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Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

Banning the sale of violent games to minors is a violation of free speech, justices say in a victory for the entertainment industry.

June 28, 2011|By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau

Michael Gallagher, president and chief executive of the Entertainment Software Assn., said the court's decision was "an overwhelming endorsement of the 1st Amendment, the right to free expression and the freedom of speech. It's also a great victory for parents and rights of parents. They are to be in control, not the state, of the content that is used, consumed and enjoyed in the home."

"This is everything the industry could have asked for," said George Rose, chief public policy officer for Activision Blizzard Inc., a Santa Monica game publisher.

Steven R. Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the decision "reaffirms the important principles that children as well as adults are protected by the 1st Amendment and that the government's views on good child rearing are not an excuse for censorship."

Advocates for control of the media were disappointed.

"This ruling replaces the authority of parents with the economic interests of the video game industry," said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council in Los Angeles. "With no fear of any consequence for violating the video game industry's own age restriction guidelines, retailers can now openly, brazenly sell games with unspeakable violence and adult content even to the youngest of children."

James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit group that lobbied on behalf of the California law, vowed to find other means to restrict the sale of violent games to children. "The fight is far from over," Steyer said. "An overwhelmingly high percentage of parents would support a bill that would prevent their kids from walking into a store and buying the most ultra-violent and sexually violent of video games."

The same two sides are likely to square off in the fall when the court takes up the challenge to the dispute over TV regulation.

By law, broadcasters who use the public airwaves may not air indecent words or scenes when children are likely to be watching. And the FCC in the last decade has cracked down on networks that crossed the line. It handed down a $1.2-million fine against ABC for a brief nude scene in its police drama "NYPD Blue" in 2003. And it said Fox could be fined for live broadcasts of awards shows where guests uttered expletives.

Lawyers for the broadcasters went to court, arguing the rules were unwarranted and out of date in an era when cable networks and the Internet enjoyed broad free-speech protection. Last year, they won a ruling from the U.S. court of appeals in New York, which struck down the FCC's policy on free-speech grounds. The justices said they would take up the case — FCC vs. Fox and ABC — when they returned in the fall.

Times staff writers Alex Pham in Los Angeles and Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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