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Australian government trials online content censorship

User-generated content, flash games and online retailers could have age laws applied

The Australian government could enforce its age classification laws on downloadable and flash-based web games if a current web censorship trial proves successful.

Implementation could have severe consequences for games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, which currently remain unclassified in the country due to their online nature, as well as user-generated content deemed unacceptable.

Speaking to TheAge.com, internet filtering critic Mark Newton said: "It'd only take one game user anywhere in the world to produce objectionable content in the game environment to make the Australian government ban the game for everyone."

Such online filtering measures would have a massive impact on Australian gamers in part because of the unique age classification laws they're burdened with. Australia stands alone among the developed countries as the only one without an 18+ rating for games, meaning that any title failing to meet the MA15+ standard - containing excessive violence or sexual content - is banned from sale. It's a system that's historically forced game developers such as Rockstar to edit their titles in order to be granted release.

However, to date these rules have only applied to physical copies of games. Should the web censorship scheme, backed by Australia's Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digitial Economy Stephen Conroy and currently being trailed by nine ISPs, be introduced they would extend to flash-based web games, downloadable games and also websites selling games that don't meet the MA15+ standard.

Colin Jacobs, spokesman for online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia said the government is going too far in its quest to help parents deal with cyber-safety.

"Far from being the ultimate weapon against child abuse, it now will officially censor content deemed too controversial for a 15-year-old. In a free country like ours, do we really need the government to step in and save us from racy web games?"

A spokesperson for the IEAA - the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia - said the move highlighted the "unacceptable situation" of not having an 18+ age rating for videogames.

The association, representing the videogame industry in Australia, has long been campaigning for a change in the current laws.

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