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Court Hears Arguments in Violent Games Case

17 Mar, 2003 By: Kurt Indvik

Judges for the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals last week heard arguments in a case seeking to overturn a St. Louis County game ordinance. The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to rent or sell any video game deemed “harmful to minors” to customers under the age of 17 without parental consent.

Attorneys for the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) made arguments to overturn the ordinance based on issues of free speech, while also noting that the vast majority of retailers involved in the renting and sale of games have voluntary policies that achieve the same goals as the ordinance.

Lawyers who argued for the IDSA could not be reached by press time; however, Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the VSDA, who has been monitoring the appeals process, said reports were the IDSA felt its arguments went well in making its case that the ordinance was overly broad in its effort to protect children, and that games, like other forms of entertainment, are expressions protected under the First Amendment.

St. Louis associate county counselor Michael Shuman, who argued the county's case before the appeals court, told Video Store Magazine that the judges “seemed to accept that these [games] may not be protected speech.” The judges questioned him on the county's cited evidence that exposure to violent acts can cause some children to become violent themselves. Shuman said he also argued that the St. Louis law was not primarily intended to restrict access to violent games by children under 17, but rather to ensure that parents have control over what their children are exposed to.

The ordinance, Shuman said, would require kids under 17 to have parental permission in person or in written form before renting or buying these types of games. Retailers found to be in violation of the ordinance could face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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