Thursday, February 16, 2006

More nails in the coffin of private property rights

Do you have the right to walk onto your neighbor's property and tell him how to use it? No? Then by what right can you tell a private business how to conduct itself?
Online Game Addresses Gay-Rights Uproar

SAN JOSE, Calif. Feb 15, 2006 (AP)— A gay-rights uproar in the popular "World of Warcraft" online game has spurred the game's maker to review its treatment of gay players.

The game, which draws more than five million players worldwide, was hit by controversy last month after a player was threatened with expulsion from the virtual Warcraft world when she sought to recruit others into her gay-friendly team.

Blizzard Entertainment, the game's maker, apologized last week to the player, Sara Andrews of Nashville, Tenn.

It said the warning was a mistake and that it will make some changes to prevent a repeat, Andrews and her attorney from the Lambda Legal civil rights organization said Wednesday.

Blizzard representatives did not return phone calls for comment.

Gay-friendly teams already exist in Warcraft, but the issue here stemmed from Blizzard's enforcement of its policy banning the harassment of players based on sexual, religious or political affiliation.

According to correspondence between Andrews and game officials, the company said it does not allow such recruitment efforts on its general chat channels to help prevent harassment.

Andrews, 25, said she protested because she had done similar recruitment in the past without reprimand and noted that many others associated with a political or other affiliation have done the same.

While the harassment policy is sound, trying to silence players from stating their sexual affiliation is not, contended Brian Chase, a Lambda Legal staff attorney.

"If you want to stop harassment, you should punish the harasser, not the victim," Andrews said.

As part of its review, Blizzard this week instituted a new chat channel specifically for recruitment and told Andrews it also plans to provide sensitivity training to the employees who monitor the online play and communications forums.
You have no such thing as "gay rights," or any other rights, when you are on another person's property. While I do not at all condone harassment, unless there is a breach of contract, under the rule of law, Andrews had no true remedy. The servers are private property, and Blizzard can institute whatever policies it desires regarding player conduct. Whether or not you agree with this "don't tell" policy, and I personally don't care either way, only Blizzard has the right to decide what it wants to do. Any players who don't like it don't have to buy WoW, let alone play on Blizzard servers.

Speaking from a business perspective, Blizzard undoubtedly has a clause in its terms of service that players may not engage in harassing behavior. Undoubtedly it also has a clause that permits it to change the terms at any time, without future notice, and without having to provide remedies (like refunding money). Instead of reviewing player logs and devoting labor to banning harassers, Blizzard is simply trying to save money overall by barring player behavior that, while not inherently harmful nor against the rules, could invite trouble. It's easy to say "go after the harassers," but at what cost? Extra "policing" means having to hire more staff, which drives up the cost for all players. And now the staff must undergo "sensitivity training." If Blizzard does not raise the monthly subscription fee to play on its servers, it might charge more for future expansions. Or it will accept the lower profits and invest less in the rest of the game, whether expansions, QA or other matters of player behavior.

It is a modern tragedy that the state can force businesses to cease operating in certain ways, though the businesses are not violating anyone's life, liberty and/or property. When a private business refuses to let you determine how it is run, that is not infringing upon your rights: it's not your property. Your rights do not entitle you to compel others to assist you: your right to life doesn't mean you can steal from someone so you can eat, and your right to free speech doesn't mean you can use your neighbor's property in exercise thereof.

Sadly, our activist courts do not see it that way, and Andrews knew that. Instead of creating her own game or finding another that suits her, she threatened to use the court system to force Blizzard to tailor the game to how she wants. Rather than spend untold sums fighting her, with a real risk of losing, Blizzard acquiesced to her legal blackmail. Even with the cost of "training" staff and increasing monitoring for "anti-gay" harassment, it was cheaper for Blizzard to surrender.

Another recent example of the destruction of private property rights is what our friend Capital Freedom recently discussed. I had meant to blog about it as "the stupidest lawsuit of all time" but haven't had time to address it myself. A group of Massachusetts women, backed by an abortion rights group, sued Wal-Mart to force it to carry a "morning-after" birth control pill. Wal-Mart's decision all along was not to carry it, which is its right. Capital Freedom mentioned tires at Nordstrom, and of course it's Nordstrom's right to carry only what it wants; in fact, a tire store can carry only one brand in one size, if it so chooses. What about my aunt's wine store? Should her customers be able to sue if she doesn't stock a particular label? "Of course not, that's absurd," you say. Then why doesn't the same principle apply to Wal-Mart?

Just yesterday, Massachusetts' Board of Pharmacy required Wal-Mart to carry the pill. I feared Wal-Mart would lose this, but I didn't realize it wouldn't even make it to court. Didn't the women sue, which implies turning to the judicial system? No legal briefs or motions, nothing from any amicus curiae, not even a magistrate searching through decades of possible precedent. (I personally dislike precedent, because rulings can be wrong, but that's another topic.) Wal-Mart is now compelled to stock something it doesn't want to, merely because a bunch of bureaucrats decided so.

I'm very disappointed with Wal-Mart's response: since when should "women's health" be at all a "priority" for a business? There's only one real priority for a business, and that is to maximize its owners' profits -- that is, without infringing on people's life, liberty and property. There's only one word to describe a government that disregards those profits, as well as the freedom of business owners and managers to run operations as they see fit (never mind that it is those profits, grounded in that freedom, that facilitates good business, economic growth and a wealthier society). The same word describes a government that forces private businesses to bow to its will, because a relative few cried out loudly and found a few sympathetic rulers.

But, few dare call it tyranny.

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