Saturday, March 06, 2010

Prosecuting the Red Box

You may have seen them, the Red Box kiosks in your local grocery stores or other stores that allow you to rent DVDs for $1 and they are self-serve. The one at my local grocery store appears to do pretty brisk business. I didn't really give it much thought and haven't used the service myself, but I think it is a brilliant service that lots of people use--smart capitalism.

But apparently, some people didn't like losing business and so were "suggesting" that prosecutors bring criminal cases against the kiosks for allowing children to rent videos that might be R-Rated.
Today brings a new installment of the convince-government-punish-your-competitors sweepstakes, this one in the U.S. of A. Video rental stores in Indiana (already in trouble thanks to Netflix and On Demand) demanded that the county prosecutor go after Redbox, those neat little $1 video rental kiosks in supermarkets and drugstores, for making R rated movies available without age checks:

"I'm not on a crusade," said Paul Black, an Evansville attorney who says he suggested the inquiry to [the county prosecutor's] office on behalf of a client who operates several video store locations. "We're just looking for a level playing field here."

I particularly like the gentle use of the word "suggested." I know I always ask my lawyer to make "suggestions" for me. In writing. To government officials.

The video store lawyer seems to have "suggested" that from now on the kiosks should stock only G movies. Otherwise kids could get ahold of an R- or PG-rated film without their parents' knowledge—something that is currently completely impossible in any other venue, as everyone who was ever an American middle-schooler knows.

Of course, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stanley Levco—in a classic political Pavlovian response to the phrase "for the children"—happily obliged. He sent out "letters threatening legal action against retailers providing space" to the perfidious kiosks of sin and temptation, thus soothing the concerns about the well-being of the children and allowing the lawyer for Redbox's competitors to sleep better at night.

As it turns out, This story actually has a happy ending for more people than just one guy with some letterhead paper and a J.D. After some press attention, the county prosecutor announced this morning that he had decided to drop the case.
So let's recap--it is not illegal to have the kiosks, it is not illegal for parents to allow their children to watch R-rated videos (yet), its not illegal for underage kids to possess or view R-Rated videos--but because we were "protecting the kids" these prosecutors seriously considered prosecuting the stores and the kiosk owners. Yeah that makes sense.

So the prosecutors get to decided what is appropriate for kids to see--talk about a nanny state.

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