US Court: Free speech protects violent video games
Emily Badger: Free speech protects violent video games in US court
28 Jun 11

The US Supreme Court on Monday struck down a California law attempting to ban the sale of violent video games to children. The 7-2 decision was hailed by free-speech advocates and press organisations, many of whom argued in briefs before the court that such a law restricting the sale of certain content violated the Constitution.

Lucy Daglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement:

“Time and again, from the early days of radio and television, to 10-cent comic books and now to video games, lawmakers have tried to limit speech for what they believe to be the public good. And each time, they have lost because the First Amendment will not tolerate such wholesale limitations on expression merely because someone has created a new mode of communication. The majority decision ensures that violent content in any medium, including content produced by news outlets, will not come under the same censorship.”

The law, which passed in California in 2005 amid growing alarm about the impact of violent video games on children’s development and behaviour, imposed a $1,000 fine on stores caught selling or renting them to minors.

Conservative justice Antonin Scalia penned the opinion for the majority, in which he wrote:

“Video games qualify for First Amendment protection.  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… The most basic principle—that government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content…—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.”