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Video Games Fall Under Free Speech: Supreme Court

June 27, 2011

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the government cannot ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors as this would violate free-speech rights.

The high court struck down a California law by a 7-2 vote, which also imposed strict video game labeling requirements.  It said video games deserve free-speech protection like books, plays and movies.

The video game industry said the ruling was a “historic and complete win” for free-speech rights and “the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere.”

“Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known — that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music,” Michael Gallagher, the association’s president, said in a statement.

The law has never taken effect because of the legal challenge.

It defines a violet video game as one that depicts, “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”  Retailers who sell or rent violent video games to a minor could be fined as much as $1,000.

The U.S. video game industry makes about $10.5 billion in annual sales.  According to industry statistics, over two-thirds of U.S. households include at least one person who plays video games.

The Supreme Court said there was no tradition in the United States of restricting children’s access to depictions of violence.

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just desserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers ’til she fell dead on the floor,’” Justice Antonin Scalia said in a statement.

“In truth, the California Act is the latest in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors,” he said in summarizing part of the ruling from the bench on the last day of the court’s 2010-11 term.

“Before video games came cheap novels depicting crime … motion pictures, comic books, television and music lyrics — all of which were blamed by some for juvenile delinquency,” he said.

He rejected the argument by California lawmakers who cited several studies that suggested violent video games can be linked to aggressive and anti-social behavior in children.
 
John Riccitello, CEO of video game publishing company Electronic Arts, said in a statement:  “Everybody wins on this decision — the court has affirmed the constitutional rights of game developers; adults keep the right to decide what’s appropriate in their houses; and store owners can sell games without fear of criminal prosecution.”

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