MSU Professor Backs California in Upcoming Videogame Law Fight

In what can only be categorized as "no great shock to our readership," Michigan State University law professor Kevin Saunders will help the state of California when the Supreme Court revisits Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association later this year. Saunders will help co-author an amicus brief to help California’s position when arguing its case before the U.S. Supreme Court during its 2010-11 session, which begins in October. As you probably already know, Saunders testified during the 2005 California State Assembly Judiciary Committee hearings on the issue at the invitation of Leland Yee. His arguments were obviously against the industry and for the law written by Yee.

Saunders’ statements on the matter almost sound like the ECA’s, EMA’s or the ESA’s position:

"Parents need to play an active role in deciding what is appropriate for their children."

No disagreement there. But then he makes it sound as if the law helps to insure that universal truth:

"This law would leave it to parents to buy the games they will allow their children to play, taking the decision out of the hands of retailers."

This is an odd statement considering that the decision has always been with the purchaser and not the retailer – especially parents. No laws are required to make this possible. Retailers follow ESRB guidelines and require proof of age – as warranted – to buy "Mature" rated games. In fact, data from the Federal Trade Commission’s Dec. 2009 news release, "FTC Renews Call to Entertainment Industry to Curb Marketing of Violent Entertainment to Children," indicates that the industry and retailers are doing a pretty good job of self-regulation:

"..Further, retailers are enforcing age restrictions on the sale of M-rated games to children, with an average denial rate of 80 percent. The report notes, however, that children may be able to obtain M-rated games by, for example, using retailer gift cards online."

Other entertainment industries had lower rates of rejection, according to that same release: the movie industry turned away 72 percent of underage movie goers from "R" rated movies; while seven in 10 underage shoppers were able to buy CDs with a Parental Advisory Label from retailers.

None of that matters to Saunders; this is a way to help execute a long-held belief that the First Amendment should have an exception when it comes to violent content, just like the court has recognized sexual content in some cases. Saunders has argued for years that the "obscenity exception" to the First Amendment should be extended to violent material.

Likewise, the State of California argues that violent games have "no redeeming value and should not be entitled to constitutional protection." The Yee authored law restricted the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone younger than 18. The law broadly classified violent content as "depictions of violence in games that are offensive to the community" or violence in an "especially heinous, cruel or depraved’ manner."

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