* Justices to hear arguments in upcoming term
* Law had not taken effect due to legal challenge (Adds reaction from state officials, details)
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide whether a California law banning the sale and rental of violent video games to minors violated constitutional free-speech rights, the first time it will rule on a video game case.
The justices agreed to hear the state’s appeal after a U.S. appeals court in California struck down the law, which also imposes strict video-game labeling requirements, as unconstitutional.
The high court is expected to hear arguments in the case and then issue a ruling during its upcoming term, which begins in October. It will be one of the most important cases the court has thus far decided to hear in the upcoming term.
The law has been challenged by 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).
In appealing to the Supreme Court, the state argued the free-speech guarantees of the First Amendment do not bar a state from prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors under 18.
The state also argued that the appeals court was wrong to require it to show a direct link between violent video games and physical and psychological harm to minors.
The law, adopted in 2005, has never taken effect because of the legal challenge.
“It is time to allow California’s common-sense law to go into effect and help parents protect their children from violent video games,” California Attorney General Jerry Brown said.
The appeal argued that violent material in video games should be subject to the same legal standard the courts have used to prohibit the sale of sexually explicit material to minors.
The Supreme Court has never addressed whether violent material sold to children can be treated the same as sexually explicit material.
The law defines a violent video game as one that depicts “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” Anyone who sells a violent video game to a minor can be fined as much as $1,000.
Michael Gallagher, president and chief executive of the Entertainment Software Association, which represents U.S. computer and video game publishers, said the group looks forward to presenting its arguments and defending the industry’s works.
“Courts throughout the country have ruled consistently that content-based regulation of computer and video games is unconstitutional. Research shows that the public agrees; video games should be provided the same protections as books, movies and music,” he said.
The Supreme Court agreed to decide the California case after last week’s ruling that struck down a U.S. law that bans videos depicting animal cruelty for violating constitutional free-speech rights.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he looked forward to the Supreme Court upholding the law.
“We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of games that depict ultra-violent actions, just as we already do with movies,” he said. (Editing by Eric Walsh and Todd Eastham)