A California federal appeals court has ruled that a state law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to children is a violation of the right to free speech.
The law was first penned by Democrat senator Leland Yee and signed into law by
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005. But shortly thereafter, it was soon blocked by a federal judge, and it never took affect.
It sought to prohibit the sale or rental of video games depicting serious injury to humans in a manner especially
heinous, cruel or depraved.
Any game judged patently offensive to children based on the prevailing standards in the community sold in California would require a 2- by 2-inch solid white '18' displayed on the front of the case.
Store owners caught selling violent games to underage tykes would face a fine up to $1,000.
The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today upheld the lower court's decision declaring the ban unconstitutional.
In a 3-0
ruling, Judge Consuelo Callahan said California could only justify the ban if the state could not only prove violent video games caused actual psychological harm, but that the best way to prevent it was through criminalization. The court also shot down
the act's labeling provision because it doesn't require the disclosure of purely factual information but compels carrying the legislature's controversial opinion.
A fair few US states have tried to laws to prohibit computer games sellers from retailing Mature rated games to under 17 year olds. Such laws have been found to be unconstitutional.
But Utah have come up with a new angle. They are targeting shops
that advertise themselves as family friendly etc. (And American stores do like to emphasise this). If the shops then go on to sell Mature games to youngsters then law HB353 enables parents to sue such shops for false advertising of their family friendly
Following a lively debate, the Utah State Senate have now passed HB 353 by an overwhelming 25-4 margin.
Utah Governor, Jon Huntsman, has vetoed HB 353, the video game/movie bill passed overwhelmingly by the Utah House and Senate.
Saintless has Gov. Huntsman's explanation of his veto:
After careful consideration and
study, I have decided to veto HB 353...
While protecting children from inappropriate materials is a laudable goal, the language of this bill is so broad that it likely will be struck down by the courts as an unconstitutional violation of the
Dormant Commerce Clause and/or the First Amendment.
The industries most affected by this new requirement indicated that rather than risk being held liable under this bill, they would likely choose to no longer issue age appropriate labels on
goods and services.
Therefore, the unintended consequence of the bill would be that parents and children would have no labels to guide them in determining the age appropriateness of the goods or service, thereby increasing children's potential
exposure to something they or their parents would have otherwise determined was inappropriate under the voluntary labeling system now being recognized and embraced by a significant majority of vendors.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown has announced that the state will appeal the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding an injunction allowing violent video games to be sold to minors to the US Supreme Court.
Civil Code Sec. 1746.1(a) prohibits anyone from selling or renting a violent video game" – that is, a "game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a
human being – to a minor, under penalty of a $1,000 fine for each such sale or rental.
This unconstitutionally vague piece of legalese was the brainchild of San Francisco State Sen. Leland Yee, but practically from the moment it was signed
into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Oct. 7, 2005, the ban was challenged by the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), which has since become the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA).
On Aug. 6, 2007, U.S. District Judge Ronald M.
Whyte issued a permanent injunction against the application of the law; an injunction that was upheld in February of this year by the Ninth Circuit.
EMA Vice-President of Public Affairs Sean Bersell noted that within the past ten years,
eight similar laws have been enacted in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and the cities of St. Louis and Indianapolis, all of which have been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.
The taxpayers of California should demand
that their elected officials stop wasting precious tax dollars on this quixotic quest, Bersell declared.
By a 35-0 vote, the Louisiana Senate passed SB 152, a bill which would make a pattern of distributing sexually explicit material to children a deceptive trade practice under state law.
SB 152 was drafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson
as a back-door means of enforcing ESRB content ratings. The original SB 152 mirrored Thompson's Utah bill, which was vetoed by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman in March. However, bill sponsor Senator A.G. Crowe subsequently gutted Thompson's focus on age
ratings from the bill, amending it instead to its new focus on the distribution of sexually explicit material to minors.
Unlike the Utah bill, SB 152 doesn't make reference to video games, advertising, age ratings or any specific product, for
The basic idea is that any retailer that sell prohibited material to minors aren't allowed to describe themselves as family friendly or similar.
Now that it has been passed by the Senate, the next stop for SB 152 is the
Louisiana House of Representatives.
Louisiana Senate Bill 152 began
life as a clone of Jack Thompson's failed Utah legislation and died quietly this week in the Commerce Committee of the Louisiana House, according to The Old River Road, a blog which tracks Louisiana politics.
Although Crowe's Senate colleagues
passed the bill overwhelmingly, House members seemed less impressed. At a hearing earlier this week the bill was diverted to the Commerce Committee.
A free speech dispute over a California law banning sale of violent video games to children will go to the Supreme Court for review.
The justices accepted the state's appeal and will decide whether the law is too restrictive in denying access by
minors to often-graphic material. Video-game makers say the ban goes too far. They say the existing nationwide, industry-imposed, voluntary ratings system is an adequate screen for parents to judge the appropriateness of computer games.
says it has a legal obligation to protect children when the industry has failed to do so.
At issue is how far constitutional protections of free speech and expression, as well as due process, can be applied to youngsters. Critics of the law say
the government would in effect be engaged in the censorship business, using community standards to evaluate artistic and commercial content.
Oral arguments will be held in the fall.
A federal appeals court in San Francisco,
California, tossed out the law before it took effect, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed it in 2005. He applauded the high court's decision to intervene. We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of
games that depict ultraviolent actions, just as we already do with movies, the governor said.
The legislation would have placed an outright ban on the sale or rental to those under 18 of games deemed excessively violent. As defined by
California, such interactive games are those in which the player is given the choice of killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being in offensive ways. Retailers could be fined up to $1,000 for any violation.
The gaming industry sued in federal court and won an injunction halting enforcement of the law until the courts sort out the constitutional questions.
A law that threatens to classify adult video games as X-rated entertainment in the US has been slammed by bosses of major games publishers.
The US Supreme Court agreed in April to review a motion prohibiting the sale or rental of violent video
games to minors.
The law would allow individual states to impose sales restrictions on violent games - effectively putting them into the same category as pornography, and restricting their sale to adult citizens.
The Supreme Court is
reviewing a federal court's decision to throw out California's ban - which was originally signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It's very, very surprising that the Supreme Court is hearing the case, Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Rockstar parent Take
Two told CNBC: I'm worried about it, and I think everybody in our business should be really worried about it.
Graham Hopper, EVP and general manager of Disney Interactive added: It's not about having a dramatic impact on our bottom line.
It's going to make our retailing abilities a nightmare.
Other games industry figures spoke of their fear that other states would push through their own version of the bill - meaning developers would have to create multiple version of games to
suit each territory's individual criteria: One of America's great exports is entertainment, commented John Riccitiello, CEO of EA. The implication of Schwarzenegger v. ESA (the case before the Court) is we could end up with state level
bureaucracies that define what's marketable in 50 different jurisdictions across the U.S.
Sony's Jack Tretton was more positive about the Supreme Court's decision to hear the case. We believe as an industry that the primary reason the
Supreme Court is hearing it is despite the fact that this law has been struck down, [the issue] has come up 12 times [previously] . I think the Supreme Court is looking at it to potentially see if there's something to it or to put an end to it
once and for all.
The court will hear arguments in this case in the autumn.
Retailers who sell the latest Halo or Call of Duty video games to children would face big fines under a law being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Despite receiving sympathy from some justices, the California law that aims to keep kids
from buying ultraviolent video games faces a steep constitutional hurdle.
The high court has been reluctant to carve out exceptions to the First Amendment, striking down a ban earlier this year on so-called crush videos that showed actual deaths
California officials argue they should be allowed to limit minors' ability to buy violent video games because of the potential damage. The games are especially harmful to minors, said Zackery Morazzini, a California deputy
The law would bar anyone under 18 from buying or renting games that give players the option of killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.
Parents would be able to buy the games
for their children, but retailers who sell directly to minors would face fines of up to $1,000 for each game sold.
Some justices wondered where the regulation would stop. What about films? asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What about
comic books? added Justice Antonin Scalia, wondering if movies showing drinking and smoking might be next.
Lower courts have said the law violates minors' constitutional rights, and courts in six other states struck down similar bans.
The Supreme Court's decision is expected next year.
In November, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchants Association. Seven months later, the Justices have yet to decide whether or not California can regulate the sale of violent video
games, but with the court now in the last two weeks of its term, a ruling is imminent. The case is now known as Brown vs. EMA.
In 2005, the California legislature passed AB 1179, a law that would punish retailers who sold or rented violent,
mature-rated videogames to anyone under 18 years old. The lower court quickly struck down the law on free-speech grounds, as did lower courts in a dozen other states over the years that attempted to enact similar pieces of legislation.
Court agreed to consider California's case in April 2010. During the hearing, California attorney Zackery Morazzini argued that states should be able to ban the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18 just as they can restrict the sale of
Due to the end of court session, the judgement is due in the next week. The court could also extend the current session into July if it is unable to make a decision on the matter, though such extensions are rare.
The US Supreme Court has struck down a Californian law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to those aged under 18.
The court voted 7-2 to uphold an appeals court ruling that declared the law contrary to free speech rights enshrined
in the US Constitution.
Speaking at the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia said: Our cases hold that minors are entitled to a significant degree of First Amendment protection. Government has no free-floating power to restrict the ideas to
which they may be exposed.
The 2005 California law prohibited the sale of violent video games to children where a reasonable person would find that the violent content appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors, is patently offensive
to prevailing community standards as to what is suitable for minors, and causes the game as a whole to lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors . Under the law retailers caught selling the titles to minors could face
a fine of up to $1,000 for each game.
US lawmakers have proposed a bill that would label most video games with the warning:
Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.
Joe Baca and Frank Wolf have introduced the
Violence in Video Games Labeling Act citing the supposed negative effects that video games have on people's health, despite increased findings that suggests otherwise.
The video game industry has a
responsibility to parents, families and to consumers, to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products, They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility.
If the bill passes,
the only games that would be exempt would be those with an ESRB rating of Early Childhood (EC). All others would require the warning on the game box, regardless of whether the game actually featured violent content.
Previous attempts to pass the
bill occurred in 2009 and 2011. The Entertainment Software Association, which represents video game publishers in the US, called the bill unconstitutional. In a statement made to Game Informer, the trade group said:
We would commend Representatives Baca and Wolf to the reams of bourgeoning academic research demonstrating that video games can be innovative learning and assessment tools in engaging and educating America's youth, especially in core
subjects such as science, technology, engineering and math.
Senator Jay Rockefeller has introduced one of Congress' first pieces of legislation related to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut: a bill to study the impact of violent video games on children. He said:
This week, we
are all focused on protecting our children. At times like this, we need to take a comprehensive look at all the ways we can keep our kids safe. I have long expressed concern about the impact of the violent content our kids see and interact with every
Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it. They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians,
and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue. This report will be a critical resource in this process.
Rockefeller's bill would
direct the National Academy of Sciences to lead the investigation on video games' impact and submit a report on its findings within 18 months.
The legislation comes after reports suggested that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza may have played video
games like Call of Duty and Starcraft .
Connecticut State Senator Toni Nathaniel Harp has introduced a bill, SB No. 328, An Act Concerning Minors and Violent Point-and-shoot video Games .
The proposed bill aims to prevent minors (under 18s) from using violent
point-and-shoot video games in public arcades. The bill does not address what ratings these games might have (would it prohibit the use of games by minor even if they are rated Teen by the ESRB) or what the penalty for operators or businesses
that violate the statue.