* Major victory for video game industry
* Free speech versus protecting minors from violence
* Court said video games protected like books, movies
(Adds details from ruling, dissent, more reaction)
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, June 27 Governments cannot ban the
sale or rental of violent video games to minors because it
would violate free-speech rights, the U.S. Supreme Court said
on Monday in its first ruling in a video game case.
By a 7-2 vote, the high court struck down a California law,
which also imposed strict video game labeling requirements, as
unconstitutional. It said video games, like books, plays and
movies, deserve free-speech protection.
The ruling was a victory for video game publishers,
distributors and sellers, including the Entertainment Software
Association. Its members include Disney Interactive Studios
(DIS.N), Electronic Arts ERTS.O, Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and
Sony Computer Entertainment America (6758.T).
Michael Gallagher, the trade association's president,
hailed the ruling as a "historic and complete win" for
free-speech rights and "the creative freedom of artists and
The Supreme Court's majority opinion written by Justice
Antonin Scalia rejected California's argument that violent
video games should be banned just like the sale of sexually
explicit material to minors.
Scalia also rejected the argument by California lawmakers
who cited studies that suggested violent video games can be
linked to aggressive and anti-social behavior in children.
Leland Yee, a California state senator and the law's
author, criticized the ruling. "The U.S. Supreme Court is
supposed to to take care of the people of this country. They
have failed miserably, particularly our children, with this
particular defeat," the Democrat from San Francisco said.
California's 2005 law has never taken effect because of the
legal challenge. At issue were popular video games such as
Warner Bros. (TWX.N) Entertainment Inc's "Mortal Kombat" and
Take-Two Interactive Software Inc's (TTWO.O) "Grand Theft
The law defines a violent video game as one that depicts
"killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image
of a human being." Retailers who sold or rented a violent video
game to a minor could be fined as much as $1,000.
The U.S. video game industry makes about $10.5 billion in
annual sales. More than two-thirds of U.S. households include
at least one person who plays video games, according to
Six other states have adopted similar laws and all had
previously been struck down in court.
SAME BEHAVIOR FROM WATCHING CARTOONS
Scalia said the state's expert testified he found the same
effects when children watched television cartoons starring Bugs
Bunny or the Road Runner or viewed a picture of a gun.
Scalia cited famous books for children throughout history
that have depicted violence.
"Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed," he
said with examples of Snow White's poisoning, Cinderella's evil
stepsisters having their eyes pecked out by birds and Hansel
and Gretel killing their captor by baking her in an oven.
Scalia said parents, not the government, should decide what
games their children can buy and play. He said the video game
industry has a rating system designed to inform consumers and
store owners which games were violent.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer dissented.
"What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old
boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman while protecting a
sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which
he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the women, then
tortures and kills her?" Breyer asked.
Parents Television Council President Tim Winter denounced
the decision, saying, "Retailers can now openly, brazenly sell
games with unspeakable violence and adult content even to the
youngest of children."
But John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, a major video
game publisher, said, "Everybody wins on this decision. The
court has affirmed the constitutional rights of game
developers; adults keep the right to decide what's appropriate
in their houses; and store owners can sell games without fear
of criminal prosecution."
The Supreme Court case is Brown v. Entertainment Merchants
Association, No. 08-1448.
(Additional reporting by Liana Baker in New York, Jill
Serjeant in Los Angeles and Peter Henderson in San Francisco;
Editing by Bill Trott)