Judge blocks California game law

Schwarzenegger-signed age-restriction measure slapped with injunction; ESA and IEMA elated.

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In November, a judge ruled a Michigan law banning the sale of mature-rated games to minors as unconstitutional, preventing it from going into effect. Three weeks ago, a similar fate befell an Illinois measure that would have placed similar restrictions on games.

Late yesterday, a California judge issued a ruling that prevented that state's own game-restriction law from going into effect. In the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Ronald Whyte slapped a preliminary injunction on a law signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself the star of several games, last month.

In his ruling, Judge Whyte wrote that "games are protected by the First Amendment"--worthy of the same protection of free expression as books, films, television, or the press. He granted the preliminary injunction on the grounds that the terms of the law, which would include mandatory labeling of games deemed unsuitable for minors, would "likely" be ruled unconstitutional. The law was slated to go into effect on January 1, 2006.

The motion for the injunction was requested by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) game-industry lobby and Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA), a game-retailer trade association.

"We are extremely pleased by today's announcement," said ESA President Doug Lowenstein. "For the sixth time in five years, federal courts have now blocked or struck down these state and local laws seeking to regulate the sale of games to minors based on their content, and none have upheld such statutes."

Hal Halpin, president of the IEMA, was a bit sterner in his response. "Our position has been, and shall remain, that government should not be involving itself in the entertainment decisions that consumers make," he said in his own statement. "It is unfortunate that politicians have chosen not to respect the will of the courts and of the people, and it is our continued hope that they will now, given the extraordinary amount of precedent, choose to instead work proactively with us."

As of press time, neither Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), author of the California law, nor Governor Schwarzenegger had commented on the ruling.

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