Sony v The Church of England

There’s a very ridiculous spat going on right now between the Church of England and Sony, the company that makes the PlayStation 3. Eight months ago when the PlayStation 3 was released, one of the most prominent launch titles was Resistance: Fall of Man, a videogame published by the gaming division of Sony. Resistance: Fall of Man is a bizarre, critically acclaimed, alternate history first person shooter where, instead of World War II happening, aliens invade Earth and humanity has to band together to survive. The player fights across many identifiable real world locations in England, including Manchester Cathedral. Now, eight months later, the Church of England has finally realized this (despite the game selling over a million copies), and boy are they pissed.

The Church of England is annoyed at Sony ostensibly because they are offended by the scenes of gun violence inside of sacred church sites (although, to be fair, it is human-on-alien gun violence). However, what the Church of England is really annoyed about is much less righteous: money! Rightly or wrongly, they are used to getting pretty hefty pay-outs from television and movie production companies in exchange for allowing footage of their churches, cathedrals, and other “holy sites”. And now, they have finally realized that there is a whole virtual world out there, and they want a slice of that pie too. Whether or not they really have any right to charge for filming rights to public buildings that are hundreds of years old has not been established, though pretty much everyone just pays up. Whether this practice covers licensing fees for virtual likenesses is even murkier.

Here’s a timeline of the unfolding drama, thanks to the excellent coverage by the folks over at Game Politics:

  • June 10: The controversy breaks when the Church of England condemns Resistance: Fall of Man.
  • June 11: The Church announces that it wants Sony to pay up for “unauthorized use” of Manchester Cathedral. See, just one day into the scuffle they’ve already dropped the concern about violence ruse and admit it’s really all about the money.
  • June 12: A look at the possible legal issues surrounding Sony’s use of virtual imagery of Manchester Cathedral. There is no established legal precedent here.
  • June 14: The Church of England appeals directly to the Japanese people (I’m really not sure what that’s supposed to do). Also, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair weighs in against Sony.
  • June 15: Sony is condemned in discussions in the British Parliament. Labour MP Keith Vaz makes the outrageous demand that all copies of Resistance: Fall of Man be recalled and a payment be made to the Church.
  • June 16: Sony apologizes, but the Church of England says it’s not good enough. Until they get paid off, they’re not going to relent.

I really do hope Sony chooses to fight this battle rather than giving in and forking over money to the Church of England. For one, the Church of England could really stand to have a lot less money, not more, but also, it’d be really bad to set a precedent that anytime you use even a virtual likeness of a real world publicly accessible location you owe licensing fees to someone.

The webcomic Ctrl+Alt+Delete has the best response to this kerfluffle, by the way.

4 Responses to “Sony v The Church of England”

  1. Gordon Says:

    You know that Manchester is the shootings capital of the UK, don’t you?

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    Gordon: No, I can’t say that I did know that. So Manchester is like America’s Washington DC, Detroit, or Baltimore? Anyway, I can’t say that I see the relevance though.

  3. Gordon Says:

    Well, in Britain gun violence is still viewed as an aberration, not as an unavoidable feature of city life. So picking Manchester Cathedral of all places is somewhat off-colour. Second, whatever your personal view of organized religion is, the cathedral building is part of the cultural heritage of the nation and upkeep has to be paid for. Photography licenses are one way to pay the builders, but if you have alternative ideas you could make suggestions to the Bishop.

  4. Cyde Weys Says:

    I don’t really care how real world gun violence is viewed, the point is we are talking about fictional violence in a videogame against aliens. There’s no valid comparison against anything in the real world. I reject the validity of your assertion “Well, upkeep needs to be paid for, so let’s rustle up a bunch of money we’re not entitled to using flimsy premises.”

    Do you really think money needs to change hands when likenesses of buildings that are hundreds of years old are made in virtual mock-ups? Do you know what the copyright period is in the UK? Do you know what public domain is?