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Court Overturns Violent Video Game Law

3 Jun, 2003 By: Joan Villa

A federal appeals court has overturned a St. Louis County ordinance barring the sale of violent video games to minors, handing to retailers a decisive First Amendment victory.

Both the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) and the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), co-plaintiffs in the legal challenge, hailed the unanimous decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned a lower court in deciding that governments do not have “unbridled license” to regulate the games that minors can play, according to the VSDA.

“There is no justification for disqualifying video games as speech simply because they are constructed to be interactive,” the court noted in its nine-page ruling.

“Today's ruling is a milestone in First Amendment law,” said VSDA president Bo Andersen. “The court recognized that the appropriate response to concerns about violence in entertainment is parental control, not government censorship.”

The 2000 ordinance would have made it illegal for retailers to sell or rent violent video games to minors under age 17, but the appellate court held that video games are protected speech and “the government cannot silence protected speech by wrapping itself in the cloak of parental authority.” The court also said that the arguments claiming violent video games are harmful to minors are “unsupported in the record.”

“This decision is a total and unambiguous affirmation of our position that video games have the same constitutional status as a painting, a film, or a book,” said IDSA president Douglas Lowenstein. “The decision sends a powerful signal to government at all levels that efforts to regulate consumers' access to the creative and expressive content found in video games will not be tolerated.”

Andersen emphasized that although the law supports freedom of expression, the industry still has an obligation to help parents control access to inappropriate material through voluntary enforcement of the ratings systems in place for both movies and games.

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