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Major Entertainment Industry Groups Unite Against California Video Game Law

Major Entertainment Industry Groups Unite Against California Video Game Law

September 17, 2010 | By Kris Graft

September 17, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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An army of TV, film, book, music and video game trade groups joined together Friday in filing multiple amicus briefs in support of the game industry, which is battling a California law threatening to place restrictions on the sale of "excessively violent" titles.

The wide breadth of entertainment groups recognized that the possible upholding of the law could lead all entertainment media down a slippery slope. One advocacy group, which is hosting an informational page and itself filing an amicus brief, is Media Coalition.

Media Coalition, which "an association that defends the First Amendment right to produce and sell books, movies, magazines, recordings, DVDs, videotapes, and video games", filed the amicus brief in support of the video game industry [PDF].

In doing so, it worked in conjunction with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Association of Recording Merchandisers, Recording Industry Association of America and multiple other associations.

"This law may be aimed at video games, but any restriction on violent content could then be applied to a much wider range of media," said Media Coalition executive director David Horowitz.

"There is no First Amendment exception for violent speech in books, movies, music, or other mediums, and we believe that the Supreme Court should not open the door to a new category of unprotected speech for video games or otherwise," he added.

The Media Coalition's brief said that California "appears to suggest that the new technologies represented by video games require a reassessment of First Amendment principles," a position that opponents of the law strongly disagree with.

The brief, like courts that have struck down similar laws in other states, points out that there is no generally accepted study that finds violent video games lead to violent behavior in youth.

The California law in question was originally signed into law in 2005 by California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The law, which would place government-mandated restrictions on the sale of violent games to minors, was deemed unconstitutional by the California 9th Circuit Court in February 2009 on free speech grounds.

But the state appealed the 9th Circuit Court's decision, and the Supreme Court said this year in Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchants Association that it would now review the law and make a ruling, possibly upholding the measure.

The video game industry is self-regulated, with the Entertainment Software Rating Board issuing game ratings ranging from "E for Everyone" to "Adults Only." Under the California law, which is currently blocked, violators who sell "excessively violent" games to minors could face fines. The measure also calls for new, more prominent labels to warn consumers of violent content. If the law passes, it could ultimately lead to the government's ability to de facto ban, restrict the sale of or censor video games.

"The history of the motion picture industry serves as a vivid illustration of the threat to First Amendment rights from the impulse to control and censor new forms of media -- a threat reflected in the statute at issue before the Court," read a brief separately filed by the MPAA and other groups including LucasFilm and the Screen Actors Guild [PDF].

"From the advent of motion pictures, a variety of state and local governments sought to restrict their content for the asserted purpose of protecting moviegoers from being exposed to harmful material," the brief added.

Media Coalition member the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is "dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers" [PDF] also filed its own amicus brief to add to the stack.

Game industry trade groups weren't viewing the dispute from the sidelines, as the International Game Developers Association and the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences filed a joint amicus brief [PDF] in support of the game industry on Friday.

The briefing argued that video games are an "important medium" that are protected by the First Amendment and can explore a wide range of topics, social issues and emotions, with purposes ranging from pure entertainment to learning tools.

The brief cited games including but not limited to Rockstar San Diego and Take-Two's 2010 release Red Dead Redemption, Kuma War's range of real-life-inspired up-to-the-minute war games and LadyKilla's Hey Baby, a shooter that lets a woman mow down annoying cat-callers using big guns. The filing said all of these games are in different ways culturally and socially significant.

The IGDA and AIAS said the "vague" California law would cause a chilling effect if passed. "The Act is so vague as to make it impossible for the producers and vendors of video games to determine which games are subject to the Act," the brief read. "The fear of multi-million dollar damage awards will chill the speech of video game producers, distributors and retailers."

Earlier this month, the Electronic Merchants Association and Electronic Software Association filed their own brief in support of the game industry, and California filed its brief [PDF] in July. The court will hear oral arguments on November 2.


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