Displaying inappropriate ads in a children’s game is a bad idea (but it’ll happen anyway)

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Earlier this month, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority issued a ruling against Mobjizz Limited, owner of Ewank.com (an adult services provider) for displaying adult ads in Talking Tom (owned by Outfit7), the popular mobile app that is particularly popular with young children as a kind of game.)  The adult ads apparently involved three nearly naked women.  The complaint was made by the parent of a five year old who saw the ad while playing the app.

Essentially, Mobjizz and Outfit7 said the same thing: they had strict rules in place against this kind of thing but had no idea how this had happened anyway.  Both seemed to suggest that a rogue affiliate (whom they could not identify) may have been involved in serving the ad in breach of their rules.

The ASA, unsurprisingly, upheld the complaint against Mobjizz.  In its usual polite way, the ASA expressed thanks to all parties for cooperating but said that this ad should not be shown in the future, nor generally should Mobjizz show adult ads to children in the future.  As is usual in these kinds of cases in the UK, it seems that the matter will not be pursued further and neither Mobjizz nor Outfit7 will face any penalties or further legal action.

Comment: this is about the third or fourth time that I have come across adult or otherwise inappropriate mobile or online ads being displayed to inappropriate persons, ESPECIALLY violent or adult ads being shown to children.  In each case, the defence by the advertiser, the ad network and the app/game/service is usually that they have rules in place and don’t know how those rules were breached.  In each case, my strong suspicion is that those rules are simply not followed by or enforced against the affiliates or other links in the chain between the advertiser and the actual consumer.  Clearly this is very concerning from both a legal and a consumer standpoint: it simply shouldn’t happen.  However, in the absence of concerted industry self-regulation (of which there is no current prospect) or serious legal claims with substantial enforcement to back them up, I’m afraid I can’t see much of an end in sight.  The best we can hope for is that the apps/games/online services will take more care in picking their advertiser partners in order to avoid this kind of public naming and shaming in the future.

Moral of the story: if you enable ads on your mobile or online app/game/service, pick your advertising partner carefully!  The wrong ad can cause you significant reputational harm and could (but probably won’t) lead to legal action.

Some legal thoughts on Take Two vs the BBC over Grand Theft Auto

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News broke last week that Take Two, the rights holder to Grand Theft Auto (both as its publisher and as owner of Rockstar Games, its developer), will take legal action against the BBC in the UK over the BBC’s forthcoming TV drama Game Changer – which is all about the story of how Grand Theft Auto was made.  Sorry I’m coming a little late to the party (I was in Sweden speaking at Nordic Game Conference- see separate blog post coming about that).  Anyway, a few folks asked me what I think about this, so here we go. (more…)

The top 10 legal mistakes by games developers

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I was honoured to give the first talk at Rezzed 2015 in London earlier this month, where I gave a short practical talk about the top 10 legal mistakes that games developers frequently make, why they are mistakes and what to do about them.  Here’s the slides below – enjoy! [Newsletter readers, you can find the slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/jaspurewal/top-10-game-developer-legal-mistakes.]

 

A practical legal guide to owning your own IP

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One of my most frequently encountered – and important – jobs as a digital entertainment lawyer is to advise on intellectual property ownership: who owns which bits of this great game/software/artwork/video/audio etc? This comes up so often, and from time to time can cause such controversy in the press, that I thought I might write some quick pointers about it, which I hope you’ll find useful.

TL;DR: to make sure you own your stuff, here’s some tips about IP and contract law.  I’ve also given you a free template document, too!

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Why DMCA and trademark protection is a no-brainer: the Darkest Dungeon scam

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I just saw an interesting story on Eurogamer: the developer of Darkest Dungeon, a popular new indie game, has hit out at a clearly fake version of its game on the Windows Games Store.  The developer is said to have reached out to Microsoft for help.  I’m sure they will oblige in due course.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a quick post because what you probably WON’T read about is what Microsoft, or any other platform which is said to be hosting fake/fraudulent/illegal/infringing content (“content” btw might be games, film, audio, artwork – anything) might say in response to the developer: (more…)

Games law war stories: the fax contract that saved Tetris

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Lawyers love to hear good legal war stories.  Games industry folks love to hear how a deal was put together.   Well, I just heard such a good little one that I had to share it with you.  The DICE conference over in Las Vegas just had a wonderful session of Alexey Pajitnov (inventor of Tetris) and Henk Rogers (his longtime business partner) interviewing each other about the history of Tetris and their partnership together (it was broadcast on Twitch).

Anyway, when I tuned in Rogers was in the middle of explaining how he came to meet Pajitnov for the first time (btw, in case you don’t know who these legends are, here’s an explanation of the history of the Tetris legal saga which I wrote in 2010!): Rogers had flown to (then still Soviet) Russia to try to get a licence from Pajitnov’s organisation for rights to distribute Tetris on Gameboy.  He *had* to get the licence on that trip or be ruined financially, since he already had the Gameboy version in production!  The Russians wanted to play for time.  So – and at this stage I’m now paraphrasing what Rogers was saying on Twitch as closely as I can remember – Rogers played hardball, throwing at the Russians as much legalese as he could think of or make up, including telling them that after a period of time his offer would automatically become “null and void” (nice).

Then, once he thinks he’s making progress, he makes a long distance call to his lawyer in Japan.  It takes 8 hours to connect to his lawyer and, once he gets through, he gives the lawyer a fax number and tells him to send over a contract of no more than 20 pages, which has to give Rogers every right he could need to license Tetris from the Russians, can’t have long words (because Rogers needs to be able to explain every word of it to the Russians) and it has to be fair to both sides because there won’t be a second shot at this.  Then, says Rogers, 24 hours later his lawyer sends over “the best contract I ever read in the industry”. At this point, Pajitnov nods sagely and adds “it was”.

What a story.  I’m sure it ended up being somewhat more complicated but, still, whoever Henk Rogers’ lawyer was, I salute you!

Can you pirate your own video game?

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Hotline Miami 2, the forthcoming sequel to the excellent indie game Hotline Miami (note: I wrote that in bold, underline and italics to show how much I mean it), has been denied classification in Australia (another victim of the relatively restrictive local age rating system there).  So its developer instead just told Australian fans to pirate the game for free, attracting no small amount of games press in the process (hello, Streisand Effect).  So, I thought I’d write a little post on the subject of what happens legally if a developer pirates, or encourages piracy of, its own video game?   (more…)

A quick practical guide to EU free to play games regulation

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I spoke at the PocketGamer Connects conference in London today about the EU’s free to play games regulation: I thought that a quick presentation based on actual free to play games might help illustrate this fast growing and uncertain area of law.  Here’s the slides – let me know what you think! [For those viewing via newsletter: it’s here.]

Season’s Greetings from Gamer/Law

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Hi everyone – this is a quick message to wish you all a great holiday break and best wishes for 2015!  In the meantime, I found this dusty old letter from a corner of our old client files recently and thought you might like to read it…(click on it for the full version!) (more…)

A practical guide to the EU’s new VAT rules, video games and digital content sales

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So, what’s happening?

From 1 January 2015, new EU tax rules will require value added tax (VAT) to be charged on paid digital content (like video games, apps, digital music and video) at the VAT rate of each EU country where its customers are based.

How is this different to the existing system?

Previously digital businesses could charge VAT across the whole EU based on the country where its business was located (e.g. a UK business could in principle charge VAT of 20%, being the UK’s VAT rate).  Now, in principle they will have to use up to 27 VAT rates (one for each EU Member State) if they fall under the new rules. (more…)