November, 2011

Game Over for Video Game Censorship

Brown v. EMA
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On July 27, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an historic First Amendment decision in Brown v. EMA, striking down a California law governing the sale of “violent video games” to minors.  By a 7-2 margin, the court held that video games have First Amendment protections on par with books, film, music and other forms of entertainment.

The Court made it clear that governments may not regulate the sale of such content simply by blithely referring to traditional “it’s for the children” rationales for content control. “California’s effort to regulate violent video games is the latest episode in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors,” noted Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority decision, but “even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

The ruling comes on top of a growing string of recent First Amendment decisions from the Court that tightly limit legislative efforts to regulate electronic speech and expression in the information age. Going forward, this ruling will force state and local governments to change their approach to regulating all modern media content. Education and awareness-building efforts will be the more fruitful alternative since censorship has now been largely foreclosed.