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Court Denies Appeal For California Violent Game Law

Court Denies Appeal For California Violent Game Law

February 23, 2009 | By Eric Caoili

February 23, 2009 | By Eric Caoili
More: Console/PC

Following a review of the law in late 2008, the U.S. Court Of Appeals has once again ruled against a 2005 California law seeking to restrict the sale or rental of "violent video games" to minors.

In the case of Video Software Dealers Association (now the Entertainment Merchants Association) v. Schwarzenegger, the court held the law as "an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech."

The state of California originally enacted the law to prevent the sale or rental of video games with violent content deemed "offensive to the community" or "especially heinous, cruel, or depraved", to consumers under the age of 18.

Under the law, which was to take effect on January 1st, 2006, customers wishing to purchase games listed as violent would be required to show identification, and retailers who did not check for ID or show the labels would be liable for a $1,000 fine per infraction.

The EMA and the Entertainment Software Association, however, filed suit against California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and others to prevent its enforcement, arguing that the law violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to freedom of expression and equal protection of the laws.

A federal district court judge barred enforcement of the law on the basis that it was "unduly restrictive" and "used overly broad definitions," and that the state failed to show that the limitations on violent video games would actually protect children.

The state appealed the decision, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments for the appeal in late October, 2008; their decision was announced earlier today.

"We are extremely gratified by the court's rejection of video game censorship by the state of California," says EMA president and CEO Bo Andersen. "The ruling vindicates what we have said since the bill that became this law was introduced: ratings education, retailer ratings enforcement, and control of game play by parents are the appropriate responses to concerns about video game content."

He continues, "Retailers are committed to assisting parents in assuring that children do not purchase games that are not appropriate for their age. Independent surveys show that retailers are doing a very good job in this area, with an 80 percent enforcement rate, and retailers will continue to work to increase enforcement rates even further. The court has correctly noted that the state cannot simply dismiss these efforts."

Andersen notes that government officials may push for the state to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, and says California should ignore those calls, as it already was forced to pay $282,794 to the ESA for attorneys' fees, money that would've helped with the state's current budget difficulties.

"The state has already wasted too many tax dollars, at least $283,000 at last count, on this ill-advised, and ultimately doomed, attempt at state-sponsored nannyism."

"This is a win for California's citizens," adds ESA president and CEO Michael Gallagher. "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."

"In the end, common sense prevailed with the court determining that, after exhaustive review, video games do not cause psychological or neurological harm to minors. And, that the ESRB rating system, educational campaigns and parental controls are the best tools for parents to help control what their children play."

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