California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that made several requirements on the sale of video games deemed to be “violent.”

1. Prohibit the sale or rental of violent games to anyone under 18.
2. Created labeling requirements for video game manufacturers.
3. Retailers who violated the act would be fined up to $1,000 for each violation.

The Law was challenged on first amendment grounds and has worked it’s way up to the SCOTUS. This morning SCOTUS rendered its decision. In a 7-2 case, the Justices found that;

Held: The Act does not comport with the First Amendment. Pp. 2–18.
(a) Video games qualify for First Amendment protection.(emphasis added) Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And “the basic principles of freedom of speech . . . do not vary” with a new and different communication medium. Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wil-son, 343 U. S. 495, 503. The most basic principle—that government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas,subject matter, or content, Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Un-ion, 535 U. S. 564, 573—is subject to a few limited exceptions for historically unprotected speech, such as obscenity, incitement, and fighting words. But a legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test.

(b)…..Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove
that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly under inclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint.

Read the full decision here.

This is a great day for First Amendment rights not just for the developers and players. If the SCOTUS had upheld California’s law it would have made a dangerous precedent that your ability to convey a message would be dependent on the medium you used. Once one exception is made it becomes easier to get others.

So what do you think? Do you agree with the verdict?

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