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A California law that places sale restrictions and labeling requirements on certain violent video games is unconstitutionally broad and violates free speech guarantees, according to a federal appeals court decision issued Friday.
The 2005 California law prohibits the sale or rental of "violent video games" to minors under 18 years of age, and requires that such games be distributed with a prominent "18" label on their packaging. A constitutional challenge to the law was brought by a number of companies that create, manufacturer, and distribute video games. In Friday's unanimous decision, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that "the State has not produced substantial evidence that supports the Legislature's conclusion that violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to minors. Even if it did, the Act is not narrowly tailored to prevent that harm and there remain less restrictive means of forwarding the State's purported interests, such as the improved [software] rating system, enhanced educational campaigns, and parental controls." Furthermore, the court concluded, the labeling requirement constitutes impermissibly compelled speech under the First Amendment.
Reuters reports that Friday's decision, in which the court "found that the labeling requirement unfairly forces video games to carry 'the state's controversial opinion' about which games are violent," may have "a far-reaching impact on efforts by other states to establish mandatory video game labeling requirements."