182 experts, organizations denounce California game law

ESA receives support from diverse factions in Supreme Court case, including US Chamber of Commerce; film, recording, press bodies; attorneys general; scientific community; more.


The Entertainment Software Association has a tough fight on its hands as it prepares to argue the unconstitutionality of California's violent games law before the US Supreme Court. Luckily for it, the game industry's largest representative body is receiving substantial support from across a variety of entertainment industries and commerce bodies.

Headshots will be strictly prohibited in the ESA's upcoming Supreme Court battle.
Headshots will be strictly prohibited in the ESA's upcoming Supreme Court battle.

On Friday, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund sparked a flurry of "friend of the court" amicus brief filings in the case of Schwarzenegger vs. the Entertainment Merchants Association, supporting the ESA's position. With the amicus brief deadline expiring over the weekend, the ESA announced today that 182 "First Amendment experts, national organizations, non-profits, associations, researchers, and social-science experts" have filed similar briefs with the Supreme Court.

"The depth, diversity, and high quality of briefs submitted strengthens our position before the Court," ESA president and CEO Michael Gallagher said in a statement. "These briefs are rooted in virtually every form of expression, commerce, social science, and constitutional jurisprudence imaginable. It is our hope that the Court will uphold an unbroken chain of lower court rulings that affirm video games' First Amendment protections, the rights of consumers' access to speech, and that parents--not government--are the best arbiters in determining what is right for their children."

The ESA lists 30 separate amicus briefs as having been filed in support of its efforts, including a number of publishers like id Software, Activision Blizzard, and Microsoft. According to the ESA, the filed amicus briefs echo the points already outlined by the gaming organization in its own filing, which was submitted to the Supreme Court on September 10.

Eighty-two members of the scientific and scholastic community also argued on behalf of the ESA, saying, "the studies [relied upon by the state] are of no help to California…because they document neither a causal connection nor a correlation between the playing of violent video games and violent, aggressive, or antisocial behavior." The briefs also note that California "ignore[d] a weighty body of scholarship, undertaken with established and reliable scientific methodologies, debunking the claim that the video games California seeks to regulate have harmful effects on minors."

The United States Chamber of Commerce also offered its two cents, stating, "California's law fails strict scrutiny because a ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors is not the least restrictive alternative to protecting them from age-inappropriate media content. Industry self-regulation is a highly effective and less restrictive alternative."

The Motion Picture Association of America's brief noted that, were the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision overturned, it would have a "chilling effect" on the movie business. "[S]tate and local governments could attempt to impose similar restrictions on depictions of violence in other media, including motion pictures. Such restrictions would have an obvious chilling effect, particularly given the inherent amorphousness of restrictions of that type and the potential for a patchwork of nationwide regulation."

The ESA also received support from the Attorneys General for Rhode Island, Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington State. This group argued that the "quick fixes such as the California Statute cause more practical and constitutional problems, in expanding unneeded regulatory activity and hindering law enforcement, than they solve."

Notably, Oklahoma passed its own version of violent video game legislation in 2006. However, the law, which classified violent games in the same category as pornography, was ruled unconstitutional in 2007.

A full list and reproductions of the amicus briefs can be found on the ESA's Web site. Oral arguments in the matter are expected to commence on November 2. At issue in the case is California Assembly Bill 1179, which was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 but challenged in court before it could take effect.

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