Comic lobby rallies against California game law

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund files "friend of the court" briefs in Supreme Court case, citing possible effect on all media; film, recording, press support also expected.

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Today, the Supreme Court case that may determine whether states can criminalize sales of games to minors grew a bit more complicated. That's because a legal lobby supporting the comic book industry has thrown its support behind the game industry by filing a "friend of the court" brief in the case, officially titled Schwarzenegger vs. the Entertainment Merchants Association.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is backing the game industry's Supreme Court fight against a potentially restrictive California law.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is backing the game industry's Supreme Court fight against a potentially restrictive California law.

According to a copy of the brief obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund asked the Supreme Court to reject the law on the grounds that it "would undermine more First Amendment principles in a single case than any decision in living memory."

Robert Corn-Revere, an attorney with the law firm representing the CBLDF, expanded on the brief to the Times. "The first amendment is indivisible," he said. "If it's weakened for one medium, it's weakened for all. If a precedent is established for the censorship of games, it will be used for everybody else. You'll see a lot of support for our position from different quarters."

The Times expects those "quarters" to be some of the leading lobbies and organizations of the media and entertainment world, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom, the Radio Television News Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Schwarzenegger vs. the Entertainment Merchants Association 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.

Penned by California state assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), CAB1179 sought to ban the sale or rental of "violent video games" to children. A "violent" game was defined as a "game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." If it becomes law, retailers that sold such games would be subject to a $1,000 fine.

The bill would also have required "violent" video games to bear a 2-inch-by-2-inch sticker with a "solid white '18' outlined in black" on their front covers. That's more than twice the size of the labels that currently adorn game-box covers and display the familiar Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating.

In 2007, a circuit court judge struck down the law as unconstitutional but admitted he was "sympathetic to what the legislature sought to do." Last year, an appellate court judge backed up the original ruling. Months before the appellate court's decision, in an appearance on GameSpot's HotSpot podcast, Yee predicted that the dispute would be pushed to the Supreme Court.

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