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.