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.
PART I: THE INTERVIEW
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...)