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Video Game Censorship: Just the Beginning?

An upcoming California case called Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) has video game makers, as well as the comic book industry concerned about First Amendment rights.

Legal analysts are keeping a close eye on the case, as this week the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund filed a "friend-of-the-court” brief arguing that the law in question “would undermine more First Amendment principles...than any decision in living memory.” Many other prominent trade organizations and guilds in the industry signed on as well. Comic book companies argue that if the law is allowed to stand, the media could end up being censored, as well as movies, music and any other ind of content.

The executive director for the CBLDF presented a compelling analogy illustrating why they saw the video game censorship law as a threat to the First Amendment that would only grow if upheld. "The case California makes against video games,” said Charles Brownstein, G4TV.com reports “is one familiar to the comic book industry, which was nearly destroyed by government attempts at regulation in the 1950s.  Then, as now, moral crusaders claimed that popular new media containing depictions of violence were detrimental to our youth. Then, as now, pseudo-science was used to back such claims.  Those claims weren't true in the 1950s, and they aren't true now."

Schwarzenegger v. EMA came about after the attempted enactment of a 2005 law which prohibited the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The law was appealed and U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte granted first a temporary and later a permanent injunction in 2007.

California could have left it at that, but the state chose to challenged the injunction in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that violent video games deserve a different level of protection than other forms of expression. The 9th Circuit did not agree and ruled the video game censorship law unconstitutional. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown then appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So as a consumer, what does this mean to you?

Up to this point, it hasn’t mattered much to the average consumer, as the 2005 law was never enacted. However, if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the lower Court’s decision, you would see a difference in the way that violent video games are regulated, labeled and sold. Then there would be the question as to whether the media industry would see a “chilling effect” and a diminishment of First Amendment rights.

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