California video game law beaten back again

California Speaker of the Assembly Leland Yee (D - San Francisco) is a doctor of developmental psychology responsible for a California Law passed in 2005 that criminalized the sale of violent video games to children under 18 and called for stricter labeling for games rated "M" by the ESRB.

Shortly after the bill's passage in 2005, video game industry representatives filed suit in the District Court. Judge Ronald Whyte deemed the law unconstitutional and blocked it from taking effect.

In speaking to the California Chronicle after Whyte's decision, Yee said, "I am shocked that the Court struck down this common-sense law...AB 1179 worked to empower parents by giving them the ultimate decision over whether or not their children should be playing in a world of violence and murder."

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According to the law, a retailer caught selling "ultra-violent" games to minors would be fined up to $1,000 per infraction. The video game industry is currently self-regulating, and ratings are voluntarily assigned and agreed upon by retailers. Yee, however, said "We simply cannot trust the industry to regulate itself," and urged the Governor and the Attorney General to appeal the decision to a higher court.

A three-judge panel in the Federal court of Appeals on Friday upheld Whyte's decision that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, because it would represent unjustified stoppage of free expression in video games.

The Court's ruling on Friday stated: "As the Act is a content-based regulation, it is subject to strict scrutiny and is presumptively invalid. Under strict scrutiny, the State has not produced substantial evidence that supports the Legislature's conclusion that violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to minors. Even if it did, the Act is not narrowly tailored to prevent that harm and there remain less restrictive means of forwarding the State's purported interests, such as the improved ESRB rating system, enhanced educational campaigns, and parental controls. Finally, even if the Act's labeling requirement affects only commercial speech in the form of video game packaging, that provision constitutes impermissibly compelled speech because the compelled label would not convey purely factual information."

While this law has been defeated in California, some of its requirements are still present in the national video game labeling law which was introduced in Congress last month.

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