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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

First Amendment & Video Games [Updated] Score: Gamers 11, Censors 0
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The video game industry's string of unbroken First Amendment court victories continued this week with a win in the case of Video Software Dealers Association v. Schwarzenegger. [Decision here.] In this case, the VSDA and the Entertainment Software Association brought a suit seeking a permanent injunction against a California law passed in October 2005 (A.B.1179), which would have blocked the sale of violent video games to those under 18. Offending retailers could have been fined for failure to comply with the law.

The court’s decision overturning the law was written by Judge Ronald Whyte and it echoed what every previous decision on this front has held, namely:

* "even though mere entertainment, [video games] are nonetheless protected by the First Amendment." (p. 5) "[T]he Act is a content-based regulation and it is presumptively invalid." (p. 12)

* "Neither the legislative findings nor the evidence submitted by [the State] suggest that the expression in violent video games is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action.... In addition, neither the legislative findings nor the evidence shows that playing violent video games immediately or necessarily results in real-world violence." (p. 6) "[A]t this point, there has been no showing that violent video games as defined in the Act, in the absence of other violent media, cause injury to children." (p. 15)

* "The State has also not shown that the Act will accomplish its goal of protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors more effectively than the existing, narrower industry standards." (p. 14) "To pass the strict scrutiny test, therefore, the state must demonstrate that the industry labeling standards, either alone or combined with technological controls that enable parents to limit which games their children play, do not equally address the state's interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of children. The State has not demonstrated that the Act is narrowly tailored to address its purpose. Therefore, the Act cannot pass strict scrutiny."

So, for those policy makers who have not been listening, let's make it abundantly clear what this decision and the 10 slam-dunk decisions that came before it have ALL concluded:

(1) Video games are a form of expression protected by the First Amendment.

(2) Not a single court in America has supported the theory that a causal link exists between exposure to video games and real-world acts of actual violence.

(3) Parents have many less-restrictive means of dealing with underage access to potentially objectionable games--such as the industry's private rating and labeling system, third-party ratings and info, console-based controls, and the fact that they don't have to buy the games in the first place! [See my paper and book for more details on all these things.]

And, so, I'll again ask the question that I have posed in every essay I write on this topic: When are state and local lawmakers going to stop wasting taxpayer dollars with unnecessary regulatory enactments and fruitless lawsuits aimed at censoring video games? After all, as I calculated before in this essay, the video game industry has recovered roughly $1.5 million in legal fees and that number doesn't include all the money that state and local governments have wasted litigating these cases through the courts. All that money could have been plowed into educational efforts to help explain to parents and kids how to use the excellent voluntary ratings systems or console-based parental control tools that are at their disposal.

[As always, for the best coverage of this recent decision and its impact, check out the reports over on GamePolitics.com, like this, this, this, and this.]

posted by Adam Thierer @ 3:35 PM | Free Speech , Online Safety & Parental Controls

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