OK game law sidelined

Judge issues preliminary injunction preventing violent game restrictions from taking effect until he can make a final ruling.

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A violent game restriction law set to go into effect next month has been put on ice for now. United States District Judge Robin Cauthron yesterday issued a preliminary injunction against the law, preventing it from being enforced until both the industry trade groups suing to have it overturned and the state's representatives have made their cases.

Oklahoma's HB3004, which was signed into law in June and was scheduled to take effect November 1, revises the state's definition of what is harmful to minors to include games with "inappropriate violence." Under the law, no person, not even minors' parents or guardians, would be allowed to give or show them an inappropriately violent game. Retailers would also not be able to have such games on display where minors could see them, unless the lower two-thirds of the boxes were hidden behind "blinder racks," of the sort commonly used for sexually explicit magazines.

In a seven-page ruling, Judge Cauthron found that the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) industry trade groups had met the necessary requirements for obtaining the preliminary injunction. Cauthron said that letting the new law go into effect could cause the two groups and the companies they represent irreparable harm if it is found to violate their First Amendment freedoms. The EMA and ESA also met two other criteria in obtaining the ruling, showing that they had a "substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits" of the case, and that the potential harm to them far outweighed the harm of delaying the law's enforcement.

Judge Cauthron gave the state until October 18 to respond to the trade groups' request for a permanent injunction against the law.

EMA president Bo Andersen issued a statement after the ruling, saying, "We are pleased that the federal district court in Oklahoma City has recognized that the Oklahoma law is very likely to be found to violate the First Amendment and thus should not be allowed to be enforced. Video game restriction laws have been enacted by state and local governments nine times in the past six years, and nine times the federal courts have blocked these laws from going into effect. Rather than passing unenforceable laws, lawmakers should support existing retailer initiatives to enforce video game ratings to ensure that minors do not gain access to video games their parents do not want them to have."

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