PC World: Utah Game Bill "Dangerously Wrong"

March 9, 2009 -

PC World's Matt Peckham weighs in on HB 353, the much-discussed Utah bill originally drafted by Jack Thompson.

Peckham agrees with ESRB President Patricia Vance that the bill could prove to be a disincentive to Utah retailers to do the right thing:

The most recent amended version of H.B. 353 is a sobering bellwether of much worse to come if it passes the Utah state senate... Instead of ensuring game retailers do as they say, the bill in fact encourages them to do the exact opposite and stop promising they won't sell Mature-rated games like Fable 2 and Fallout 3 and Resident Evil 5 to underage kids and/or teens.

That's because Utah's H.B. 353 effectively criminalizes retail sales of video games to customers who don't meet a game's ratings strictures...


The non-cynical view: H.B. 353 is an attempt to pull game ratings under the umbrella of Utah's prevailing "truth in advertising" guidelines.

The cynical view: The bill's promoters are trying to backdoor anti-ESRB legislation by using a potentially over-broad state policy to increase governmental control of private sector activities and declare self-regulatory triumphs null and void...

UPDATE: Jack Thompson has posted a reply to Peckham's column:

All [major retailers] have publicly committed, and promised Congress, that they will participate in the game rating system and abide by it... They simply cannot now opt out of the ESRB system... Their public endorsement of the rating system is an "advertisement" under this bill...


[ESRB head Patricia] Vance says their is an industry "audit" which says that Utah game retailers are 94% compliant with the game ratings. She refuses to produce the audit...

GP: I must point out that Thompson's assertion that a company's merely signing on to abide by the ESRB ratings constitutes an "advertisement" seems a dubious one, at best.


As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to Politicians & Parents

March 7, 2009 -

While the Utah State Senate mulls HB 353, a bill which would add age rating offenses to the state's existing Truth in Advertising law, ESRB President Patricia Vance has penned an open letter to "Utah's parents and leaders."

Vance called HB 353 a "grave mistake" and warned that it could undo years of effort by the ESRB and video game retailers to keep inappropriate content from underage players:

So why is this bill likely to put an end to those very efforts it seeks to support? On its face such an amendment makes good sense; after all, if a retailer says they’re going to do something, they should do it, right?


While the intent of this legislation would be to hold retailers accountable for compliance with their stated policies – presumably in that negligible 6% of instances where they fail to comply – the unfortunate reality is that it would introduce a liability that will likely force many retailers to seriously consider abandoning their voluntary policies and ratings education programs, undoing years of progress made on behalf of parents and their children.

The bill passed the Utah House, albeit in a somewhat diluted fashion, last week by a 70-2 margin.

For the full text of Vance's letter, hit the jump.

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Lobbyist: Amendments Reduced Impact of Utah Legislation

March 4, 2009 -

Earlier today, GamePolitics spoke with Dave Davis of the Utah Retail Merchants Association.

Davis argued against the original, Jack Thompson-authored version of HB353 during a committee hearing last week. But amendments subsequently added by sponsor Rep. Mike Morley (left) persuaded Davis to drop his group's opposition:

We went from adamantly opposed to the bill to a position of neutrality. We still weren't supporting the bill but we had dropped our opposition based on the fact that [Rep. Morley] had made several favorable amendments for our retailers...


The bill was rolling forward and in its first form, it was completely unacceptable. Rep. Morley and the legislature could have very well - and probably would have - passed it in its original form. What we were able to do was secure some safe harbor exemptions for retailers.

Although Davis didn't suggest it, GP asked if the practice of age-gating M-rated game content on websites might offer a measure of protection from HB353's penalties for online retailers:

[Under the amended bill] if a buyer intentionally misrepresents their age, then the retailer wouldn't be subject to penalty. Keep in mind that this statute only applies to retailers who are advertising that they don't sell M-rated games or R-rated movies to underage people.


You would have to have a specific [advertisement] that you do not sell the age-restricted product to underage people... Just discussing the [existence of the] rating system would not bring [retailers] under the auspices of "advertising..."


If [a retailer] had an incident with one of their clerks, we've now provided a safe harbor where, if they've provided some training for that clerk on how to handle those age-restricted products, they would not be liable...

Davis expects the measure to pass its next hurdle, the Utah State Senate.


Game Biz Opposes Utah Bill

March 4, 2009 -

The video game industry is beginning to respond - and not in a positive way - to yesterday's passage of HB353, a Jack Thompson-conceived bill, by the Utah House of Representatives.

As GamePolitics reported late yesterday, the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents a large bloc of game retailers, remains opposed to the measure.

That news seemed to contradict bill sponsor Rep. Mike Morley's assertion during yesterday's hearing that amendments to the proposal had caused "retailers" to drop their opposition. However, Morley was apparently referring to the more general-purpose Utah Retail Merchants Association (more on that below).

The Escapist heard from Dan Hewitt of game publishers' trade group the ESA:

[HB 353 is] a solution in search of a problem. The fact is, Utah has a 94% [retailer ratings] enforcement rate when it comes to video games. Also, Utah state legislators are unfairly targeting video games. Representative Morley's anti-video game bill would expose game retailers to frivolous lawsuits if the store promotes the ESRB rating system.

The perverse effect of this bill is that Utah retailers will stop promoting the ESRB rating system, which has been applauded by media watchdog groups like the National Institute on Media and the Family and the Federal Trade Commission. In short, this is a step back for parents and undercuts the positive work of the ESRB and others who promote the tools and resources available to parents.


BREAKING: Jack Thompson Bill Under Discussion in Utah House

March 3, 2009 -

We caught the webcast just as it was beginning. What follows is essentially a live blogging of today's hearing...

The Utah House has just begun deliberations on HB 353, the video game/movie bill originally crafted by disbarred attorney Jack Thompson. The first order of business was to pass amendments to the measure.

With amendments passed the discussion on the bill has begun. Rep. Michael Morley, bill sponsor, is now speaking. Morley can be seen in the screenshot at left, taken moments ago from the webcast of the hearing. View it live.

So far, the legislators who have spoken are uniformly behind the measure, which appears to enjoy bi-partisan support. Speaking on behalf of the bill:

  • Rep. Brian King (D)
  • Rep. Sheryl Allen (R) - Allen discussed the growing importance of Utah's video game industry
  • Rep. Kraig Powell (R)
  • Rep. Steven Mascaro (R) - wanted clarification on how bill language affects retailers
  • Rep. Susan Duckworth (D) - commended Morley for making amendments and reminded the body of parental responsibility

Rep. Morley, summarizing, said that "retailers" are no longer opposed to the bill, which indicates that the amendments may have watered down the potential impact of HB 353.  Morley said that some movie owners also have dropped their opposition.

Voting now occurring... HB 353 passes 70-2. The measure will now move to the Utah Senate for consideration.

Thompson has just e-mailed a comment:

70-2. This is a huge victory for parents everywhere.  The bill, by the amendments we fashioned, is better. Now we go on to the Senate, where I expect passage, with the Governor then likely to sign it into law!  

UPDATE: The amendments link has been updated to incorporate the most recent changes (Feb. 27).

UPDATE 2: We have learned that the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents video game retailers, remains opposed to the bill. Morley's comment concerning retailers dropping their opposition was likely referring to the Utah retailers' trade group.


Game Designer Points Out Flaws in Utah Conservative's Testimony on Game Bill

February 26, 2009 -

Earlier this week GamePolitics posted exclusive transcripts of testimony at Monday's hearing before a Utah House committee which was considering Jack Thompson's video game bill.

Among those appearing before the committe was Thompson ally Gayle Ruzicka, the politically formidable head of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

As we reported, Ruzicka, in an urgent tone, beseeched the committee to approve the Thompson bill: 

These [games] are the kind of things that are training our children. This is the vile stuff. The Grand Theft Auto games are cop-killing murder simulators. And when [Devin Moore] was faced with being arrested he knew exactly what to do. He knew how to aim... at the head and each time killed these [officers]. We don't want this for our children. Not at all. Please, please vote yes today on this bill.


Anything we can do to protect our children from the violence, from the filthy pornography that the only way they can get into the pornography is being good at the game. They work hard and get to certain levels and when they get to the high enough levels then they get into the pornography - filthy, vile stuff that you would be appalled and never want your children to see. And then as a reward, they get to kill the women...

Ruzicka's protestations caught the attention of game design blog Third Helix where the author tackled her claims, point by point:

...our industry never steps up to defend ourselves in light of their lies. [Ruzicka is] referring to the Grand Theft Auto games, of course, and her inaccuracies are numerous:

    * There is no pornography in GTA, unless your definition of pornography is “any sexual content or reference of any kind”. The closest thing you’ll get is the Hot Coffee mod for GTA:SA, and the (brief) male nudity in The Lost & The Damned. The comically-low resolution of the former, and the non-sexual nature of the latter, clearly distance them from any generally-accepted concept of pornography.


    * GTA does not have “levels”, as it is primarily a sandbox game. The closest analogue is “missions”, which do not always have a strictly linear progression, and the games’ content does not become any more explicit as players progress.


    * Explicit content is not used as a reward for gameplay. It is simply the overall tone of the games, and many well-regarded movies do exactly the same thing.


    * Killing the prostitutes is not a reward for anything at all, nor is it encouraged. It does provide a marginal “reward” in that you gain a small amount of cash — should you choose to pick it up — but this amounts to virtually nothing in the overall game economy and is not generally worth doing.

I understand that people like Ms. Ruzicka are concerned about their children (and other people’s children, too, apparently). But it would be nice if the things such people are afraid of were actually real, and not inventions of rumor and fevered imagination...


Jack Thompson Bill Overwhelmingly Approved by Utah House Committee

February 24, 2009 -

He wasn't on hand to testify and his name wasn't mentioned, but the influence of disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson was apparent in yesterday's meeting of the Business and Labor Committee of the Utah House of Representatives.

By a 10-3 vote, committee members approved H.B. 353, a bill drafted by Thompson and sponsored by Rep. Mike Morley. The measure targets the video game and film industries by amending Utah's current Truth in Advertising law. Retailers and movie theaters which advertise that they don't sell M-rated games or R-rated movie tickets to underage buyers and then do so would be liable for fines of $2,000 per incident.

Those testifying on behalf of the bill included Alan Osmond, the most senior of the Osmond Brothers vocal group and Gayle Ruzicka, the politically powerful head of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

For his part, Osmond, read into the record verbatim passages from an e-mail circulated earlier yesterday by Thompson. Osmond, however, did not identify Thompson as the author:

This link shows a montage of sex scenes from the Grand Theft Auto IV game which has been sold and is presently being sold at BestBuy.com, WalMart.com, Target.com, GameStop.com, and at other retailers’ sites, with no age verification whatsoever.

As you can see, there are graphically depicted lap dances in a “gentleman’s club” in this game, including simulation of oral/anal sexual intercourse between women.  The hero in the game then has intercourse, clearly depicted...  The hero then kills the woman by gunfire and running her over with his car.

Now that’s entertainment...

Utah must do something about these major retailers who are flat-out lying to the public when they assert they are not selling this and other similar pornographic “games” to kids when in fact they are...

Conservative power broker Gayle Ruzicka also testified on behalf of the bill with a Thompson-esque flavor, mentioning Devin Moore, the GTA-playing Alabama teen who murdered three police officers in 2004. Thompson, representing the officers' families, subsequently brought suit against Rockstar Games, Sony and others before being thrown off the case by an Alabama judge for professional conduct violations in November, 2005.

For those familiar with Thompson's anti-GTA crusade, Ruzicka's testimony had a familiar tone:

These [games] are the kind of things that are training our children. This is the vile stuff. The Grand Theft Auto games are cop-killing murder simulators. And when [Devin Moore] was faced with being arrested he knew exactly what to do. He knew how to aim... at the head and each time killed these [officers]. We don't want this for our children. Not at all. Please, please vote yes today on this bill.


Anything we can do to protect our children from the violence, from the filthy pornography that the only way they can get into the pornography is being good at the game. They work hard and get to certain levels and when they get to the high enough levels then they get into the pornography - filthy, vile stuff that you would be appalled and never want your children to see. And then as a reward, they get to kill the women...

Dick Cornell of the Utah Association of Theater Owners was among those who testified against the bill:

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Utah Legislature Will Consider Video Game Bill Today

February 23, 2009 -

A committee of the Utah House of Representatives will conduct a hearing today on video game legislation drafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson.

As GamePolitics has reported, HB 353, sponsored by Rep. Mike Morley (R), would amend Utah's truth in advertising law. Retailers who advertise that products such as M-rated video games or R-rated DVDs will not be sold to underage buyers could face liability if they fail to uphold that standard.

The House Business and Labor Standing Committee will meet at 4:10 local time today to consider the measure.

For more on the background of the bill, check out GP's revealing interview with Rep. Morley.


Hearing on Utah Video Game Bill Postponed

February 20, 2009 -

There was supposed to have been a hearing this morning in the Utah House of Representatives on HB 353, the video game/movie bill authored by disbarred attorney Jack Thompson and proposed by Rep. Mike Morley (R).

Late yesterday, however, the hearing was postponed.

We're speculating, but the reason for the delay may be related to the availability of Thompson ally Gayle Ruzicka (left) of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

The influential Ruzicka, who supports Thompson's bill and would almost certainly have appeared on its behalf, will likely be tied up this morning in an attempt to salvage the political career of another ally, Utah State Sen. Chris Buttars (R). Buttars is in hot water with Senate leadership over some ugly remarks he made about gay people for a documentary film. Buttars has been quoted as saying:

[Gay rights activists are] mean. They want to talk about being nice. They're the meanest buggers I have ever seen... It's just like the Muslims. Muslims are good people and their religion is anti-war. But it’s been taken over by the radical side.

What is the morals of a gay person? You can't answer that because anything goes... [The radical gay movement is] probably the greatest threat to America going down I know of.

Last year, Buttars caused similar outrage in the African-American community after he made offensive comments on the Utah Senate floor. Referring to an education bill then under consideration, Buttars said:

This baby is black... this is a dark, ugly thing.


GP Interviews Sponsor of Utah Game Legislation... And Things Take a Bizarre Turn

February 13, 2009 -

In recent weeks GamePolitics has devoted a substantial amount of ink to H.B. 353, the video game bill currently under consideration in Utah.

Yesterday, GP spoke with Rep. Mike Morley (R), the sponsor of the measure in the Utah House of Representatives. Morley offered his take on the proposal, which would amend the state's existing truth in advertising law to encompass products such as video games and movies which have age-based content recommendations.

Under Morley's bill, retailers who advertise that they won't sell certain types of content to minors and then do so would be at risk for false advertising claims.

Things got rather strange after the interview, as you will see. It's an instructive lesson in Utah power politics, among other things.


GP: Rep. Morley, can you address the origins of H.B. 353?

MM:  I think that there’s a general concern that there are mature video games that are not appropriate for children but somehow end up in the hands of children, even despite best efforts of parents. And I think other friends and peers talk about some of [the games] that would be very inappropriate and they go in and purchase those. So the idea is simply to try to encourage retailers to live by their own policies, if they have those policies in place, and monitor that to the best of their ability.

It’s a small incremental step, and it’s not  - I think we’ve taken it in a direction that I don’t know has been taken before. And it’s not, I don’t think it encroaches into the free speech or any of those areas. We’re not saying that, if a video retailer has a policy to go ahead and sell to minors, then that’s fine, there’s nothing that we can do about that. But if they purport to not sell to minors and they do that as a matter of practice I think that this just calls attention to that.

GP:  What would be the penalties under the proposal if, for example a company said that they wouldn’t sell an M-rated game to a minor and one did get sold. What would be the penalty for that?

MM: Well, I don’t know if one got sold, I think we’re looking at it as a matter of practice. But it’s not trying to be a sting operation. What it does is that it basically opens [game retailers] up to the same code and the same civil penalties – it’s not a criminal action.  So it would be the same penalties that they would be subjected to if they engaged in any other truth in advertising problem or claim. I’m not certain what the penalty is but it would be the same as any truth in advertising claim in Utah.

GP: I track the video game industry on a daily basis. They have made some strides over the last few years in their enforcement levels as measured by the Federal Trade Commission in enforcing their ratings. I think it was up to [an] 80% success rate in the most recent FTC report, and that's been increasing every year. Is there a concern that if now they have to feel like they are on the hook for this [new law], they may just not participate, [they may not bother to] say that they don’t sell games to minors. Is there a concern about that?

MM: I don’t think so. I think that most all retailers, in fact most all of the large ones have entered into a pledge not to do that. I think it encourages them to enforce their own standards and encourages them to be a little bit vigilant and say, hey, let’s not do this. But obviously, if they decide that [promising not to sell to minors] is too onerous, and they decide that that’s not a claim that they want to make, then, there would be no penalty under this provision.

(hit the jump for the rest...)

1st Amendment Expert: Jack Thompson's Utah Video Game Bill is Fatally Flawed

February 12, 2009 -

As GamePolitics readers know, a Utah state legislator has introduced a Jack Thompson-crafted bill that would place retailers at risk of false advertising penalties if they fail to enforce content ratings for video games, DVDs and movie tickets.

While Thompson claims that the measure, H.B. 353, "raises absolutely no First Amendment issues," we asked Clay Calvert, Co-Director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Penn State to review the bill and offer an opinion.

After studying H.B. 353, Calvert pronounced it "fatally flawed," although not on the free speech issues. Instead, Calvert said that a lack of intent by retailers to sell games to minors essentially cancels out any false advertising claim.

This seems to be a backdoor attempt to use the ESRB’s voluntary rating system against sellers and distributors, assuming that some sellers and distributors actually do “advertise” that they don’t sell these games to a person “under the age restriction or recommendation”

The most obvious flaw with this legislation is that it conflates actual advertising (subsection i) with subsequent conduct (subsection ii) in order to create the offense.  In addition, it lacks a key scienter (state of mind requirement) regarding intent to sell.  Without this intent requirement, the measure is fatally flawed.
For instance, the current version of the Utah law on truth in advertising has another section that targets a person who “advertises goods or services or the price of goods and services with intent not to sell them as advertised.”  It also has a section that targets a person who “advertises goods or services with intent not to supply a reasonable expectable public demand.”  Both of these provisions include the critical intent requirement.  

Not to help out Jack Thompson or his legislative tool, but the provision could be more carefully crafted to target a person who “advertises that he will not sell a good or service labeled with an age restriction or recommendation to a person under the age restriction or recommendation but who in fact intends to sell such a good or service to a person under the age restriction or recommendation.”


Now let’s see if they make this change!

So, the bill is flawed in a legal sense, as opposed to a constitutional sense?



False and misleading advertising is not protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, advertising that is truthful and that pertains to a lawful product [like video games] or lawful service is protected by the First Amendment, although it still may be regulated if the government can prove that it has a substantial interest that is directly advanced or served by that regulation.

I find it highly unlikely anyone would intentionally say that they won't sell certain rated games to minors knowing that they will, in fact, sell them those games.

UPDATE: (adding a clarification)

GP: I'd like to clarify a point. The way the bill is crafted now, you maintain that it is flawed because the video game retailer has no intent to defraud.

So, if Utah added the intent to defraud to the bill's language, the statute would be technically legal. But from a practical standpoint it would be an almost impossible case to bring forward, since the retailers' efforts not to sell to minors are pretty clear evidence that they want to abide by ESRB and do not have an intent to defraud. Is this correct?

Calvert: Exactly. If some teenage clerk accidentally and unintentionally forget to check an ID and sold a game to a minor, that would not be punishable as long as the intent of the store owner (or whoever actually "advertises") had no intent for such an incident to happen and instructed employees not to sell to minors.

UPDATE 2: Thompson has forwarded comments. Hit the jump to read his response.

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Utah Legislator Officially Submits Jack Thompson Video Game Bill

February 11, 2009 -

Utah Rep. Mike Morley has officially introduced video game legislation drafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson.

As GamePolitics previously reported, H.B. 353 would amend Utah's current Truth in Advertising statute. If passed, retailers who claim that they don't sell M-rated games to underage buyers could be held liable if they did. The measure would also apply to R-rated DVDs as well as tickets to R-rated movies.

The language of the amendment has changed slightly from that which GP reported on Sunday. It now reads:

[Deceptive trade practices occur when, in the course of a person's business, vocation, or occupation that person:]


(u) (i) advertises that the person will not sell a good or service labeled with an age restriction or recommendation to a person under the age restriction or recommendation; and (ii) sells that good or service to a person under the age restriction or recommendation.

For his part, Thompson issued a press release this morning which says that the purpose of the bill is to "punish major American retailers who falsely claim they do not sell Mature-rated video games and R-rated movies and movie tickets to kids under 17."

While Thompson claims that H.B. 353 has no free speech implications, that remains to be seen; the bill clearly targets certain types of media content.

As GamePolitics readers may recall, Thompson also claimed that his 2006 Louisiana bill was constitutional (it wasn't) and that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was a "device," not a form of speech, (he was wrong about that, too).

So, please excuse us while wait for a real constitutional expert to weigh in.

Hearings on the proposal may begin as early as next week.

GP: Thanks to Nathaniel Edwards of LegalArcade.com for the artwork.


Sneak a Peek at Jack Thompson's Utah Game Legislation

February 7, 2009 -

"Advertises that a good or service will not be sold to a certain age group when it is."

That single phrase is the essence of the much-talked about Jack Thompson video game legislation currently under consideration in Utah.

Thompson has forwarded GamePolitics a draft of the measure, dated January 27th. As previously reported, Rep. Mike Morley (R) will sponsor the bill in the legislature (although, based on recent local news reports, Morley doesn't sound especially enthusiastic about the prospect).

Thompson's proposal seeks to amend Utah's existing Truth in Advertising law. If it is successful, game retailers who advertise that they don't sell M-rated games to underage buyers would be at risk if they did.

Although Thompson often complains that online retailers don't properly age-gate video game buyers, the current language of the proposal does not address Internet sales.

Document Dump: Grab a copy of the draft legislation here.


Utah Sponsor: Jack Thompson Game Bill May Have Little Impact

February 7, 2009 -

A proposed amendment to Utah's Truth in Advertising Law may have little impact on the sale of M-rated games to minors, according to its sponsor.

Rep. Mike Morley (R) discussed the measure, which was conceived by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson, with Salt Lake Tribune reporter Glen Warchol:

Morley tells me his bill... takes a radically different approach than ill-fated past proposals... It would work like this: A store, Target for instance, could advertise that it takes precautions not to sell mature-content games to kids, presumably to attract business from concerned parents. But if one of its clerks did sell an inappropriate game to a kid—the parents could sue the store...


Of course, the stores can simply [decide to] not make any such advertising promises.

If this doesn't sound to you like a rigorous way to control video game sales, you're right. Morley acknowledged as much to me:

    This approach is constitutional. Will it be effective? Maybe not.

Morley assures me the Legislature has plenty of time to deal with pointless bills like this and still take care of the people's real business.

Morley made similar comments to Utah's Deseret News:

[Morley] acknowledged that his proposal was relatively limited in scope and would have little to no effect on some segments of the video game industry.

"If they're one of those places that thinks, 'Well, as long as they have a heartbeat and some money we'll sell to them,' then this won't have any impact on them," Morley said.


Morley said he hasn't been able to get a feel for the level of enthusiasm among House Republicans for yet another bill directed at the video game industry.

GP: Hardly a ringing endorsement from Rep. Morley for his own legislative proposal...


Source: Game Biz in for a Fight Over Jack Thompson's Utah Legislation

February 6, 2009 -

Despite a decade-long string of legal victories against video game legislation, the game industry appears headed for a fierce political battle in Utah.

As GamePolitics reported earlier this week, State Rep. Mike Morley (R) will soon introduce a new bill written by longtime game biz nemesis Jack Thompson. Having apparently abandoned past efforts to have violent games declared harmful to minors (an approach that he swore was constitutional), Thompson's new legislative angle would put retailers at risk of false advertising charges if they sell mature-themed games or films to minors.

While there is a tendency in the game community to automatically dismiss any legal theory proposed by the permanently disbarred Thompson, the reality is that Utah could prove to be a battleground state for the video game industry. A lobbyist who is familiar with media content issues explained to GP that Utah's ultra-conservative political landscape offers Thompson a window of opportunity:

This year the industry may face a tougher fight in Utah even with Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's help. The reason is that the conservative wing of the [Utah] Republican Party deposed the moderate Republican Senate President, John Valentine, and replaced him with the conservative Senate President Michael Waddoups. 


[For example,] one of Waddoups most recent victories was defeating the Governor's effort to modernize Utah's antiquated liquor laws. Waddoups defeated the bill because he opposed "kids being able to see adults pour drinks."  Well, if he thinks seeing a drink poured in a restaurant is going to corrupt a kid, what will he think about your average video game?


Moreover, [Jack Thompson's] new approach targeting false advertising could encourage and energize legislators to try yet again to pass a [video game] law that would survive judicial review.  

In reality, [Thompson's proposal] is unlikely to withstand judicial review, as it would chill protected speech. However, legislators may be willing to roll the dice one more time. It is not their money.



ESA Made Campaign Donation to Utah Attorney General

February 5, 2009 -

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R), whose office is currently reviewing video game legislation drafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson, received a campaign contribution from the video game industry in 2008, according to public records obtained by GamePolitics.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the interests of U.S. video game publishers, made a $3,000 donation to Shurtleff in May of 2008. The popular, moderate Republican would go on to win an unprecedented third term in November's election.

At the same time, the ESA also made lesser contributions to a pair of state senators, Ross Romero (D) and John Valentine (R).

For his part, Shurtleff has been no stranger to video game issues in recent years.

- In 2005 he called for a boycott on Eidos's cops-and-robbers shooter 25 to Life.

- In 2006 he appeared in a public service announcement advocating the ESRB rating system.

- In 2007 he advised the Utah Legislature to delay consideration of an earlier Jack Thompson-authored bill while a federal court considered the legality of a similar measure in Oklahoma. Afterward, Thompson called for Shurtleff's impeachment. The Oklahoma law was eventually ruled unconstitutional.

UPDATE: In the original version of this article, Sen. Ross Romero was mistakenly listed as a Republican. He is a Democrat and that correction has been made.


Utah Legislator Will Sponsor Jack Thompson Video Game Bill

February 3, 2009 -

The Salt Lake Tribune has confirmed that a Republican state legislator will introduce a video game bill crafted by Jack Thompson.

Trib reporter Glen Warchol tracked the story down this afternoon at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City. As GamePolitics recently predicted, Gayle Ruzicka, a Thompson ally and head of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum, found a legislator to propose the disbarred attorney's bill.

Warchol writes:

Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka is remote controlling Rep. Mike Morley [left] to introduce yet another bill to regulate those cop-killing video games...

Morley is picking up where other lawmakers have failed. (Yes, I checked and his pupils appear to be dilating properly...)  Florida-based wingnut crusader and disbarred lawyer Jack Thompson apparently has roughed out the bill for Gayle...

I talked to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff [who] says he has been told the bill will be completely different from earlier versions, but "They keep changing the language." He says the evidence that Thompson keeps quoting hasn't stood up in court. Looks like Thompson will have to call for Shurtleff's impeachment again.

GP: In 2007 Thompson demanded the impeachment of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff after the A.G. suggested that a video game bill proposed by the anti-game activist was unconstitutional.


Utah Newspaper Gives Jack Thompson Ink to Discuss His Mystery Bill

February 3, 2009 -

In an op-ed for today's Deseret News, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson writes about the Utah video game legislation that he has been promising for several weeks.

Here's the bill in Utah: It doesn't define what content is "harmful to minors," so we avoid the phony First Amendment arguments Hollywood loves to make. The bill simply states: If you promise the public you don't sell adult-rated entertainment to kids, then you had better be telling the truth, because if a parent catches you selling this stuff to his or her kids, then you're guilty of fraud under the Truth in Advertising Law.


The Entertainment Software Association bragged this week that it spread $4.2 million around to "lobby" politicians at the federal level, with more spread around to state politicians...

Despite Thompson's assertion, we don't remember the tight-lipped ESA mentioning its lobbying expenditures at all, much less "bragging" about them. The $4.2 million lobbying figure which Thompson refers to was tracked down by Gamasutra via a public records search and subsequently detailed in a recent news report.

Since we've been unable to locate Thompson's measure on the website of the Utah legislature, GamePolitics asked Thompson to identify the bill and its sponsor. He declined, saying only:

I have a sponsor and a bill, and [the video game] industry is in trouble.

Layton Shumway, who pens a video game column for the Deseret News, suggests that HB14 might be the Thompson bill, but that seems unlikely. In a comment to his op-ed, Thompson offers what could be a carefully-worded hint on the future of the mysterious bill:

I look forward to returning to Utah, possibly this week, to testify for the passage of this bill. I met with state government officials last month in Salt Lake, and there is great enthusiasm for this approach...

Of course, returning to Utah "possibly this week" also means possibly not this week, or possiby not even during the current legislative session.

From Thompson's description, his bill seems aimed at movies as much as video games. Indeed, he cites poor R-rating enforcement by movie theaters but fails to mention the video game industry's significant, FTC-documented progress at stopping M-rated sales to minors.

We note also that Thompson is identified by the Deseret News as "a former practicing attorney," which does not seem to fully convey his permanently disbarred status to readers of the Utah newspaper. 


Live Blog: Jack Thompson Tells Utah Conservative Group of Plans to Legislate Games

January 17, 2009 -

A live blog of Jack Thompson's Saturday morning keynote address to the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum has been published at Mormon Bloggers.

Judging by the post, Thompson delivered his standard anti-video game rap. The disbarred attorney apparently also laid out his latest strategy to legislate games:

The impact of aggressive, violent, and pornographic videos simply can’t be denied. Jack cited case after case in which people like a young Devin, immersed in things like Theft in the City, went home and shot his parents, saying to the police,  something to this effect: “Everybody has to die, just like in video games.”


The man who killed on Trolley Square, said Jack Thompson, was apparently training on Theft in the City or something similar.  One part of that violent video illustrates an individual going to a high point in a mall and shooting in random people he doesn’t know.  This training ground has made victims in Columbine, in Miami, in  Paduka [sic], and needs to stop here.


Jack Thompson– attorney, crusader in fighting the entertainment media’s marketing of violent materials to minors, and  author of Out of Harm’s Way–is supportive of an upcoming a bill, which if drafted properly and put in the hopper here in Utah will stop the sale of these games to minors.


Currently, the Fraud and Deceptive Trade Pact Act says that if you sell a product and misrepresent what it does or is, it is simply fraudulent.  Walmart, Target, Best Buy assert in corporate sites, statements, and press releases that they will not sell a mature-rated violent to a minor.  Age verification software, though available through Ideology and other programs, are dismissed by these companies.  This is something we can enforce.


If you’d like to know more, check with Eagle Forum.  If you are informed and are willing to make a call, please let your legislators know that this bill should be passed.

GP: Couple of points here... The blogger characterizes Thompson as an attorney, but as GamePolitics readers know, he was disbarred for life by the Florida Supreme Court in October. As we pointed out last week, the agenda for the Utah Eagle Forum event also lists him as an attorney. At this time it is unknown whether the audience for Thompson's keynote address was told of his permanently disbarred status. If so, the blogger makes no reference to it.

Clearly unfamiliar with video game issues, the live blogger also gets a few of the details wrong. But that's not unexpected as Thompson was apparently going on about several cases in which he blames video games for violent crimes. The "Devin" mentioned by the blogger, for example, would be Devin Moore, who killed two police officers and a dispatcher in Alabama, not his parents.

Most amusingly, "Theft in the City" would be Grand Theft Auto, of course.

UPDATE: In relation to Thompson's scheme to legislate games in Utah, the question now becomes whether the disbarred attorney has any state legislators on board. We would suspect that Gayle Ruzicka, the politically influential president of the Utah Eagle Forum and an ally of Thompson's, will be able to persuade someone in the legislature to introduce Thompson's bill.

Could the sponsor end up being one of three Utah legislators who also spoke at the UEF convention? Those would be the controversial Sen. Chris Buttars (R) as well as Reps. Carl Wimmer (R) and Christopher Herrod (R).

UPDATE 2: In its coverage of the UEF convention, the Deseret News makes no mention of the proposed video game legislation, but quotes Thompson's verbal shot at President-elect Barack Obama:

Outside of social issues, conventioneers and speakers alike expressed concern about the upcoming term of President-elect Barack Obama.


"On Jan. 20 we are entering what I believe will be a time of peril for this country," said speaker Jack Thompson. "And that is Barack Obama."

UPDATE 3: Thompson e-mailed GP to assert that he made his disbarment known to the UEF convention audience:

I told everyone there I was disbarred, and said in my first speech that I was a 'recovering attorney.'


Jack Thompson Working on New Game Legislation in Utah?

January 10, 2009 -

GamePolitics received a press release from disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson this morning in which he claimed to be "working with" state officials in Utah to pass video game legislation.

Regarding the supposed legislation, Thompson writes:

Thompson will be in Utah this coming week to work with Utah state officials to pass a new state law that will stop, dead in its tracks, the continuing marketing and sale of “Mature” video games to kids. Utah’s new approach to this problem will be constitutional and it will become a model for other states to follow.

A bit of digging shows that Thompson is scheduled to be in Utah next Saturday, where he will be the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum. Indeed, the group appears to be a significant part of Thompson's ongoing connection to Utah. A convention agenda mentions that Thompson:

...will be talking about the research proving exposure to graphic violence leads to violent children and this year's legislation to prevent it.

We also note that, despite his disbarment, Thompson remains listed as an attorney in the program.

Via e-mail, we asked Thompson if he was talking to any specific legislators about a game bill and whether he could elaborate on what he meant by "working with." So far, we have received no response.

Still, given the local clout wielded in Utah by the UEF and its president, Gayle Ruzicka, we wouldn't doubt that some type of Thompson-authored legislation will surface there. Indeed, four state legislators are also scheduled to serve as speakers at the UEF convention.

To be sure, Thompson has quite a history with Utah:

In 2006, then-State Rep. David Hogue (R) tried - and failed - to pass a bill equating violent video games with pornography. Language used by Hogue during legislative hearings mimicked Thompson's frequent comments on game violence. Gayle Ruzicka spoke out in favor of the bill.

In 2007, Rep. Scott Wyatt's Thompson-authored bill failed as well, but not before Thompson called for the impeachment of Utah's popular Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Shurtleff's offense? He had the temerity to offer a legal opinion that Thompson's bill was unconstitutional.

In 2008, only weeks after a referee recommended to the Florida Supreme Court that Thompson be disbarred for life, the controversial anti-game violence campaigner was honored with a Freedom Award at the annual America's Freedom Festival in Provo. Given the circumstances, we found his selection a curious choice.


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