February 21, 2009

California Rules Video Game Law Unconstitutional

On Friday, a U.S. appeals court ruled that a California law restricting the sales and rental of violent video games to minors and imposing labeling requirements is too restrictive and violates free speech guarantees.

It was found by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the labeling requirement unfairly forces video games to carry "the state's controversial opinion" about which games are consider to be violent.

The three-judge panel's unanimous opinion might have an impact on efforts by other states to establish mandatory video game labeling requirements.

The court upheld a finding by the lower court that California lawmakers failed to produce evidence that violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to children.

"Even if it did, the Act is not narrowly tailored to prevent that harm and there remain less restrictive means of forwarding the state's purported interests," the court wrote.

The court said, that those alternative measures include the voluntary ratings system established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, educational campaigns and parental controls.

The author of the legislation, State Senator Leland Yee, said he will urge California Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal the court's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I've always contended that the law the governor signed was a good one for protecting children from the harm from playing these ultra-violent video games," Yee told Reuters. "I've always felt it would end up in the Supreme Court."

The president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, Michael Gallagher, and Anderson urged the state to abandon any further appeals of the case.

"This is a clear signal that in California and across the country, the reckless pursuit of anti-video game legislation like this is an exercise in wasting taxpayer money, government time and state resources," Gallagher said in a statement.

The law in 2005 requires games described as violent to carry an "18" label, but is now being contested by video game publishers, distributors and sellers.

In 2006, a lower court had barred the law from taking effect, and then later invalidated it.  The state appealed that case, titled Video Software Dealers Association v. Arnold Schwarnzenegger (CV-05-04188), October of 2008.

Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Microsoft Corp., THQ Inc., Sony Computer Entertainment America, and Take-Two Interactive Software are all members of the Entertainment Software Association.


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