"Intense lobbying" in US industry Supreme Court case

Battle lines are being drawn as Schwarzenegger vs the EMA/ESA reaches a crucial stage

An "intense lobbying effort" is underway in the US as the deadline for filing briefs either for or against the state of California's law banning the rental or sale of violent videogames to minors looms.

According to a report on only 11 states have signed up in support of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's stance, when up to 40 would normally be expected in a child protection case with the Supreme Court set to rule on whether or not the law breaks the country's First Amendment.

That part of the Constitution states that: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) and Entertainment Software Association (ESA) are challenging the California law on the freedom of speech issue, and the industry in the US seems confident of support.

"We wouldn't be surprised if the number [of states siding with the industry] was equal or exceeded the number [backing California]," said Activision Blizzard EVP and chief public policy officer George Rose.

The report also suggests that Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff is drafting the brief in support of the EMA and ESA, and has been interceding with other states on the industry's behalf - apparently based on concerns that if the law stands, the content of videogames could be seen as a valid defence in the courts for criminal action.

The ESA's Dan Hewitt hasn't confirmed or denied the speculation, but released a statement noting that "a number of organisations, associations, elected officials and others are considering participating in this case by filing amicus briefs.

"We're encouraged by the broad range of support already shown from individuals and groups across the political and ideological spectrum."

The situation contrasts with that in the UK, where the sale of adult-themed games is restricted by law; currently based on certification by the BBFC, but set to move over to a publisher-run PEGI scheme next year.

Image courtesy of Dale Frost, used under Wikimedia Commons license.

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Latest comments (15)

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany7 years ago
Keeping violent games away from children is a no brainer. But using a ban to achieve this goal is never the anwer... Baning is never the answer for anything.

Education and information is the key.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 7 years ago
Banning always leads to more interest in the "forbidden fruit". It will not solve anything.
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Anthony Colin Rodgers CreativeDirector, Exient Ltd7 years ago
You're right - it won't solve the problem of kids getting violent video games any more than tax on fuel stops global warming. Also, does no one else find it ironic that this whole situation is spearheaded by a man who starred in some of the most violent movies of the 1980's and 1990's? Perhaps there will be concessions for games based around the Predator and Terminator franchises...
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Show all comments (15)
Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis7 years ago
Why is this any different to what the UK already has in place? Yes kids still get hold of 18 rated games but at least there is some kind of barrier between the sale of the game to minors.

The retailers should be held responsible for selling to minors. The rating system in the USA is a guide line and no one pays attention to it, no ammount of education would change that. Little Timmy isn't going to care that he has been told Mature rated games means he shouldn't have them if he can still go in and grab a copy.

For how much publishers and developers have to do to please the ESRB they could at least do something to enforce their rating when its in the stores.
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John Donnelly Quality Assurance 7 years ago
Most of the retailers I bought my games from in the US do take care to check ages.
While its not a legal requirement like it is here, there are still company policies that allow them to restrict the sale of products to kids.
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Matthias Vandegaer System engineer, writer 7 years ago
Banning isn't gonna solve anything. In fact, banning will only increase the usage of forged ID's and having a man in the middle buy the game for you.
Plus if something is banned it will only become more popular.
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Bryan Robertson7 years ago
"Why is this any different to what the UK already has in place? Yes kids still get hold of 18 rated games but at least there is some kind of barrier between the sale of the game to minors. "

The problem is that video games are being singled-out specifically as a medium. If laws such as these apply to video games and not to film, or books, then it sets the precedent that video games are somehow a lesser medium.

Another issue, is that if a game has to get rated in order to be sold, you can get into the situation where the government (or rating body) can trample on the rights of adults to choose, and the right of game developers to free expression, by refusing to rate a work. See for example, a couple of years ago when the BBFC tried to refuse classification for Manhunt 2, effectively banning it.

In America, the basic principle of defending free speech, is something that they seem to defend at all costs, and that's something I admire them for.
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Joe Bognar Junior PR Manager, Techland7 years ago
@Barrie Tingle: About 99% of the times it's not up to the retailers as they won't sell games to under aged kids. However there are parents that buy the games for them. It's a fact. Period.

@Anthony Colin Rodgers: Yes. Let's try to make a law that bans his movies! Let's see what he would say about that...

Other than that, I'm seriously getting tired of this... Games are bad but movies aren't. Why is it different if you shoot someone in the head in a videogame from seeing a women chopped up by an escalator???
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John Donnelly Quality Assurance 7 years ago
Movies and books are seen as a one way media where games give the player control of the story and the behavour of the characters in the game.
This is seen a justifiable reason by some to arge games are different than books or movies.

Somthing we should all remember is that the way the US law making works is different than most countries. Each state is supposed to look after the day to day aspects of its citizens leaving the goverment in Washington to look afer the large issues like defence for example.
This means the states can have different laws about the same issues, some states also have smaller populations with different problems making their lawmakers look differently at the issues from one or another.

In the case of CA it has a high number of videogame jobs and this will further result in the migration of jobs to other states if this law is passed making the fiscal problems faced by the state worse again.
But then Arnie is out of a job later this year so he does not care.
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Peter Law Freelance Game Designer and Unity Developer, Enigma 237 years ago
Does the US not have a forcible rating system (like the BBFC) for movies?
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Jason Sartor Copy editor/Videographer, Florida Today7 years ago
This law is specific to video games because the U.S. already has specific laws for movies (we rate them and block admittance accordingly - R restricted to under 17, but an adult may take a child anyway, NC-17 is no children under 17 at all, even with a parent) Magazines (we regulate the sale of Playboy, Penthouse, etc.).

This isn't to prevent people from from developing and selling GTA, Borderlands or Gears of War. This is about not selling adult games to children.

And, yes, kids will still get the games. But people still steal, murder, etc, but that doesn't make it acceptable, nor does it mean we shouldn't have any laws just because some people will do whatever they want regardless of consequence.

Lastly, the biggest fool who tried to actually ban games (Jack Thompson) was the one who was permanently disbarred from practicing law. GTA IV, Gears of War and Borderlands all have gone on to sell millions of copies.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Jason Sartor on 2nd September 2010 6:34pm

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Jason Young7 years ago
@ Jason Sartor
Actually, there is no law backing the MPAA ratings, the system is completely voluntary just like ESRB ratings. If I remember correctly the movie ratings were created in part to prevent legislation from being introduced that would enforce age limits on movies.

@ Barrie Tingle
According to the FTC game retailers are better at enforcing rating restrictions than movie theaters, DVD and music retailers. Enforcement has also improved steadily over, about, the last decade. You're claim that no one pays attention to the ratings is wrong.

@ Anthony Colin Rodgers
Schwarzenegger is a giant hypocrite when it comes to violent movies and games but the person who keeps trying to drive this stuff is Leland Yee.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jason Young on 2nd September 2010 9:59pm

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David Amirian Writer 7 years ago
there are no laws regarding movie ratings. the film industry just does a really good job of making it perceived as such so they dont have to have actual laws restricting it.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 7 years ago
Restricted and forbidden (banned) does not necessarily mean the same thing. You could buy a porn movie - and it is not against the law, but not from the store selves. I am quite sure that those selling through digital distribution systems wont be affected as much as the big ones making their money from retail products.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 7 years ago

Or more likely, not releasing movies with Adult, or Mature rating.
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