited social functionalities to supplement the primary activity of killing aliens. ...
Estavillo will need to convince the court that this is a public place where the community at large congregates and communicates, rather than a game played by a subset of the community that happens to provide a means of communication. Are game-playing community members from abroad considered members of this company “town”, and if so, can they also claim First Amendment protection too?
How the court answers these issues, Lin says, could "pose interesting and important constitutional implications for products such as Second Life and Facebook." In other words, a seemingly meritless lawsuit by an agoraphobic who depends on the game, "Resistance: Fall of Man," for his socialization could conceivably end up charting new legal ground.
Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 23, 2009 at 01:35 PM | Permalink
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