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Family Entertainment Protection Act heads to congress

Stemming from the recent 'Hot Coffee' controversy in relation to adult content embedded in Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Hilary Clinton will present her Family Entertainment Protection Act to congress in two weeks time.

Following the recent 'Hot Coffee' controversy over adult content embedded in Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Hilary Clinton will present her Family Entertainment Protection Act to congress in two weeks time.

Differing slightly from the recent slew of anti-violent videogames legislature proposed (and staunchly opposed) in several US states, Clinton's act is designed to preserve the existing ESRB ratings system. It does, however, intend to make it illegal for retailers to sell M-rated games to minors and is once again being heavily contested by industry trade body, the Entertainment Software Association.

Former First Lady and current democratic senator for New York, Hilary Clinton, stated: "I have developed legislation that will empower parents by making sure their kids canât walk into a store and buy a video game that has graphic, violent and pornographic content. This is about protecting children."

Senator Joe Liebermann, who has regularly spoken out on the issue of violent videogames, will be working with Clinton on presenting the bill, adding: "There is a growing body of evidence that points to a link between violent videos and aggressive behaviour in children. We are not interested in censoring videos meant for adult entertainment but we do want to ensure that these videos are not purchased by minors. Our bill will help accomplish this by imposing fines on those retailers that sell M-rated games to minors."

The FEP act is divided into five sections as follows:

Prohibition on Selling Mature and Adults Only video games to minors

The focal point of the bill is the prevention of the sale of mature games to any person younger than 17 years of age. Clinton insists that the current voluntary enforcement of ESRB ratings system should be maintained, confirming an affirmative defence for retailers who are shown false age identification that they believed to be valid.

Annual Analysis of the ESRB ratings system

Designed, according to Clinton, to "help ensure that the ESRB ratings system accurately reflects the content in each game and that the ratings system does not change significantly over time," the bill calls for an annual, independent review of the current ratings system.

Federal Trade Commission investigation of misleading ratings

The bill requires the FTC to conduct investigations to determine whether or not there are pervasive problems in the industry, based on the incident that sparked the creation of the bill, the GTA: San Andreas 'hot coffee' content. Should the FTC find pervasive problems, a rather vague statement suggests that the Commission "shall take appropriate action," though what this action will be was not clarified.

Registration of complaints

Complaints from consumers regarding misleading or deceptive content will be tracked by the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection and the number of complaints will be reported to Congress.

Annual Retailer Audit

The FTC will conduct annual, random retailer audits, in a similar fashion to the 'secret shopper' strategy of the National Institute on Media and the Family, to determine compliance with the act, reporting its findings to congress.

Applauding the basic intentions but finding fault with the approach taken, ESA president, Doug Lowenstein, has issued a response to the bill, stating: "While we are gratified that the Senator holds the ESRB in such high regard that her bill would give these ratings the force of law, the courts have made clear that giving a private party governmental powers is unconstitutional."

"Beyond that, the bill clearly infringes the constitutionally protected creative rights of the video game industry. Thus, if enacted, the bill will be struck down as have similar bills passed in several states. So while this bill is positioned as a pro-family measure, in truth it will leave parents no better off," Lowenstein added.

Continuing his praise for the implementation of in-built parental controls in all three next generation games consoles, Lowenstein added: "We believe the combination of trustworthy ESRB ratings, parental education, voluntary retail enforcement of ESRB ratings, and, most recently, the major announcement that all next generation video game consoles will include parental control systems, makes Senator Clinton's bill unnecessary. There is now a continuum of tools from the store to the home enabling parents to take charge of the video games their kids play. It is now up to them to do their jobs as they see fit, not up to government to do it for them."

Congress reconvenes in two weeks time, when the EFP act will be presented to them. The debate continues in the meantime, as the ESA concluded: "We will continue our dialogue with Senator Clinton in the hope that we can join together to work on initiatives to raise parental awareness and use of the ESRB ratings Senator Clinton so respects."