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California Ban on Violent Videogames Violates First Amendment

September 17, 2010

California Ban on Violent Videogames Violates First Amendment

EFF and PFF Urge Supreme Court to Protect Rights of Game Creators and Users

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and The Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) urged the United States Supreme Court Friday to protect the free speech rights of videogame creators and users, asking the justices to uphold a ruling throwing out unconstitutional restrictions on violent videogames.

At issue is a California law that bans the sale or rental of "violent" videogames to anyone under the age of 18, among other regulations. While the law was passed in 2005, it has never taken effect, as courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional. California appealed its loss at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court

In the amicus brief filed today, EFF and PFF explain how the current videogame content rating system empowers parents to make their own decisions without unconstitutionally restricting this new and evolving form of free speech.

"Videogames are fully protected speech, and both the 'violence' and 'interactivity' feared by California's law are expressive aspects of books, plays, and movies -- not just videogames," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "The government can't regulate speech content, even to protect children, if there are reasonably effective private rating systems and parental control tools that don't interfere with our First Amendment rights."

Every state law concerning violent videogames that has been challenged has failed First Amendment scrutiny in the lower courts. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has said that the industry's official labeling system is widely recognized and used by parents and is well-enforced in the marketplace.

"This case has profound ramifications for the future of not just videogames, but all media, and the Internet as well," said PFF President Adam Thierer. "We've had 15 years of fairly solid Supreme Court case law on new media issues. It would be unfortunate if they reversed that tide here."

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/schwarzenegger_v/EFFPFFamicus.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/schwarzenegger-v-ema

For more on video games and digital rights:
http://www.eff.org/issues/video-games

Contacts:

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
tien@eff.org

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