Suing the Suer: Video Game Company Sues Jack Thompson
Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 20, 2007
In January, The Situationist featured a posting on the intersection between tort law and social psychology in violent video games. That post, which generated some wonderful reader comments, examined the legal maneuvers of attorney Jack Thompson, who has made it a personal and professional mission to prevent the sale and distribution of violent video games. The Miami-based, Vanderbilt Law-grad has initiated several tort lawsuits relating to children who harm others and who then attribute their harm-causing activities to the playing of violent video games. Thompson’s basic contention is that video game companies owe a duty to consumers to either produce “responsible” games or to ensure that sales of violent ones go stringently regulated and be made unavailable to children—and their failure to do either should be considered negligent behavior.
Thompson’s latest attempt to stymie the makers of violent games is his threat to file a lawsuit as a private attorney general in Florida that would block the release Take Two Interactive’s Grand Theft Auto IV (available this fall for the PS3 and Xbox 360) and Manhunt 2 (available this summer for the PS2, Wii, and Playstation Portable) Both games will contain extremely violent and graphic content and while they will likely be assigned a “mature” rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which means that consumers are “on notice” that these games contain contain mature sexual themes, intense violence and/or strong language, Thompson contends that Take Two will not take the necessary steps to prevent children from playing them.
Thompson’s threat comes on the heels of his failed attempt last fall to secure a temporary restraining order preventing Take Two from releasing Bully for the PS2–he argued that Take Two did not take sufficient steps to ensure that the game not be purchased by minors, and at one point he filed separate lawsuits against Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, and GameStop to stop the game’s sales. (ironically, his efforts are thought to have increased demand in Bully, since it appeared “more controversial”).
But this time around, Take Two has decided to strike back. It has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Thompson, arguing that his repeated failed lawsuits and public threats against the company comprise a nuisance. The company claims that Thompson’s numerous lawsuits are filed to generate publicity for himself and to damage Take Two’s business reputation, rather than to succeed on the merits. Take Two hopes the court will enjoin Thompson from bringing suit on behalf of the State of Florida to enjoin the sale of its games.
Thompson’s response? He claims that Take Two has filed a strategic lawsuit against public policy (“SLAPP” lawsuit) to intimidate and silence him, in hopes that he will abandon his mission. Here is a letter he has released to the gaming public:
“Dear Gamers and Gamer Publications on the Internet and Elsewhere:
I have been praying, literally, that Take-Two and its lawyers would do something so stupid, so arrogant, so dumb, even dumber than what they have to date done, that such a misstep would enable me to destroy Take-Two. With the filing of this SLAPP lawsuit last week, my prayers are finally answered.
This lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is, without a doubt, the single dumbest thing I have ever seen any lawyers do in my thirty years of practicing law–while in continuous good standing to do so with The Florida Bar, I might add, the shock radio and video game industry’s efforts notwithstanding.
We will keep you updated on these video game litigations and what social psychology might say about them. Also, if you are interested in state law proposals to regulate the video game industry, see Eric Bangeman, States Wising Up? Video Game Bills Drop Like Flies, Ars Technia, 2/13/2007.