Judge Tells Gamer That Sony Doesn't Violate His Free Speech Rights By Banning Him

from the sony-ain't-the-government dept

Back in July, we wrote about an annoyed videogamer who sued Sony for banning him from the Playstation 3 game "Resistance" for things he said to other players in the game. He claimed it was a violation of his First Amendment rights -- though, as we explained at the time (and, as anyone actually familiar with the First Amendment already knows), the First Amendment only covers actions by the government, not private corporations. Sony has every right to bring down the banhammer if it wants to. It should come as no surprise then, that the judge wasted little time explaining this to him in the process of dismissing the case. However, there is one interesting aspect, as highlighted by Eric Goldman in the link above. The judge rejected the idea that Sony might be covered by the First Amendment as a "company town." Goldman points out that some have suggested this argument in the past, and now there's at least one ruling that totally rejects it:
Sony's Network is not similar to a company town. The Network does not serve a substantial portion of a municipality's functions, but rather serves solely as a forum for people to interact subject to specific contractual terms. Every regulation Sony applies in the Network is confined in scope only to those entertainment services that Sony provides. Although the Network does include "virtual spaces" such as virtual "homes" and a virtual "mall" that are used by a substantial number of users (Pl.'s Reply in Supp. of Opp'n. to Dismiss 1), these "spaces" serve solely to enrich the entertainment services on Sony's private network. In providing this electronic space that users can voluntarily choose to entertain themselves with, Sony is merely providing a robust commercial product, and is not "performing the full spectrum of municipal powers and [standing] in the shoes of the State." Hudgens, 424 U.S. at 519 (quoting Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner, 407 U.S. 551, 568-69 (1972)).

Sony does not have a sufficient structural or functional nexus to the government. Plaintiff has not suggested that Sony is part of the state or federal government. The Network was not created to further government objectives. The government retains no permanent authority to appoint any directors of Sony or the Network, or any other private body associated with the Network. There is no indication that Sony has assumed functions traditionally reserved to the government, or that the government had any part in encouraging Sony to create the Network. Count one of the complaint does not state a plausible First Amendment claim for relief, and therefore must be dismissed.


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    william (profile), Oct 8th, 2009 @ 9:41am

    can someone explain to me

    what the hell is a company town concept in law?

    It's a private network. So even if it helps you perform some functions of a town, like news, or perhaps pay bills, it's still a private network so the owner should have the choice of not providing you service.

    I just don't understand this company concept...

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 8th, 2009 @ 9:43am

      Re: can someone explain to me

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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        :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 8th, 2009 @ 10:36am

        Re: Re: can someone explain to me

        Gotta tell ya; I liked the old picture better...

         

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          Some Other Guy, Oct 8th, 2009 @ 10:42am

          Re: Re: Re: can someone explain to me

          Maybe the new one would look better with a different background?

           

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          Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 8th, 2009 @ 11:03am

          Re: Re: Re: can someone explain to me

          Eh, me too, but there was a question of infringement, and I don't do hypocrisy, so I changed it. The new one is actually from a learn-how-to-draw website that encouraged the downloading/copying/use of the image and the drawing in stages images to learn how to draw them.

          The problem is it's of Vader, not Dark Helmet..er...me. There are so few images of me available on the net that aren't demonstrably free and clear, unfortuntely...

           

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      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Oct 8th, 2009 @ 10:39am

      Re: can someone explain to me

      The judge made the right call here.

      I was unaware of the company town idea, but after reading the wikipedia entry, I'm curious if ISPs could be considered in this manner to a small extent. We're approaching a point where many essential services are online-only or at least the most useful access is done online, such as job-hunting and banking. Could an ISP deny service to someone if they were willing to pay? What if they were the only ISP available in the area? Could the telcos ever deny service to individuals when they were local monopolies?

       

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    mglickman, Oct 8th, 2009 @ 10:29am

    Second Life

    So if Second Life continues to catch on the way it has, being used by some as a virtual meeting place for business purposes, etc... would that have a better chance of being considered a company town?

     

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    Difranco, Oct 8th, 2009 @ 10:44am

    Sony is a Corporation

    Corporations are government entities created by the Government.

     

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    zellamayzao, Oct 8th, 2009 @ 10:46am

    Its kinda like.....

    .......a store refusing to sell something to someone because they were acting like a douche bag in the store to the other customers and was kindly asked to leave immediately. He needs to get over the fact Sony exercised their right to remove harmful people from their network as to protect the other people using their service.

     

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    Bobby Boberana, Oct 8th, 2009 @ 11:06am

    If we bail out Sony, then banned him, could he then sue?

    It seems like they had two distinctions. One being that it is a private company(not true, it is a public company. Plus one supported in the past by a foreign government). So if this was a public social network, that was bailed out by teh US Government, could he then not be banned? This could be a pretty interested side effect of this ruling? If the Whitehouse creates a facebook page. I then say I dislike whatever administration that would be in the white house at the time I made the speech. If I was then banned or kicked from Group, can I sue?

    Their other distinction was that a virtual town, can not be considered a company town. I woudl liek to hear others opinions of freespeech on government social networks. Now that many communites and goverments are starting to tweet, create facebook groups....

     

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    Lucretious, Oct 8th, 2009 @ 11:15am

    I played Resistance online for awhile. The annoying little bastardâ„¢ (yes, I've trademarked the phrase) ratio is much the same as it is in any of the Halo games on Xbox 360. What really sucks is you realize that nearly all of them are American kids.

     

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    John Smith, Oct 10th, 2009 @ 1:01pm

    Sony sucks as always

    Well thats a sure way to make a consumer hate your product!
    Good job ! I Myself dont ever buy their products due to their
    acts against its consumers.I throw up the big finger.

     

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