I previously griped about the ubiquitous and obnoxious advertising by the web browser game Evony, which relies upon depictions of chilly women with incipient back problems to lure adolescents of all ages. Now, I am in general a staunch supporter of boobage, in the proper context. But Evony's boob-based advertising campaign is gratuitous to the level of self-parody. Moreover, as I complained before, Evony conducted — or empowered its hangers-on to conduct — massive blog comment spam promoting itself.
I am by no stretch of the imagination the only one who has complained. Among the loudest voices has been Bruce Everiss of Bruce on Games, who has commented extensively on Evony, and has asserted, among other things, that Evony's developers and promoters are associated with goldfarmers (for the uninitiated, goldfarmers sell the pretend currency of online games for real-world money to players, and in using bots or third-world workers to gather said currency in the games tend to ruin the games' pretend economies and the gaming experience), that Evony rips off the intellectual property of various game developers, that Evony uses various crass and deceitful methods to manipulate its players, and that Evony's advertising methods are highly obnoxious. You can find links to some of Bruce's articles at the end of this post. I haven't investigated most of those assertions myself, other than the advertising and spamming issue I have specifically addressed; you'll have to evaluate Bruce's proof yourself.
Now, the modern world being what it is, Evony has enlisted Australian lawyers to threaten Bruce.
Evony's lawyer, Dean Groundwater of Warren, McKeon Dickson, threatens to sue Bruce for defamation in court in New South Wales, and demands that Bruce identify everyone associated with his blog, pay unspecified damages, remove all criticism, and apologize. Bruce has so far refused to do so, and I sincerely hope that he shall continue. (Bruce has posted the entire threatening lawyer letter; I have taken the liberty of copying it, and will post it here in the unlikely event that Evony's thuggish minions succeed in persuading him to take it down.)
Personally, I was unaware that the semi-reformed convicts of the great nation of Australia had developed even a rudimentary legal system. I suppose I presumed they resolved their tribal differences with some sort of dingo, beer, and didgeridoo-related feats of skill or bravery. Certainly nothing in our past examinations of their society has suggested that they have developed rudimentary legal and social norms like the right to freedom of expression. This bodes well for Evony and its lawyers in their thuggish attempts to suppress criticism, and poorly for critics like Bruce.
In a nation that apparently permits litigants to effect service via Facebook messages, I have little confidence that Bruce's rights and interests will be protected in New South Wales. Bruce lives in the UK. Does the UK allow easy perfection of foreign defamation judgments? I have no idea, but given England's utterly abysmal failure to protect free speech norms against frivolous and manipulative defamation actions, I suspect Evony might be able to get a judgment in New South Wales and use it to harass Bruce in Ole Blighty.
Fortunately for Bruce, and for freedom of expression in general, Evony and its lawyers are about to encounter the Streissand Effect — the principle that in the internet age any effort to censor information through legal threats has the inevitable effect of wider and more vigorous publication of that information. That effect is one of our favorite things to cover here, and the posts in which we have covered (or been subject to) censorious legal threats have been some of the most highly-trafficked posts on Popehat.
A quick Google search reveals that Evony's reputation is already in the shitter. (In most legal systems — even ones run by dingoes — that means that it would be extraordinarily difficult to prove that Bruce damaged Evony's reputation. It's like if I unfairly bad-mouthed a convicted child molester or something.) Evony's attempt to muscle critics is going to make its already bad repuation much worse and much more widely known. One wonders whether Mr. Groundwater is (a) too ignorant of internet culture to realize this, or (b) lacks the client control to persuade Evony to avoid such a self-defeating course of action.
Gamers and bloggers who care about freedom of expression — and who dislike scummy game companies threatening critics — can participate in this process by posting on blogs and forums about Evony's threats. Cry havoc, and let slip the blogs of war.
Edit: I see that Patrick and I posted nearly simultaneously on the same issue. Well, it's worth the attention. And his is funnier.
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