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Greece to face Euro court over video games ban

Eurocrats stand up to Tetris, Manhunt et al

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The European Commission is to take Greece to the European Court of Justice in a bid to reverse the Olympian nation's ban on computer games.

According to the Eurocrats, the ban, which was introduced into Greek law in July 2002 with the intention of curbing online gambling, violates the principle of the free movement of goods and services throughout the European Union.

The EC has already warned the Greeks about this. In October 2002, it said it was unhappy about the new rule. The following July it warned that it would begin proceedings against Greece to reverse the legislation. Negotiations between the two parties eventually saw the Greek government promise, in April this year, to amend the law.

Now, with no such change apparently having been made, the EC has decided enough is enough, and it will attempt to persuade to CoJ to force Greece to honour its treaty obligations.

Essentially, the Greek law, as it stands, is too broadly based. Attempting to create a wording that covers all forms of slot machine and games of chance, the Athenian lawmakers ended up bringing computer and video games, for both public and private usage, under the remit of the law.

"By banning the games themselves, the Greek law has prevented games lawfully produced or marketed in other Member States from being imported and marketed in Greece, in contravention of the principle of the free movement of goods laid down in Article 28 of the EC Treaty," the Commission said today.

"And by prohibiting service activities related to electronic games - such as their maintenance - the ban stops businesses which provide such services legitimately in other Member States from providing the same services in Greece," it added. "Yet their right to do so is guaranteed under the principle of the freedom to provide services set out in Article 49 of the EC Treaty and under the freedom of establishment guaranteed by Article 43 of the EC Treaty."

Worse, it says, Greece didn't tell us about its plan to introduce the legislation in the first place, which it should have done, thanks to EC Directive 98/34/CE, which requires nation states to notify the EC of new regulations affecting online goods and services.

One reason why the Greek government may not have rushed to revise the law is that it doesn't appear to being doing much to enforce it, at least as far as computer and video games go. Cases brought early on against Greek cybercafés were chucked out of court, and Greek ministers have in the past said it's OK for Greeks to play such games in the privacy of their own home. ®

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