6.78 If content that must be classified, and that has been classified, has changed significantly, the content should be reclassified. This idea is reflected in s 21 of the Classification Act, which provides that, subject to some exceptions, ‘if a classified film or a classified computer game is modified, it becomes unclassified when the modification is made’. A common modification to a film is to add ‘extras’, such as interviews with actors. These extras often appear on a DVD disc, which is why a film on DVD must usually be classified again, even though a version without the extras was classified before being screened in cinemas.
6.79 Section 21(2) of the Classification Act prescribes a list of changes that do not amount to a modification of a film or a computer game. This prescriptive modification rule has been the subject of many complaints from industry. Some claim that it is too narrow, and results in content being unnecessarily classified many times over, at considerable expense to distributors. A prescriptive, statutory modification rule is also unlikely to keep pace with technology, and does not adequately account for the fact that much online content is dynamic and changes constantly.
6.80 The ALRC considers that the proposed Classification of Media Content Act should provide that, if classified content is modified, the modified version shall be taken to be unclassified. However, the Act should also define ‘modify’ to mean ‘modifying content such that the modified content is likely to have a different classification from the original content’. Neither the Act nor industry codes need to prescribe specific types of modifications that would or would not be likely to change the classification of content. Whether something has been modified should depend on the content itself, not on the type of modification.
6.81 Under a scheme with this modification policy, changing platforms alone should not usually amount to a modification of that content. Accordingly, if a content provider has content classified for one media format (for example, television), then it or another content provider may use that classification decision for the same content published on another media format (for example, DVD or the internet), so long as the change in media format has not changed the content so significantly that the modified content is likely to have a different classification to the original content. Alternatively, the second content provider may have the content classified again, unless the content was classified by the Classification Board.
6.82 This proposal also means that the classification decisions of the Classification Board should usually be used by all subsequent providers of the classified content. For example, if the Classification Board classifies a film for cinema release, and a year later a television station broadcasts the same film, then the television station must use the classification given to the film by the Classification Board—unless the film has been changed such that the modified film is likely to have a different classification from the original film. If the film has not changed, the television station may not give it a new classification.
6.83 Currently, the Classification Board treats a 3D version of a film as a different film from the 2D version of the film, so that both versions are classified by the Classification Board before being exhibited in Australia. Film distributors have criticised this, arguing that it is wasteful and unnecessary to classify what is essentially the same film twice. Distributors argue that the two versions always receive the same classification, and that any theoretical possibility that one version will have a higher impact than the other may be met by applying the classification of the 3D version to the 2D version.
6.84 The ALRC agrees that it should not be necessary to classify both the 2D and 3D versions of a film—or any other type of content—unless one version of the content is likely to have a different classification from the other version. Whether one version of a piece of content is likely to have a different classification from another version should depend on the specific piece of content, rather than the abstract question of whether one type of modification tends to alter impact.
6.85 The definition of ‘modify’, proposed below, places upon content providers, such as film distributors, the obligation to consider whether a version of their classified content should be classified afresh. As with other obligations placed upon content providers under the new scheme, this obligation would be monitored and enforced by the Regulator.
Computer game ‘mods’ and expansion packs
6.86 If an expansion pack or computer game ‘mod’ is unlikely to change the classification of the original game, and the expansion pack or mod cannot be used without the original game, then the expansion pack or mod could carry the same classification as the original game.
6.87 However, if an expansion pack or computer game mod increases the impact of a computer game, such that the modified game is likely to have a different classification, then the expansion pack or mod may need to be classified. For example, if an original game were classified M, and the expansion pack were likely to make the game MA 15+, then the expansion pack should be classified. Similarly, if the original game were classified MA 15+, and an expansion pack were likely to make the game R 18+, then again, the expansion pack must be classified.
6.88 This is further complicated when a mod is released by someone other than the developer of the original game. If a mod developed by a third party were to increase the classification of game, and in such a way that the game became likely to be classified MA 15+ or higher, then arguably providers of that third-party mod should be responsible for ensuring the mod is properly classified.
6.89 An expansion pack may not require the original game and may be sold separately to the original game. However, in the ALRC’s view, this does not sufficiently justify treating the expansion pack as a different game to the original game. The original game and the expansion pack may be essentially the same game. It may therefore be more efficient to treat the expansion pack as a modification of the original game, rather than a new game.
6.90 In the ALRC’s view, the rule proposed below regarding modified content should adequately ensure that computer games that are changed in such a way as to increase their likely classification are treated appropriately. In the new Act, it may prove unnecessary to have a definition of ‘add-on’ along the lines of the existing definition in the Classification Act.
6.91 This is consistent with the recommendation of the iGEA that add-on content (which it defines as ‘content that is additional to the core game such as expansion packs and in-game micro-transactions’) should only be required to be classified:
if the potential impact of the Add-On Content is higher than the impact of the computer game to which the Add-On Content will be applied. In circumstances where the Add-On Content has the same or lower level of impact, such Add-On Content would inherit the classification of the computer game to which the Add-On Content will be applied.
Proposal 6–7 The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that, if classified content is modified, the modified version shall be taken to be unclassified. The Act should define ‘modify’ to mean ‘modifying content such that the modified content is likely to have a different classification from the original content’.