California 2005 Video Game Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Read the ruling here

A federal district court judge has ruled California’s 2005 video game law unconstitutional, ending a legal fight which lasted nearly two years.

The bill, championed by then-Assembly Speaker Leland Yee (D) was signed into law by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (left) on October 7th, 2005. The video game industry filed suit to block the law 10 days later.

Judge Ronald Whyte issued a preliminary injunction on December 22nd, blocking the California law from its planned effective date of January 1st, 2006. Since then, both sides have been waiting for Judge Whyte’s final ruling. Today it has come.

A lot has happened since the suit was filed. The main plaintiff, the Video Software Dealers Association, no longer exists. The organization merged with the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association last year and is now known as the Entertainment Merchants Association, representing video game retailers and renters.

Doug Lowenstein, of course, is no longer with the video game publishers’ association, the Entertainment Software Association, another plaintiff in the case. Mike Gallagher now heads the ESA. And Leland Yee moved from the California Assembly to the State Senate in November, 2006.

From Judge Whyte’s ruling:

The evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures.

Although some reputable professional individuals and organizations have expressed particular concern about the interactive nature of video games, there is no generally-accepted study that supports that concern. There has also been no detailed study to differentiate between the effects of violent videos on minors of different ages.

The court, although sympathetic to what the legislature sought to do by the Act, finds that the evidence does not establish the required nexus between the legislative concerns about the well-being of minors and the restrictions on speech required by the Act.

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74 Responses to “California 2005 Video Game Law Ruled Unconstitutional”

  1. Devr Says:

    Pwned. Can’t wait for details, this shall be delicious.

  2. Soga Says:

    Where’s your Thompson now, anti-game activists?!

  3. Billy Says:

    shocker

  4. Jojo Stix Says:

    About time. Although, as a taxpayer in California, I’m not looking forward to the fallout.

  5. chadachada Says:

    score…

  6. Black Patriot Says:

    Its a pity all these bills keep getting passed, and end up costing the taxpayers so much more in legal fees to defend them in court. We can only hope that they’ll eventually learn and stop passing the stupid things…

  7. Alex "XIF" Campos Says:

    Friendly Awesome Super Exciting Time

    But totally expected/10

  8. dutch_gamer Says:

    That really took the judge a very, very long time. I don’t think anyone here is surprised about the final ruling.

  9. Shih Tzu Says:

    I don’t understand. The law is clearly constitutional:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, except in the case of interactive electronic simulations; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    I mean, it’s right there.

  10. DarkeSword Says:

    Vote Shih Tzu for Comment of the Year 2007

  11. kurisu7885 Says:

    In before lawyerman says this would have passed with him on board.

    And, Mr Yee, if you see this, I certainly hope we don’t see a repeat.

  12. Zigs Says:

    California, I have only three words for you…

    Suck it, douchebags.

  13. Rob Says:

    Nah, a certain lawyer we know would say that the court is in the pocket of the video game industry and then put on his tin foil hat.

  14. Mr. Blond Says:

    Took him long enough. Now the eyes are on Oklahoma as the last state that needs to officially overturn theirs.

  15. pokemaster2185 Says:

    Forgive me for asking, but why did the ruling take so long? The outcome was pretty obvious to all of us.

  16. Law of the Game Says:

    For those of you who don’t want to read the opinion, I’ve got a couple of the other key points noted in my post on it:

    http://lawofthegame.blogspot.com/2007/08/california-game-law-unconsitutional.html

  17. MaskedPixelante Says:

    whatever happened to the New York law?

  18. Disciple Says:

    Zigs - the only thing us Californians are sucking on is the sweet nectar of economic success. you know you want to be us.

  19. Citizen_Snips Says:

    And another one bite the dust.

  20. Hart704 Says:

    This is very good news!

  21. rapka Says:

    Great news!! I wonder whether ol’ JT will find a way to de-ban himself to comment on this.

  22. Ben Says:

    Now we just need New York…

  23. John Kanders Says:

    As it should be, and as it will only be in the courts. Federal judges are beholden to no one, have lifetime appointments, and can only be removed for malfeasance, not for disagreements with their rulings. When ridiculous laws based on fake logic get passed, the courts will strike em down. See the Pennsylvania case where intelligent design was to be taught in schools. The religious republican judge layed the smackdown and stated in his ruling, ID is not science. Here, there’s no evidence other than political rhetoric that games cause violence, and that’s not enough to ban them. Reason prevails. Bravo.

  24. Toastrider Says:

    Re: ‘Why did it take so long?’

    You’d be surprised. Court cases, particularly ones that can overturn existing laws, can take a LONG time to resolve. Very, very rarely do things get wrapped up as neatly as they do on Law & Order. Lawyers will try to cite past cases, amicus curae (friend of the court) briefs will be introduced, experts will be called in… the wheels do tend to turn a bit slowly.

    Whyte’s ruling is very concise and to the point. There’s simply not enough evidence to justify such restrictions on games.

    –TR

  25. Phantom Says:

    While I hate being the Devil’s advocate here, I seem to recall Thompson himself said this bill would be found unconstitutional when it was first introduced. So doing any victory dances and aiming DX-style crotch chops in his directly may be a bit premature.

    On the other hand, feel free to aim as much crowing and boasting at Leland Yee as you want. :D

  26. Phantom Says:

    re my above post: “In his directly” should have read “In his direction.” Bah. :(

  27. enbob89 Says:

    suck it, california legislature!

  28. Piotr Reysner Says:

    I am a California lawyer and this what I have to say — ABOUT F’ING TIME! Seriously, I have enough experience with the courts to understand precisely how slowly the wheels of justice grind. However, this case was submitted for decision a year and a half ago. There is no excuse for the ruling to take this long. Really, that’s unconscionable.

    For instance, in state courts, judges have no more than 90 days to issue a ruling. If they don’t, then they are not allowed to collect a paycheck. Maybe that’s how the federal courts should operate.

  29. Piotr Reysner Says:

    Actually, I gotta take that back. I am just now reading the court’s ruling. This was done by way of summary judgment. Which, for all you legal eagles out there, explains why this took so damn long.

    Still about f’ing time, though.

  30. Gamer81 Says:

    @Phantom

    Actually, Thompson claimed this bill would be found constitutional and actually praised Yee because the bill was specific and sought to regulate video games the way obscene material is regulated using similar prong tests (he also claimed the same thing about the Louisiana bill, which was also ruled unconstitutional even though Thompson claimed it was “bullet-proof”).

    Anyway, Leland Yee should learn not to lie just to get his bills passed. Check this article out:

    http://www.d3dgames.com/yee.html

  31. Pixelantes Anonymous Says:

    Congratulations Californians. Now pay up!

    You should demand your millionaire Governor to pay the legal fees from his own purse.

    Maybe a ballot to that affect in the next election cycle?

  32. Chubear Says:

    Oh thanks God. Every time one of these judgements comes up I catch myself holding my breath saying “will this be the day?”

    After our invasion of Iraq and all that went into that with the lying, the misinformation to the public, the blatant disregard for international law and the number of times the constitution of the USA have been tested (and I’m sure we’ll soon find out in time, broken on several occassions) I don’t hold much faith in this Adminstration’s era to up hold our laws too.

    To all the people fighting to make sure we as gamers not only still enjoy our liberties as gamers but also as people of a free and democratic world, thank you very much. It is oh so appreciated.

  33. Yet another anti-video game law ruled unconstitutional, this time in California at The Mad Finn Says:

    […] Yet another anti-video game law ruled unconstitutional, this time in California Published in US, video games, justice system, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leland Yee and California. original article […]

  34. gs2005 Says:

    Well, seeing Leland Yee get legally smacked down is nice, but it’s no guarantee he won’t try again.

    There are others, who just believe it’s what needs to be done, which is far more dangerous.

  35. nightwng2000 Says:

    “The evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures.”

    I loved it so much, I gotta hear it again!

    “The evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures.”

    One more time for the people in the back!

    “The evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures.”

    (I can’t find a really, really, good “Amen!” song on YouTube to put here. Just start singing it, that’ll work!)

    Nightwng2000
    NW2K Software

  36. Dex Says:

    Well, that was a good, long read. I noticed that this court was a lot more sympathetic to what it saw the state could do in regulating content. However, it does point out that video games aren’t to be singled out quite yet, and the State has to be far narrower in its statutes to pass strict scrutiny. Which is good. It also points out that the State didn’t prove how their tactic would be better than the current rating system, or that the current system is ineffective.

    All in all, pretty good to see.

  37. E. Zachary Knight Says:

    I love this part:

    “The government cannot constitutionally premise legislation on the desirability of controlling a person’s private thoughts. First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.”

  38. E. Zachary Knight Says:

    This part is great too:

    “Violence has always been and remains a central interest of humankind and a
    recurrent, even obsessive theme of culture both high and low. It engages the interest of children from an early age, as anyone familiar with the classic fairy tales collected by Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault is aware. To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.”

  39. E. Zachary Knight Says:

    Sorry for the constant posting, I just love some of this stuff. Such as the following:

    “In light of the fact that, upon turning eighteen, one can vote and fight in a war, a showing needs to be made that an individual nearing the age of majority needs to be shielded from uncensored speech to the same extent as an early adolescent.”

  40. University Update - Video Games - California 2005 Video Game Law Ruled Unconstitutional Says:

    […] YouTube Contact the Webmaster Link to Article video games California 2005 Video Game Law Ruled Unconstitutional » Posted at GamePolitics.com on Monday, August 06, 2007 California 2005 Video Game Law Ruled Unconstitutional August 6th, 2007 Read the ruling here … in November, 2006. From Judge Whyte’s ruling: The evidence does not establish that video games … and organizations have expressed particular concern about the interactive nature of video games View Original Article » […]

  41. CyberSkull Says:

    Man, this is coming right out of my taxes.
    :(

  42. Father Time Says:

    Finally!

    I was wondering when the judge would get around to releasing a verdict.

    Anyway back when they made this bill, states were not sued for legal fees when the bills were found unconstitutional, so do you think California will be spared? (I hope so because that’s where I live).

  43. ConservativeGamer » Blog Archive » Trouble in California Says:

    […] As GamePolitics reports, after a two year battle, a federal district court judge has ruled California’s 2005 video game law unconstitutional. The law would have blocked the sale of violent games to those under 18, and each offense would hit retailers with a $1000 fine. From the Judge’s ruling: The evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures. […]

  44. MasterAssassin Says:

    So how much will this cost the good taxpayers of CA

  45. tempo Says:

    nono,
    Thanks for the highlights Zachary :)

    - - - -

    Its weird how surprising it is when the american legal system actually works the way it was intended…

  46. BearDogg-X Says:

    @ MasterAssassin

    I’m going to guess more than what it cost Illinois.

  47. News - CA Game law found unconstitutional, Govener wants to appeal. « Assaulting the Spire Says:

    […] I have to say that when I first hear this I was happy and I had thought that common sense had won in this battle, but it seems that the Govenator wants to appeal the ruling by stating that the state is looking out for the best interest of the parents. Gamepolitics has been following the story like a hawk these past two days as well. […]

  48. Terrible Tom Says:

    Leland Yee -

    HA!!

  49. Chadius Says:

    w00t. It’s about time.

  50. Jugendschutz in den USA - WinBoard - Die Windows Community Says:

    […] Jugendschutz in den USA Hallo Kalifornisches Videospiel-Gesetz verfassungswidrig Das kalifornische Gesetz gegen den Verkauf gewalthaltiger Computerspiele an Minderj�hrige ist verfassungswidrig. Das berichtet die Website GamePolitics.com und beruft sich dabei auf das Urteil des zust�ndigen Richters Ronald Whyte. �Die Beweise legen nicht nahe, dass Videospiele aufgrund ihrer interaktiven Natur sch�dlicher sind als brutale Fernsehsendungen, Filme, Websites oder andere Medien�, stellte Whyte in seiner Urteilsbegr�ndung fest. Zwar h�tten einige angesehene Experten und Organisationen ihre Bedenken bez�glich der Interaktivit�t von Computerspielen ausgedr�ckt. Es existiere jedoch keine allgemein anerkannte Studie, die diese Zweifel unterst�tze. Auch der Einfluss des Alters auf die Effekte von Videospielen sei noch nicht anhand von Forschung belegt. Das Gericht begr��e das Ziel des Gesetzes, n�mlich das Wohl Minderj�hriger, durchaus, versicherte der Richter. Allerdings reiche die Beweislast nicht aus, um die Einschr�nkungen der freien Rede, die das Gesetz zur Folge gehabt h�tte, zu rechtfertigen. Das Videospiel-Gesetz war im Jahr 2005 vom kalifornischen Gouverneur Arnold Schwarzenegger unterzeichnet worden und sollte am 1. Januar 2006 Rechtskraft erhalten. Nachdem der US-amerikanische Computerspiel-Verband ESA (Entertainment Software Association) gegen das versch�rfte Jugendschutzgesetz Klage erhoben hatte, wurde es jedoch vorl�ufig auf Eis gelegt. Inzwischen reagierte Arnold Schwarzenegger auf das nun gesprochene Urteil. Der Gouverneur k�ndigte an in Berufung zu gehen und das Gesetz energisch zu verteidigen. �Ich habe diese wichtige Ma�nahme unterzeichnet um sicherzustellen, dass Eltern sich �ber die Auswahl der f�r ihre Kinder geeigneten Videospiele Gedanken machen. Der von mir unterschriebene Gesetzentwurf sah vor, dass brutale Videospiele klar gekennzeichnet und nicht an Kindern unter 18 Jahren verkauft werden�, nahm Schwarzenegger die Gesetzesinitiative in Schutz. Viele dieser Spiele seien f�r Erwachsene gemacht und so sollten auch die Eltern entscheiden, welche der Titel f�r ihre Kindern geeignet seien. Quelle: gamestar.de __________________ ->Winboard/Game/News<- Winboard Video-Bereich Mein Systemprofile mad-moxx - Der Grafikkarten-Spezialist Gruss Motte […]

  51. shouting loudly » The Problem with Game Regulation and Complete Playthrough Says:

    […] Game Politics reports that another video game sales restriction law has been overturned in court. This time, it was the long-awaited decision on California’s 2005 law, upon which some other (since stalled or overturned) bills and laws were built. Game Politics is also hosting a PDF of the judge’s ruling, which looks a lot like the other rulings from what I’ve seen so far (as described here; my explanation of strict scrutiny was a bit muddled then, but you get the basic idea). […]

  52. Attacked by Gorillas » Blog Archive » Personal responsibility is for suckers Says:

    […] In California, a bill was recently struck down as unconstitutional in regards to video game sales. The bill was supposed to block the sale of ultraviolent games to those under the age of 18. Well, seriously, there’s this thing you might want to read up on, called the ESRB. It, similar to movies, rates games for content, and parents have been ignoring them for years. Now they want the parents to have the "ultimate decision" as to whether or not they want their children protected, and a lot of parents simply don’t care enough to do such a thing. That’s how we end up with 12-year-olds screaming profanities and racial slurs on Xbox Live. […]

  53. Vern Says:

    How is this unconstitutional with video games, but not unconstitutional for movies? Seems like an awfully stupid double standard.

  54. Gamer81 Says:

    @Vern

    Not unconstitutional for movies? What exactly do you mean? There is no law regulating children’s access to movies. Please don’t tell me you didn’t know that, because that would truly be “awfully stupid”. In fact, children have an easier time getting their hands on R rated DVD movies than M rated video games. Just look at what the Federal Trade Commission found:

    http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2007/04/marketingviolence.shtm

  55. Wii Wii » Blog Archive » I’ll be back: Arnie appealing against US ruling on violent games Says:

    […] Via Game Politics […]

  56. Meggo the Eggo Says:

    Yay, three cheers for Judge Whyte.

    I really need to learn my legal mumbo jumbo… I have to admit, I don’t know much beyond what Phoenix Wright taught me ^_^;;

    And I really lost all faith in the claims that violent games cause people to commit violent crimes a while ago when some big games critic cited Kingdom of Loathing (kingdomofloathing.com) caused a man to slaughter a group of girls.

    For everyone’s reference, KoL is a game with stick-figure graphics, where you can boost your defense by wearing an item called an Asshat.

    @ Shih Tzu: You made my day!

  57. cactaurfan90 Says:

    fuck ya big victory for gamers anywhere

  58. Marilynn Says:

    As a senior, who in the past had to watch ‘little’ (mentally only)Arnold spend our tax payer money for unnecessary legal fees while I had to pinch pennies to pay for food and medication. I could have sworn that we, the tax payers had already made our feelings perfectly clear on this subject. When the courts haven’t turned things around for him he hits the tax payer again by creating more legal expenses.

  59. Game Addict Hotline » Episode 89 had the Lynx, Power Glove, and Game Boy Says:

    […] California Game Law is Terminated […]

  60. Quick Hits - the “I’ve been Slacking” version » Midwestern Boy Says:

    […] A win for video game fiends in California. […]

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  62. Hasta La Vista, Gaming? « Movies 360 Says:

    […] After Federal Judge Ronald Whyte, declared California’s Anti-Video Game Bill, AB1179, unconstitutional as it would have regulated video games, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now will appeal the ruling and wants the law back. He is completely disregarding the Constitution, court rulings across the country, and the ESRB’s successful progress in educating parents on how to protect their children. […]

  63. Editorial: Why the Ban on Violent Video Game Sales to Minors Would Be a Good Thing Says:

    […] Source: GamePolitics.com […]

  64. California Lawsuit Banning Sale of Video Games to Minors Is Declared Unconstitutional Says:

    […] via GamePolitics.com […]

  65. KnottyMars Says:

    Im surprised that we havent heard from the pious Jack Thompson on this. Aint no fun when the rabbits got the gun, huh??

  66. Altair Says:

    Gamers: 8

    Anti-First Amendment Idiots: ZIP!

    =D

  67. Altair Says:

    Ok, that was a bad comment, but you would think that they would have learned by now that they cant ban gaming =/

  68. Videogames: The Governator won’t let the California videogame law die  »TechAddress Says:

    […] Since the great “Hot Coffee” scandal of 2005 — when a sex minigame was discovered in the code of “Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas” — legislators have redoubled efforts to save the children from violent videogames. Everyone from Hillary Clinton to California state senator Leland Yee has attempted to regulate the sale of violent games to minors. Most efforts have died horrible deaths thanks to this little thing we like to call the First Amendment. Just last month California’s 2005 videogame law (which would require violent game packages to be marked “adult only” and be plastered with a giant “18,” and it would fine retailers who sell games to minors up to $1,000) was ruled unconstitutional in federal district court. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will have none of that. On Wednesday he appealed the decision, stating, “We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of games that depict ultraviolent actions.” Of course, for every study that “proves” violent videogames cause violent behavior, there’s a study debunking it. Never mind that the Governator is hardly the best antiviolence role model for kids. […]

  69. Videogames: We’re still upset about violent videogames  »TechAddress Says:

    […] Since the great “Hot Coffee” scandal of 2005 — when a sex minigame was discovered in the code of “Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas” — legislators have redoubled efforts to save the children from violent videogames. Everyone from Hillary Clinton to California state senator Leland Yee has attempted to regulate the sale of violent games to minors. Most efforts have died horrible deaths thanks to this little thing we like to call the First Amendment. Just last month California’s 2005 videogame law (which would require violent game packages to be marked “adult only” and be plastered with a giant “18,” and it would fine retailers who sell games to minors up to $1,000) was ruled unconstitutional in federal district court. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will have none of that. On Wednesday he appealed the decision, stating, “We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of games that depict ultraviolent actions.” Of course, for every study that “proves” violent videogames cause violent behavior, there’s a study debunking it. Never mind that the Governator is hardly the best antiviolence role model for kids. […]

  70. Number Crunching: Silicon Valley running out of phone numbers …  »TechAddress Says:

    […] Since the great “Hot Coffee” scandal of 2005 — when a sex minigame was discovered in the code of “Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas” — legislators have redoubled efforts to save the children from violent videogames. Everyone from Hillary Clinton to California state senator Leland Yee has attempted to regulate the sale of violent games to minors. Most efforts have died horrible deaths thanks to this little thing we like to call the First Amendment. Just last month California’s 2005 videogame law (which would require violent game packages to be marked “adult only” and be plastered with a giant “18,” and it would fine retailers who sell games to minors up to $1,000) was ruled unconstitutional in federal district court. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will have none of that. On Wednesday he appealed the decision, stating, “We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of games that depict ultraviolent actions.” Of course, for every study that “proves” violent videogames cause violent behavior, there’s a study debunking it. Never mind that the Governator is hardly the best antiviolence role model for kids. […]

  71. Nokota Says:

    I’m sorry, but I have to agree with the legislature on this one.
    theyre not banning the sales of violent video games to everyone, just minors.
    while I enjoy them personally, and as I know many people also do,
    I do NOT like the idea of my neighbor’s nine-year-old son getting his paws on a game like grand theft auto, where picking up a whore and then killing her is rewarded. We have laws preventing children from getting their hands on disgustingly graphic or morally bankrupt movies, there should be a similar law for games. While there is NO proof that violent games cause violence in your average Joe, there is DECADES worth of proof that graphic images and ideals CAN disrupt a YOUNG and naive mind. I myself became prone to beating people up after becoming addicted to “Ninja Turtles” at the age of six, which my mother put a stop to. While I do not think it fair to limit sales, we need to find some way to keep VERY young children, like my nine-year-old neighbor, from buying games along the lines I formerly described.

  72. Nokota Says:

    As I stated before, while stating that video games cause violence is total bullshit, we really should be upholding laws that prevent young children from playing graphically horrendous video games. unfortunately, I personally know a GOOD few children who have grown up with these kinds of games. I wouldn’t call them violent, but theyre about six times as jaded as most children their age usually are, and most of the ones I have known have become depressed early in their lives. This material should be for people who can handle it, and while i don’t think theres anything wrong with a fourteen year old playing a game like this, it could have serious repercussions when played by a child of seven or eight.

  73. Nokota Says:

    @Gamer81
    sorry for the multiple posts!
    gamer, there IS a restriction on underage persons when it comes to movies!
    it is illegal for someone under the age of seventeen to go to a movie that is rated R unless accompanied by an adult, and a person under the age of seventeen cannot purchase nor rent a rated R movie without an adult present.

  74. Linkity « Careg’s Weblog Says:

    […] Suck it, Leland […]

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