Take-Two settles "Hot Coffee" sex content case

Take-Two announced a settlement on all class action lawsuits in the US related to sex scenes on the popular game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

Game developer Take-Two Interactive announced a preliminary settlement on all consumer class action lawsuits in the US related to a software modification called Hot Coffee, that unlocked sex scenes on the popular game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

The preliminary deal, if the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York accepts it, would end the suits against Take-Two and subsidiary Rockstar Games without any admission of liability or wrongdoing by the two companies, Take-Two said in a statement.

The lawsuits were filed over a controversial sex mini-game on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA), discovered in 2005. A software modification that came to be know as the Hot Coffee mod unlocked a sex mini-game that otherwise could not be accessed.

The point of the mini-game was for the main character, CJ, to impress his girlfriends. A successful mission would end with a girlfriend asking CJ if he wants to come in for a cup of coffee, meaning sex. The mini-game actually showed the characters having explicit, simulated sex. But this content was not available without users actually downloading and running the Hot Coffee mod for their PC or game consoles such as the Xbox and PlayStation 2.

At the time the controversy broke, US parents, lawyers, religious groups and politicians such as New York Senator Hillary Clinton attacked Take-Two, and some retailers, including Wal-Mart, removed GTA from their shelves.

Take-Two's preliminary settlement offers a cash payment of up to US$35 for customers who provide proofs of purchase before July 20, 2005 and attest that the Hot Coffee mini-game upset them; or users can simply trade in for an edited copy of GTA. The company will pay additional monies to cover defendants' out of pocket costs as well as the cost of providing notice to class members and legal fees.

The company said it believes "the court would have agreed that Take-Two was not liable for consumers acting independently to modify their games with third-party hardware and software to access normally inaccessible content," but that "it is in the best interest of the company to avoid protracted and costly litigation to prove our case and finally put this matter behind us."

Take-Two may still face lawsuits in other countries. The game was also shipped to Europe and other parts of the world, including Australia, where a ratings board revoked its classification and ordered stores throughout the land to remove it from their shelves. Prior to the discovery of the sexually explicit content, it had been sold to anyone 15 years of age or older in the country.

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Dan Nystedt

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