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Virtual Shoot-out angers Spiritual Body

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Chris Vallance | 11:28 UK time, Sunday, 10 June 2007

The Church of England is angry that a virtual Manchester Cathedral has been used as the backdrop for a violent shoot out in a video game. The Church says it will write to Sony on Monday, but if the game is not withdrawn the church will consider legal action.

Leaving to one side the weighty issue of violence in video games, the question here seems to be what actual rights do owners of real property have over virtual instances of it. According to Sony's David Wilson, quoted by The Times newspaper: "It is game-created footage, it is not video or photography" So Sony is quite clearly underlining the point that this doesn't fall under standard photographic image rights rules, what we have here is a represtentation of the building.

Seamus McCauly in the Virtual Economics blog thinks that restraint on the grounds of "use without permission" would be a dangerous precedent, "The artistic principle at stake here is whether someone who happens to own a building can set limits on artistic representations of (or within) that building. Art - and computer gaming is art, indeed perhaps the only truly original artform of the C20th - cannot be so constrained."

Seamus has a point. If one could claim rights to visual representations of buildings, one could I suppose urge that a building outline was removed from an A-Z map, or claim image rights over the various Sunday water-colourists who often congregate outside our great buildings.

Tech Digest, echoes the arguement, though the author thinks the choice of venue was inappropriate, "Why did Sony feel the need to use Manchester Cathedral anyway? Would the game have been any less dramatic had it been set in an obviously fictional cathedral?" but in spite of this the blog wonders if the owners of real property have any jurisdiction over its virtual equivalent, "How about what happens in worlds like Weblo and Second Life? Does anyone in the real world have the right to say what can happen with their virtual property?"

However, I wonder if legal action would necessarily rest upon the rights or wrongs of representing the Cathedral in the game, or whether the basis of any case will be the alleged harm done to the image of the church itself? Any lawyers reading this please do jump in comments with your thoughts.

Meanwhile, legal issues apartJoystiq echoes views in many gaming blogs and wonders if, by making this public statement, the Church hasn't zapped itself in the virtual foot, "Well, this oughta help sell a few copies of the game and a couple PS3s. Maybe it'll even get a few people to check out the church. Good show Church of England, good show"

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