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Court Kills California Violent Video Game Law

California's attempt to restrict sales of violent video games to children violates free speech rights, the court says.

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday affirmed previous lower court rulings that California's 2005 law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors violates the Constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech, eliciting praise from industry and rights advocacy groups.

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law six years ago. It forbids the sale of violent video games to minors, requires labels on violent video games, and calls for a $1,000 fine for anyone who rents of sells such a game to a minor.

The law was never implemented: The video game industry challenged it immediately and prevailed in lower courts. A U.S. District Court ruling overturned the law in 2007, and that decision was upheld in 2009 by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the Supreme Court's majority opinion in the 7-2 ruling.

California "wishes to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children," wrote Scalia. "That is unprecedented and mistaken. This country has no tradition of specially restricting children's access to depictions of violence. And California's claim that 'interactive' video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive."

Scalia's opinion points out that video games are not unique in their depictions of gore, citing the works of Dante Alighieri, Homer, and William Golding. And he notes that books can be interactive.

"Since at least the publication of The Adventures of You: Sugarcane Island in 1969, young readers of choose-your-own adventure stories have been able to make decisions that determine the plot by following instructions about which page to turn to," he wrote.

Bo Andersen, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association, the trade group that sued to stop the California law, expressed gratification with the Supreme Court decision. He also noted that industry self-regulation has proven to be effective, citing an FTC study released in April that found video game retailers prevented minors from purchasing mature-rated video games 87% of the time.

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