Banned games find unchecked entry into Australia

Running with Scissors, the computer game publisher of the banned Postal franchise, has found a way to circumvent Australian Customs and classification restrictions by distributing its wares online.

In the game, players take the role of Postal Dude and must complete a series of mundane tasks such as buying milk. What gamers do beyond that is entirely up to them, however it usually consists of indiscriminately killing the game's inhabitants.

Postal and Postal 2: Share the Pain were deemed to be excessively violent and offended community standards so were refused classification by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), making it illegal to sell, advertise or demonstrate in Australia.

But by implementing an online distribution model from Softwarp, a digital rights management software company, Running with Scissors is now able to deliver its banned games directly to consumers all over the world as a digital download.

Running with Scissors had previously exported the game to Australian consumers at the risk of interception by Customs.

"Governments, customs agents and other traditional barriers have become irrelevant as the Softwrap system sidesteps distributors, retailers and other would-be gate keepers to deliver the game anywhere and everywhere," said Running with Scissors CEO, Vince Desi.

He said the Postal games are experiencing increased sales in Australia, Brazil, Korea and New Zealand.

"I think it's an excellent sales method for any game," said Desi. "It's very important for us, not only because it has allowed us to reach forbidden markets but because it has now added additional sales life to our brand of Postal games."

OFLC director Des Clark said that the online distribution of Postal does not present a loophole for consumers to bypass illegal distribution and is a matter for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

However, ACMA's hotline manager of content assessment, Mike Barnard, conceded that preventing distribution was not conclusive and the only fullproof method of stopping people downloading banned content was "if they chose not to".

If prohibited material is hosted in Australia, ACMA can issue take-down notices or inform relevant law enforcement agencies to take action but its powers dramatically wane when faced with overseas hosting, as is the case with Postal.

"With overseas hosting, ACMA can refer the content from the downloadable source to manufacturers of content filters so ISPs can block the offending URLs," Barnard said.

Under the Internet content codes of practice, ISPs are required to offer subscribers filters. However end-user implementation is completely voluntary, which makes the system ineffectual for those who wish to download the software.

ACMA's only other course of action is to notify overseas law enforcement agencies of sufficiently serious material, but this only extends to child pornography or sexually violent scenes, neither of which feature in Postal.

People found in possession of refused classification material or those distributing it can face a variety of penalties as outlined under relevant State and Territory classification enforcement legislation. However as OFLC restrictions act purely as a guideline for consumers and law enforcement and ACMA only regulates the conduct of ISPs, a grey area exists between the two bodies, allowing end users to receive downloadable banned content unchecked.

Although Clark said that the relevant Australian review agencies were aware of the issues presented, no complaints or action had been lodged with either body to address the distribution into Australian states and territories.

Clark would not comment on the possibility of online distribution spreading to all banned games, or the prospect of including an R18+ rating in the classification system for computer games, which could potentially eliminate the need for online downloads.

He said any re-evaluation of the classification system would require state, territory and federal review.

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