Video and computer game update

March 14, 2005
Ontario Film Review Board

Amendments to the Theatres Act made under the recently passed Ministry of Consumer and Business Services Statute Law Amendment Act, 2004, to help ensure that video and computer games played by children contain content suitable for their age, are now in force. On March 4, 2005, regulations came into effect that allow for video and computer games classified by the voluntary, industry operated, Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to be adopted and enforced in Ontario.

On March 7, 2005, the Ontario Film Review Board adopted the ESRB classifications. As a result it is now an offence to sell, rent or publicly exhibit video and computer games classified as "Mature" or "Adults Only" to persons apparently under the age of 18 years.

Retailers have an obligation to check personal identification if they are unsure whether a person meets the age requirement and must also ensure that "Mature" or "Adults Only" video and computer games are not exhibited, e.g. on in-store game systems, when persons apparently under the age of 18 years are present.

In addition licensing is not required for retailers and distributors that distribute only computer and video games.

These changes support the ESRB's successful, voluntary, industry based system and assist in creating a safe and informed marketplace for video and computer game consumers. It creates a framework that is consistent with the standards currently in place for other types of film, including home-use videos and DVDs.

For more information about the classification of video and computer games or other films, consumers can contact the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services at 416-326-8555 or the Ontario Film Review Board at 416-314-3626 or toll-free at 1-800-268-6024 or visit the Ontario Film Review Board website at www.ofrb.gov.on.ca.

For information on the ESRB classifications, visit their website at www.esrb.org.

Bill 70 Qs and As

Q. What does the new law mean for video and computer game retailers?

Under the new law retailers may not sell, rent or exhibit video or computer games rated M (Mature), or AO (Adults Only) to anyone under the age of 18.

The age restrictions are no longer voluntary - retailers must comply with the new law.

Q. Should retailers ask customers for identification?

Yes. Retailers have an obligation to check personal identification if they are unsure whether a person meets the age requirement for games rated M (Mature), or AO (Adults Only) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

Q. How will the new law be enforced?

As part of the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services' ongoing commitment to consumer protection, ministry investigators will take enforcement action against any retailer found violating the law.

Q. What is the role of the Ontario Film Review Board as a result of the changes to the Theatres Act?

The new law permits the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB) to adopt the ESRB video and computer game rating system. This means that compliance with the ESRB classifications adopted by the OFRB are no longer voluntary, but enforceable under the law.

Q. Are any measures in place for Ontario to reclassify a video game?

Yes. The OFRB may discuss classification issues with the ESRB and may reclassify a video or computer game using Ontario's film classification system if it believes that the game contains extreme content and is not appropriately classified for a young audience.

Q. Do retailers now require licensing under the Theatres Act?

Retailers who sell or rent only video and computer games are exempt from the licensing requirements. Retailers that sell or rent other types of films, such as videos and DVDs in addition video and computer games continue to require licensing.

Q. What are the possible penalties?

Enforcement action may include a warning or prosecution. If convicted, individuals may face up to $25,000 in fines or imprisonment for a term of not more than one year or both. Corporations are liable for fines up to $100,000.

Q. Hasn't this been in place since last October?

In October 2004, the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), the Entertainment Software Association of Canada and the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services announced a voluntary compliance program for retailers that sell or rent video or computer games to the public. RCC members agreed to voluntarily comply with the ESRB classifications and promote consumer awareness of the ESRB rating system.

Under the new regulations compliance with the ESRB "Mature" and "Adults Only" ratings is now a legal requirement for all video and computer game retailers in the province of Ontario.

The new video and computer game requirements are part of the government's commitment to provide parents with useful information, which they can use to select age appropriate games for their children. The requirements complement the RCC's voluntary awareness program.

http://www.ofrb.gov.on.ca/english/page19.htm