Federal Court Rules Regulation of Video Game Sales Unconstitutional

Federal Court Rules Regulation of Video Game Sales Unconstitutional

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6/7/2003 5:14:59 PM | Industry |
Federal Court Rules Regulation of Video Game Sales Unconstitutional

The Interactive Digital Software Association hailed the unanimous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit finding that video games are a constitutionally protected form of expression and that government cannot legally enact laws regulating the sale of violent video games to minors.

"This decision is a total and unambiguous affirmation of our position that video games have the same constitutional status as a painting, a film, or a book," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the IDSA. "The decision sends a powerful signal to government at all levels that efforts to regulate consumers' access to the creative and expressive content found in video games will not be tolerated."

The ruling struck down a St. Louis County law that sought to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. The case was filed by the IDSA; The Missouri Retailers Association; The Video Software Dealers Association; The American Amusement Machine Association; The Amusement

Music Operators Association; The Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association; BFC Enterprises, Inc.; J.S. Morris and Sons Novelty Company; Vending Enterprises, doing business as Midwest Enterprises, Inc.; and Wonder Novelty Co.

In its ruling, the Court made three extremely important findings. First, it concluded that games, regardless of their content, are constitutionally protected speech. "If the first amendment is versatile enough to 'shield (the) painting of Jackson Pollack, music of Arnold Schoenberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll,' Hurley, 515 U.S. at 569, we see no reason why the pictures, graphic design, concept art, sounds, music, stories and narrative present in video games are not entitled to similar protection."

Second, the Court found that the County had utterly failed to establish that there is a compelling state interest in regulating the sale of games to minors on behalf of parents.

"We do not mean to denigrate the government's role in supporting parents, or the right of parents to control their children's exposure to graphically violent materials. We merely hold that the government cannot silence protected speech by wrapping itself in the cloak of parental authority...To accept the County's broadly-drawn interest as a compelling one would be to invite legislatures to undermine the first amendment rights of minors willy-nilly under the guise of promoting parental authority."

Third, the Court was dismissive of the County's claim that violent video games need to be regulated because they have been proven to be harmful to minors.

The Court found the county's evidence, which it called "...a small number of ambiguous, inconclusive, or irrelevant (conducted on adults not minors) studies; and the testimony of a high school principal who admittedly had no information regarding any link between violent video games and psychological harm," to be unpersuasive. "The County's conclusion that there is a strong likelihood that minors who play violent video games will suffer a deleterious effect on their psychological health is completely unsupported in the record."

Lowenstein continued, "We hope that this ruling, coupled with a similar ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving an Indianapolis law seeking to restrict the display of violent video arcade games, will give pause to those who would use the power of the state to regulate speech they find objectionable."

Pointing out that the Federal Trade Commission has found that parents are involved in the purchase and rental of video games 83% of the time, Lowenstein said, "We've said from the start of this case that trying to turn retailers into surrogate parents is the wrong approach. Instead, of wasting taxpayers' money in court, we hope that public officials in St. Louis County and elsewhere will take up our long standing offer to work cooperatively to ensure that parents use the highly regarded Entertainment Software Rating Board video game rating system to make informed choices for their families."

The St. Louis County Ordinance overturned today, originally passed in 2000, sought to make it illegal for any person to sell, rent, or make available violent video games to minors. After the IDSA's motion for summary judgment in district court was denied, the IDSA and its joint plaintiffs filed an appeal in the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Today's decision in the Eighth Circuit reverses the earlier decision and directs the district court to enter an injunction preventing the ordinance from going into effect.

Other groups filing briefs supporting the IDSA and its co-plaintiffs were: The International Game Developers Association; ID Software, Inc.; the Media Coalition; The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression; the Free Expression Policy Project; and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The IDSA is the U.S. association dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of the companies publishing interactive games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers, and the Internet. IDSA members collectively account for more than 90 percent of the $6.9 billion in entertainment software sales in the U.S. in 2002, and billions more in export sales of American-made entertainment software. The IDSA offers services to interactive entertainment software publishers including a global anti-piracy program, owning the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show, business and consumer research, government relations and First Amendment and intellectual property protection efforts.

Federal Court Rules Regulation of Video Game Sales Unconstitutional

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