Every once in a while, a news story will irritate me so much that I feel the need to respond somehow. Such is the case in last week’s Metroland:
Doing the Lord’s Legal Work
Bloggers and journalists find themselves threatened with lawsuits after criticizing a video game
Evangelical Christian post-apocalyptic video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces, based on the book series of the same name, was introduced last year to a storm of controversy. Now, with an expansion on the horizon, the maker of the game, Left Behind Games Inc., apparently have launched a legal campaign to silence its critics.
The game has been condemned by both secular and Christian blogs and publications that have criticized that the game at best excuses and at worst encourages religious-based violence against gays, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians. Critics also have expressed disapproval of gender roles within the game, where women are limited to the professions of nurses or singers. Apparently, the game play wasn’t that great, either.
Beginning in early October, various blogs and Web sites that had posted negative reviews of the game, such as Talk to Action, Public Theologian, and the Daily Kos, received identical, nonspecific legal notices from an attorney representing Left Behind Games Inc. demanding that they take down their content regarding the game, which the company alleged was “false and misleading.”
Delmar resident Glenn Weiser, who owns and maintains celticguitarmusic.com, was among the recipients of the letter due to his article “Let God Sort ’em Out,” which he first wrote for the June 29, 2006, Metroland, and which he also hosted on his site.
Weiser was unable to comment on the case due to the fact that LBG hadn’t specified complaints. Weiser has contributed dozens of articles to Metroland and was recently quoted in The Village Voice.
Weiser removed the story from his Web site on the advice of his lawyer and has posted a statement denying “knowingly and maliciously posting anything false or misleading about the game or LBG.”
The article remains online in the Metroland archives.
Metroland has not yet been contacted by LBG or its legal representation, according to Stephen Leon, Metroland’s editor and publisher.
“It’s an attempt to squash free speech, but it’s a clumsy one,” said Leon. “It’s very nonspecific. That’s a meaningless, empty threat right now. If they ever confront me with anything more specific, I’ll deal with that. If I got that letter I would just chuckle and put it in a folder and put it in my file drawer.”
Metroland will not remove the article from its site even if receives a similar threat from LBG.
The threat has all the makings of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP suit, a tactic that has been gaining popularity with corporations and other entities that is meant to halt discussion of issues through legal intimidation. Regardless of the threat’s validity, the tactic usually serves to warn others against further debate lest they face legal action themselves, according to the California Anti-SLAPP Project’s Web site.
Legal fees can total tens of thousands of dollars if a lawsuit progresses; a daunting amount for a private citizen or small business to scare up. To date, only smaller Web sites and blogs have received notices, while larger publications, such as PC Gamer and Metroland, remain unthreatened.
So far, the SLAPP suit seems to have backfired, as many of the blogs have decided to defy and deride the notice rather than comply with it.
It bugs me for a number of reasons. As a librarian who believes in free expression, I don’t like LBG’s bullying tactics. As a Christian, I don’t like LBG’s theology.
So, in protest, I decide to re-post Glenn Weiser’s article myself. Let me make it clear that I do this without Glenn Weiser’s knowledge or permission – I don’t believe I even know Glenn Weiser – and will take it down only if he or METROLAND request that I do so.