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Issue Date: Vol. 51, No. 7, July 2011, Posted On: 6/28/2011

Reaction To Supreme Court Videogame Ruling: Mixed, Predictable

Marcus Webb
Michael D. Gallagher, Entertainment Software Association, Parents Television Council, Supreme Court decision on video games, video game violence, Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association, California Assembly Bill 1179, AB 1197, Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchants Association & Entertainment Software Association, violent video games, violent video game ban, Leland Yee, First Amendment rights, arcade video game, coin-op video game

WASHINGTON -- The usual suspects made the usual statements in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 27 verdict that ruled California's ban on youth access to so-called "violent" videogames is unconstitutional. | SEE STORY

The law, struck down in a 7-2 decision, would have prevented the sale or rental of videogames containing content deemed "violent" to anyone under age 18. Retailers who violated the law would have faced fines up to $1,000 for an infraction.

The Entertainment Software Association, a lead plaintiff, hailed the high court's decision as a "landmark" and "historic and complete win for the First Amendment and the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere."

Michael D. Gallagher, chief executive of the trade association for manufacturers of consumer videogames, made a pointed reference to numerous similar laws in other states, which which have all been struck down by appeals courts since Indianapolis passed the first such ban in 2001.

"It is time for elected officials to stop wasting time and public funds seeking unconstitutional restrictions on videogames," Gallagher said. He urged state and local governments to help make the industry's voluntary videogame rating system a success. | SEE STATEMENT

The ESA chief also noted that California had attempted to prove a compelling government interest for its proposed restriction on free speech and that its proposed remedy -- Assembly Bill 1179 -- was the narrowest possible way of furthering that interest. The Supreme Court ruled that California failed in both respects, Gallagher said.

The case of Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association stemmed from AB 1179, a 2005 law authored by California State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). Not surprisingly, Yee was a harsh critic of the verdict.

Yee said the Supreme Court "put the interests of corporate America" first and that the videogame industry "will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids' mental health and the safety of our community." | SEE STATEMENT

Yee, who is running for Mayor of San Francisco, said he would study the ruling with a view toward submitting a revised bill that could pass constitutional muster.

The ruling means that keeping inappropriate material out of the hands of young people is now the responsibility of parents and retailers, who can refer to a voluntary game ratings system devised by the ESA. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, an extensive undercover study found that retailers' voluntary compliance with game ratings is more widespread than compliance with similar ratings systems for music and movies. | SEE FINDING

Consumer media coverage of the verdict was mixed. The Associated Press spoke with the head of the Parents Television Council, who suggested that the ruling allows retailers to sell violent videogames to children.

AB 1179 was passed by the California Legislature in 2005 and signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A coalition of industry interests filed suit in federal district court, leading to an immediate stay of enforcement.

The ban was found unconstitutional by the district court in 2007 and, after an appeal, by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 2009. Schwarzenegger appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the California bill on Nov. 2, 2010.

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