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Okla. video-game law violates free speech, federal judge rules

By The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge has permanently enjoined the state from enforcing a law that would ban the sale of violent video games to minors, ruling it is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

In her Sept. 17 decision in Entertainment Merchants Association v. Henry, U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron said there is no support or “substantial evidence” that video games are harmful to minors and that “there is a complete dearth of legislative findings, scientific studies or other rationale to support passage of the act.”

The video-game legislation was passed by the Legislature last year and signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry. It barred retailers from selling video games that include “inappropriate” or “gratuitous” violence to minors.

It was challenged in a lawsuit filed in October by the Entertainment Merchants Association and the Entertainment Software Association. ESA’s members accounted for more than 90% of the $7.4 billion in entertainment software sold in the U.S. in 2006, according to the group’s Web site.

The law was scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 1, 2006, but Cauthron blocked its enforcement shortly after the lawsuit was filed.

Cauthron’s ruling addressed the issue of computer and video games’ interactivity, the ESA said. Cauthron found that “the presence of increased viewer control and interactivity does not remove these games from the release of First Amendment protection.”

The court also ruled the law was underinclusive because a minor prevented from buying a video game with “’inappropriate violence’ may still legally buy or rent the book or movie on which the game was based.”

Oklahoma is the latest state to have its video game law struck down, the ESA said. At least six courts in other states have struck down similar laws, ruling they were unconstitutional and rejecting state claims that violent video games cause aggression.

“We need to move past unconstitutional attempts to circumvent Oklahoma citizens’ rights,” Michael D. Gallagher, president of the ESA, said in a statement. “This bill was clearly unconstitutional and we now need to develop a public/private partnership that meets concerned parents’ needs.”

The law, House Bill 3004, was authored by former Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, and Senate co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. Neither Morgan nor Coffee returned telephone calls from the Associated Press seeking comment on the court’s action.

After the lawsuit was filed, Morgan accused the industry of challenging state restrictions “without being responsible enough to work with legislators to try to solve the problem.” Industry officials said the games are rated and retailers have committed to enforcing ratings restrictions.

“State officials and policymakers should work together with our industry to educate parents about game ratings and the parental controls available on all new video game consoles,” Gallagher said.

Okla. law restricting video games blocked
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