Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Supreme Court Rules Video Games Protected Under Freedom of Speech

video games protected by free speechIt's been a great couple of days for the gaming community as the Supreme Court has just ruled that video games are protected under our First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech! That's right, the United States Supreme Court overturned a California law legislating the sale of violent video games as unconstitutional. However, that isn't dampening the spirits of the law's creator who is vowing to continue his fight.

California State Senator Leland Yee (D - San Francisco) was recently reported as saying that he hopes to "create a pathway for a successful bill that could withstand a challenge" from the Supreme Court. Yee's bill was initially signed into law back in 2005 by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bill would have fined retailers of video games up to $1,000 per infraction for selling a violent video game to a minor.

However, we gamers take our gaming seriously and the bill was immediately challenged by a video game industry consortium and United States District Court Judge Ronald Whyte put an injunction in place to prevent the law from being enforced.

The consortium argued on the grounds of our First Amendment Rights. In addition to that, lawyers representing the video game industry noted that all major retailers already abide by the voluntary rating system that the video game industry itself created. The ESRB, otherwise known as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, rates video games by the content the games contain and also provides an age rating as well as a description of the content in the game. The system is modeled after the same one used by the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) movie rating system.

The law was ultimately turned over in a 7 to 2 vote which ruled that video games are entitled to the same artistic protection under the First Amendment granted to books, movies, plays and other works of creative expression. While the overturning of the law is a huge step for video games, it goes even further as this is the first time the Supreme Court has heard a case such as this.

President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association Michael Gallagher called the Supreme Court ruling "a historic and complete win for the First Amendment" and artists and storytellers. Gallagher went on to say, "The Court declared forcefully that content-based restrictions on games are unconstitutional; and that parents, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide what is appropriate for their children."

Yee, a child psychologist turned politician, stated that, "the evidence is absolutely crystal clear that there are harmful effects on our children" from violent video games. This claim, however, was refuted by the Supreme Court which said the evidence is far from convincing.

Older generations always attack what they do not know and I think that is exactly what Yee is doing. To put a restriction like this on video games would mean that the same restriction would have to be placed on everything, including movies, books, music, television and any other form of media. Video games, compared to all other forms of media, is a relatively new industry that has exploded in the past 10 years which is why it is coming under so much flack.

The Supreme Court made the right decision to overturn Yee's law. Even though Yee is continuing his tirade against video games, I don't think he will ever find enough "evidence" to support his cause and if Yee doesn't like it then he can always move to a place where violent video games are restricted, like Australia.

Source: ZDNet - California's failed video game law sponsor vows to continue fight

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