Minnesota Loses Appeal of “Fine the Buyer” Video Game Law

Veteran GamePolitics readers may recall Minnesota’s unusual "penalize the buyer" approach to restricting sales of mature-themed games.

The 2006 Minnesota law sought to fine kids – not retailers – $25 for attempting to purchase a game for which the ESRB rating deemed them too young. The law was promptly overturned by U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum, who, in a novel judicial move, tried out several violent games on his law clerk’s Xbox.

Following Judge Rosenbaum’s ruling that the law was unconstitutional, Minnesota opted to appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit. That case was argued before the Court in February of last year. Now, as reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the 8th Circuit has upheld Judge Rosenbaum’s finding that the Minnesota law is unconstitutional. From the newspaper report:
 

While the judges upheld Rosenbaum’s ruling that violent games are entitled to First Amendment protections, they did so reluctantly.

 

[Judge] Wollman wrote that "whatever our intuitive (dare we say commonsense) feelings regarding the effect that extreme violence portrayed in the above-described video games may well have upon the psychological well-being of minors," precedent requires incontrovertible proof of a causal relationship between exposure to the games and some psychological harm.

 

The state failed to meet that burden, Wollman wrote… "Indeed, a good deal of the Bible portrays scenes of violence, and one would be hard-pressed to hold up as a proper role model the regicidal Macbeth," Wollman wrote.

GP: Judge Wollman’s critical comments regarding violent games are not especially surprising for those who may have listened to last February’s arguments. At that time the panel of three 8th Circuit Court judges asked some very pointed questions of video game industry attorneys.

The Minnesota case was also notable in that it produced some of the most inflammatory anti-game rhetoric this side of Jack Thompson. Bill sponsor Rep. Sandy Pappas (D, seen at left) rather famously said:
 

Legislators don’t worry too much about what’s constitutional.

In addition, then-Attorney General Mike Hatch (D) offered a legal opinion that, while violent games are indeed a form of speech, they are :
 

Worthless, disgusting speech… speech of very low societal value.

UPDATE: Bo Andersen, president of Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), which represents a significant number video game retailers, offered reaction to the legal victory:
 

We are pleased that, yet again, a court has ruled that, like other forms of entertainment, video games are protected by the First Amendment and that laws that attempt to restrict their sale are unconstitutional. We believe far too much effort has been expended trying to pass and defend these laws, effort that could have been put to better use supporting the successful voluntary initiatives of the industry and retailers to ensure that children do not get games that are not appropriate for them.

 

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