Federal Judge Stays Controversial Video Game Law

U.S. District Court Judge James Brady in Baton Rouge has granted a temporary stay on a new Louisiana law signed last week that would outlaw the sale of violent video games to children under 18.

The request for a stay was made by two industry organizations — the Entertainment Software Association and the Entertainment Merchants Association — after Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed Act 441 last week. The new law calls for a fine of US$2,000 or one year prison term — or both — for violators.

Opponents point to previous laws that have been struck down in six jurisdictions over the last five years, mainly on the grounds that they are a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of speech.

This argument has been successful in court cases in Illinois and Michigan, Peter Suderman, assistant editorial director for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, told TechNewsWorld.

“Most recently, a U.S. District Judge ruled that a California law signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger last October would restrict the First Amendment rights of minors,” he added.

Contemporary Community Standards

The Louisiana law differs, though, in that it is based on existing obscenity laws appealing to “contemporary community standards,” Suderman explained. The standard would apply to video or computer games depicting violence that an average person would find offensive to prevailing standards with respect to what is suitable for minors, and lacking literary, artist, political or scientific value for minors.

The Louisiana law is not likely to stand, Suderman said, even with proponents taking this particular tack. On the off chance that it does, the term “‘contemporary community standards’ presents a pretty nebulous standard for judging the acceptability of a game,” he said, “and is likely not to end up impeding sales of many of the titles video game restriction advocates would like to see blocked.”

Growing Target

Even if the Louisiana law is eventually overturned, it is clear the debate over how depictions of violence affect minors and whether they should be curtailed — a debate that has touched upon everything from comic books to children’s books to television — will not cease.

Florida Attorney Jack Thompson, a long time advocate of video game restrictions and a force behind the new law, recently asked Louisiana sheriff’s deputies to search for video games in the home of a 16 year old accused of murder, according to Suderman. The deputies reportedly found a copy of “Grand Theft Auto,” a game that has made waves because of its controversial content.

“Thompson likes to blame video games for violent behavior amongst youth, but he ignores the fact that more than 5 million copies of the most recent sequel to that game were sold in 2004, and that the vast majority of the users managed not to commit any crimes,” Suderman pointed out.

More telling, he added, is that between 1993 and 2004 — when video game sales skyrocketed and play increased — there was a 69 percent decline in violent criminal offenses by youth, according to Department of Justice statistics.

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