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Important things every SA gamer and Internet user should know

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Editor's note: "When the Film and Publication Board's upcoming Internet regulation policy comes into effect things may get very tricky for South African Internet users. To help us navigate through all the laws that will govern online life we've turned to two distinguished gentleman who are both lawyers and gamers. They will give us invaluable insight into topics covering not only the FPB, but anything that includes gaming and law.

Nicholas Hall and Kevin Hoole are lawyers at Michalsons and gamers at home, and are active in the games development community in South Africa and abroad through MakeGamesSA, Interactive Entertainment South Africa (IESA) and the international Video Game Bar Association.

Kevin will provide a summary of some of their weekly law and gaming podcasts, titled CritLaw. You can keep up to date with CritLaw on the Michalsons blog.

The Film and Publications Board's Draft Online Policy

The Film and Publications Board (FPB) is changing the way it handles digital content. An Amendment Bill to the Film and Publications Board is currently being considered, and the board’s Draft Online Policy should be coming into effect on 31 March 2016. In its current state, that might not happen – the Policy is poorly written, vague, and sometimes entirely contradictory. But if the kinks are ironed out, the overall purpose of the Policy is a good one.

The FPB recognises that online content needs to be regulated. To this end, the Policy and draft Bill extend the current ratings system to include online content, covering films, videos, games, music, recordings – largely everything. Considering the sheer volume of content, and the various ways to distribute it online, the draft Policy also allows for classification to be done by the distributor itself. This is a good thing.

Self-Classification in a Nutshell

Self-classification allows distributors to apply to the FPB to classify their own content, rather than submitting their content for classification by the FPB itself. Arguably, this will be faster and cheaper, but it requires that distributors receive training from the FPB first, and to apply for the right to self-classify each individual work. Alongside allowing self-classification, the Policy allows distributors to outsource their classification to a suitably trained third party.

The FPB has also joined the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), a body whose members have agreed to recognise the ratings systems of fellow members. This means that any content classified under the FPB, even via self-classification, will be accepted in Germany, Australia, and any other members of IARC. More than this, foreign ratings systems like PEGI and ESRB would also be accepted by the FPB. This hasn’t been fully specified in either the Policy or the Bill, though, which is slightly concerning.

How Will Self Classification Work?

A distributor will approach the FPB for the right to classify their own content. If they have been trained by the FPB, the FPB will review the system the distributor has in place and either approve or deny the application. This system could be unique to the distributor (i.e. developed in-house after training) or one created by a third-party classifier (e.g. PEGI, ESRB or a local independent classifier).

This move will raise the importance of independent industry bodies, like Interactive Entertainment South Africa (IESA), which would receive classification training, rating qualifications and any other administrative requirements the FPB has, and would offer to classify the content of their members. While the purpose may be largely to lower the administrative burden on the FPB, the result will likely be the rise of various independent bodies who will know what is best for their members, and act as a link between the realities of their industry and its legal obligations.

Kevin: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

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