Industry body 'mindful of concerns'

ESA stands by SOPA as tensions mount

North America’s principal games industry body, the Entertainment Software Association, says it will hold firm in support of SOPA despite external pressures to oppose the controversial bill.

The ESA said that SOPA’s principal objective – to curb excessive levels of online piracy – deserves industry support.

“Rogue websites, those singularly devoted to profiting from their blatant illegal piracy, restrict demand for legitimate video game products and services, thereby costing jobs,” the organisation told Develop.

Amid claims that the SOPA bill could suppress free speech and creativity within the entertainment industries, the ESA argued that it “understands the importance of both technological innovation and content protection, and does not believe the two are mutually exclusive”. This claim appears to echo the view that rampant content piracy forces games publishers to restrict investment to mainstream and ‘safer’ projects.

Independent data released this week suggested that the five most pirated PC games in 2011 were illicitly downloaded more than 18 million times in total. The most pirated of them all, Crysis 2, is thought to have been illegally downloaded around 4 million times.

“Our industry needs effective remedies to address this specific problem [of piracy], and we support the House and Senate proposals to achieve this objective,” the ESA added.

The trade group’s reaffirmation of its support for SOPA comes amid pleas for the organisation to drop support for the bill.

Games studio Mommy’s Best Games, as well as games blog Destructoid, have each called for the ESA to re-evaluate its position.

Mommy’s Best Games states that “as long as the ESA is still listed as a supporter, the game industry as a whole is supporting SOPA.”

The controversy comes several months after the ESA won a landmark court case, which ruled that “video games are entitled to the same constitutional protections as books, movies, music and other forms of artistic expression”, under the First Amendment.

An “open letter” from Destructoid editor Jim Sterling claims that the ESA’s support for SOPA, in light of its previous lobbying for free speech, is an act of hypocrisy.

Industry division

The SOPA bill wants to give rights holders the power to delete various websites if they are suspected to be providing access to illicit downloads and streams of copyright material.

But the ambiguity regarding what constitutes an offending website, coupled with the unparalleled authority that private companies would have in shutting them down, has led to many opponents of the bill.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said SOPA would pave the way for a lawful censorship of the open internet.

“The solutions are draconian. There’s a bill that would require ISPs to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked,” he recently said during an appearance at MIT.

The ESA has told Develop that it is “mindful of concerns raised about a negative impact on innovation”.

“We look forward to working with the House and Senate, and all interested parties, to find the right balance and define useful remedies to combat willful wrongdoers that do not impede lawful product and business model innovation,” it added.

Along with Google, companies in opposition of SOPA include Twitter, the Wikimedia Foundation, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn and eBay.

Games companies such as Nintendo, Sony Computer Entertainment and EA had initially supported SOPA, though no longer appear on the bill’s supporters list. It has since been incorrectly claimed in the media that the three still support SOPA by virtue of being ESA members.

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