Legal implications for server operators

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Mac_Fife
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Legal implications for server operators

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Dec 26, 2008 1:26 pm

Not a subject I have any experience in, here, so I'm simply creating the topic for those who are more informed than me to debate.

For example, the GoW - Open Source Uru Plans, the GOW perspective thread at GoW, raises issues over child access/age restrictions. The references there are for US, so in other countries different rules may need to be applied.

I guess there will be some scope to "read across" from other online games.
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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by Nalates » Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:11 am

Uru as we know it now has less problems than most. But... Getting a handle on the server operator liability is difficult.

There is COPPA - The privacy info act... if a child is under 13, the information one can maintain on a child or pass along about one is restricted. Many handle this by placing age restrictions on membership. It is built into most forum software. Comply with COPPA and one is in pretty good shape on child privacy.

Another debated point is the COPA - Child Online Protection Act. At present the Feds have found it violates free speech and it is not being enforced. However, in other countries (UK) similar laws are being enforced. Various states in the USA have and are in the process of passing similar laws. So, issues of which states legally require/allow what becomes an issue.

There are laws that relieve server operators of most responsibility for what people write on or send through their services. But, that has not stopped some from being named in suits. Often being named is just a way to extort an out of court settlement.

Negligence law suits can penetrate all these protections if points are missed and operators fail to comply with the laws. No matter what, operators can be named in suits and have to defend, guilty or innocent.

The Fed's are reporting that child predators are learning more about making first contact online and using online services more and more often. Because they can hide their identity they are much bolder and more likely to try.

Trying to get data on the extent of the problem is very difficult. News media hypes the issue distorting it. The crimes stats don't break out the numbers in ways that tell us much. So, putting the issue into rational perspective is hard.

The US AG posted this sheet: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/uploaded ... safety.pdf

So far the GoW is the only forum, I know of, planning to research the issue and consider it in part of their planning. One MOUL mod basically told me to shut up on the issue. I think this is one of those things we can unite on and work together to get some sense of what server operators are going to be up against. We need some sense of what size of issue this actually is. I suggest letting them take the lead and follow it and contribute at GoW.

Besides keeping the operators safe, there are kids to be concerned about. What do we do to protect the kids?

Every source I check places the most effective solution as the responsibility of parents to educate and monitor their children. The stats show that is not happening. But, education is the most effective tool in protecting children online. How do we get parents to educate their kids?

Trying to educate children in-game would shatter the feel of Uru, IMO, and create an undesirable atmosphere. It might even add to the operator's liability. Even trying to educate along the way going into the game has negative aspects. Many be on servers where a fee is required, one adds it to the ToS so parents see it when they open an account...

It is not pretty. However, these threads do show diligence. There are thousands of sites that are handling these issues in some measure.

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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by rarified » Fri Jan 09, 2009 1:35 am

I think it was mentioned in the MOUL forum, but do you imagine Cyan would provide insight into how they juggled things to live within the requirements (local and international)? They obviously can't provide any legal advice, but they might say what they felt they had to consider.
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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by Marten » Fri Jan 09, 2009 1:45 am

Nalates wrote:So far the GoW is the only forum, I know of, planning to research the issue and consider it in part of their planning. One MOUL mod basically told me to shut up on the issue. I think this is one of those things we can unite on and work together to get some sense of what server operators are going to be up against. We need some sense of what size of issue this actually is. I suggest letting them take the lead and follow it and contribute at GoW.

Besides keeping the operators safe, there are kids to be concerned about. What do we do to protect the kids?
I disagree. This is not something that requires people uniting; this is something that requires a lawyer. This is something that requires someone with an actual education about the topic at hand; this is not something that a bunch of well-intentioned non-experts should try to do.

What shards need to do, is to follow whatever precautions the law requires. And the shards should not do anything more than what the law requires.

It is heartbreaking that parents do not educate their children as they should. However, if we take on the responsibility for them, then parents have even less incentive to do what they should; why put out effort when someone else is fixing the problem for you?
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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by Tweek » Fri Jan 09, 2009 2:52 am

If I run a shard I'll have the usual disclaimers up but thats it. Its the parents jobs to parent their kids, not mine, and I wont be doing it, I've got my own kids to worry about.

But then I'm not overly concerned about the sudden rush for legality issues that there apparently will be, I've been in the whole Myst stuff for over a decade now and I've yet to witness an issue in the community regarding it. Does that mean it will never happen? No, it is possible, I just don't see it as a big deal because it'll be handled properly by those involved.

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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by JWPlatt » Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:20 am

The best solution is to listen to concerns like Nalates and others, then like Marten said: Follow the law by getting qualified legal counsel from a practitioner. Even a concensus among us won't stand up to an international legal system. Marten alludes to the fact that providing more than the law requires makes one legally liable for failure to provide what is promised. Personally, yes, it's the parents' job first and foremost. Parents are equally capable of exploiting others to misplace blame for their own irresponsibility.
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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:24 am

Nalates wrote:There is COPPA - The privacy info act... if a child is under 13, the information one can maintain on a child or pass along about one is restricted. Many handle this by placing age restrictions on membership. It is built into most forum software. Comply with COPPA and one is in pretty good shape on child privacy.
But remember that COPPA is US legislation. Here in the UK, the DPA (Data Protection Act) applies, and probably other things too. Commenting as a non-expert, the DPA has (I guess) similar clauses to COPPA but will be subtly different, in ways that could have a big impact. It raises the whole question of "if a server is located in country X, how legal is it to offer access in country Y?" I've no idea how this works (or doesn't work :) ).

GT only offered MO:UL in a limited number of countries, which was a bugbear for a lot of people. A big part of that was the licence restrictions imposed by many of the other titles in GameTap's catalogue, but part of it could just as easily have been due to the difficulty in unravelling the legal red-tape over things like definition of minors and associated responsibilities, etc.

There's nothing more likely to get you into trouble than an amateur lawyer, and professional advice doesn't come cheap, but as JWPlatt says, it looks like a necessity :(
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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by Nalates » Fri Jan 09, 2009 8:54 pm

WELL... these are the most common sense responses to this question I've seen on any of the forums I post on.

I may not have been clear when I wrote unite. It is not consensus about what we should do to protect operators and children that I meant. I meant coming together to ask Cyan their thoughts on the issue (may be recommend someone to talk with), to find an attorney (may be in the community), research liabilities, and if needed fund the cost of getting advice. Avoid having many people doing the same work.

I think we can gain enough knowledge among amateurs, Cyan and from other games to judge how far we need to go. Chacal has been (is) in the game operator business/life, whatever. I suspect a few others have been too. It is matter of what they learned or can find out. By uniting that group of people we can probably have a decent collection of experience. At least enough to decide if spending money on a legal opinion is worth the cost.

Whether we do that from OU or GoW, I think it will be the same people that are interested in knowing the answers. I think they are likely to be the most likely to make a good evaluation on the size of the issue.

There are several things I would like to now from Cyan. I've been told Cyan and UU operators never had a 'child' problem in the entire life of Uru to date. Is that accurate?

What did Cyan do along the line of protecting their self and children?

Did Cyan have insurance to protect their self? If so, from what?

Obviously I am an armature. If we are going to ask, who do we know that may come up with better questions?

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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Jan 09, 2009 9:35 pm

Nalates wrote:Obviously I am an armature.
Ermm... An armature is piece of rotating machinery - like the spinning bit of an electric motor :D :D :D

(Sorry..., back to topic)

The fact that UU may never have had a problem in this way might just be that the circumstances never arose for a legal test to happen, possibly due to the "fragmented" nature of it.

It's one of those things where your gut tells you that it really ought not to be big deal, but as they say sometimes "the law is an ass", and it's that ass-like obstinacy for dotting i's and crossing t's in prescisely the right manner (despite what common sense tells you) that lets lawyers charge so much for their services.
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Re: Legal implications for server operators

Post by Chacal » Mon Jan 12, 2009 6:35 pm

Yeah, this is the kind of subject nobody wants to talk about (including myself) until there's a knock at the door.

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