Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco (D) has signed into law a bill that prohibits the rental sale of violent video and computer games to minors. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has announced that it will fight the law in federal court.
The law — enrolled as Act 441 — states that sales of video games are prohibited to minors if “The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the video or computer game, taken as a whole, appeals to the minor’s morbid interest in violence.
“The game depicts violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors.
“The game, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artist, political or scientific value for minors.”
The law specifies that retailers found guilty of violation of Act 441 will be subject to fines of “not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars or imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not more than one year, or both.”
The original bill — HB1381 — was sponsored by Rep. Roy A. Burrell (D, Shreveport) and was drafted with the assistance of activist Jack Thompson, a Florida attorney who has taken on the video game industry before. Rather than define “violent,” the bill was carefully crafted to mimic the Miller obscenity test — the gold standard upon which modern anti-obscenity legislation has been crafted.
Blanco signed the law to take effect immediately.
The Entertainment Software Association — the industry trade group that represents computer and video game developers and publishers — issued a statement following Blanco’s action. They noted that they’ve filed suit in the Federal District Court of Baton Rouge, La.
The ESA claims that the new law violates constitutional protections. What’s more, said the ESA, it also sends a strong message to video game developers to stay out of Louisiana, less than a year after legislators passed a bill that offers tax credits to such companies who want to set up shop in the state.
The ESA has been successful in overturning similar legislation passed in other courts half a dozen times over the past half decade. At issue when the law comes up for review before federal courts is the First Amendment, which guarantees, among other things, that the government won’t do anything to abridge freedom of speech.
While laws on the books protect minors against exposure to pornography, such laws don’t extend to portrayals of violent content. Violence is afforded a level of constitutional protection not offered to obscene material. The ESA pointed to the ruling of a federal judge in Michigan earlier this year who overturned another violent video game law and said that video games were “expressive free speech … protected by the First Amendment.”
The ESA claims the legislative efforts have cost taxpayers nearly a million dollars in legal fees.
ESA President Douglas Lowenstein expects the ESA will see similar results this time around, and added that such bills are unnecessary.
“Both parents and industry are working together to ensure that video games are purchased responsibly,” said Lowenstein. “The Federal Government has found that parents are involved in game purchases more than eight out of ten times. Retailers already have increasingly effective carding programs in place to prevent the sale of Mature or Adult Only games to minors.”