LONDON (AP) – The Church of England accused Sony Corp. (SNE) on Saturday of using an English cathedral as the backdrop to a violent computer game and said it should be withdrawn from shop shelves.
The church said Sony did not ask for permission to use Manchester cathedral and demanded an apology.
The popular new PlayStation 3 game, “Resistance: Fall of Man,” shows a virtual shootout between rival gunmen with hundreds of people killed inside the cathedral. Church officials described Sony’s alleged use of the building as “sick” and sacrilegious.
This raises some interesting intellectual property issues. We certainly asked for (and got) permission to use the architectural plans for House of Sweden to build Second House of Sweden. We also got permission to build IKEA and TMF furniture, and we got permission to show the documents in Raoul Wallenberg’s office, the photos taken for the Sweden in 60 Images exhibit and the paintings from Nationalmuseum. In some cases, with the permission came help that made the job a lot easier, and opportunities for both sides to publicize the collaboration. But at the foundation, did we need to ask for this permission?
I tink the answer is “It depends”: If text or imagery is copyrighted, then it is clear that permission is needed. But does that requirement extend to buildings? None of the big players in real-world virtualization stakes — Google and Microsoft, notably — are asking for permission to recreate buildings from the real world in their virtual globes. Some of those buildings are already highly detailed, and will certainly become even more life-like. Crucially, both Google and Microsoft make money from their virtual globes and the buildings on them — just like Sony with the buildings in the virtual worlds of its first-person shooters.
When it comes to furniture, I think the issue is less clear. Would it be okay for Sony’s game to feature IKEA bookcases in the cathedral, especially if they are used in the game as objects to hide behind in a firefight? My hunch is yes — if you wanted to make a movie with IKEA furniture in it, all you’d have to do is buy it. You don’t first need permission to show it, no matter how much blood and gore gets spilled.
As for the Church of England’s cathedral and Sony, I think Sony is in the clear. If it is okay to virtualize signature buildings without the permission of the owners or designers, then it has to be okay in all cases — and not depend on whether you approve of the use to which the building is put.