Oklahoma game-law injunction permanent

Judge rules First Amendment protection of interactive entertainment sacrosanct, forever foiling so-called "games-as-porn" bill.

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Following up on last October's preliminary stay against Oklahoma HB3004, United States District Judge Robin Cauthron has issued a permanent injunction on the bill that would classify violent games in the same category as pornography. The bill, which was signed into law last June by Democratic Governor Brad Henry, was ruled to be unconstitutional in that video games are to be classified as a form of creative expression that is protected under the First Amendment.

Oklahoma's HB3004 revised the state's definition of what is harmful to minors to include games with "inappropriate violence." Under the law, no person, not even a minor's 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 her decision, Judge Cauthron reiterated many of the talking points visited by game-rights supporters. She noted that no "substantial evidence" exists that video games are inherently harmful to minors. "[T]here is a complete dearth of legislative findings, scientific studies, or other rationale to support passage of the Act," she wrote in her ruling. Judge Cauthron also noted that interactivity didn't alter the legal status of games. "The presence of increased viewer control and interactivity does not remove these games from the release of First Amendment protection," Judge Cauthron wrote.

Accordingly, Judge Cauthron also took issue with the fact that minors can legally access other forms of media that share common themes in games. "[Minors prevented from buying games with] 'inappropriate violence' may still legally buy or rent the book or movie on which the game was based," she wrote.

This week's ruling reflects other legal wranglings undertaken by the Entertainment Software Association against various state legislatures. In July 2006, a Minnesota judge ruled that a law that would fine minors $25 for purchasing M-for-Mature-rated games was unconstitutional. Later that year in November, a Louisiana judge issued a permanent injunction against a law framed similarly around current obscenity statues that would limit the sale of violent games to minors. The ESA has also countered antigame laws in Illinois and Michigan, among other states. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appealed a judge's ruling that struck down a similar law.

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