Oklahoma Video Game Law Defeated

The Video Game Industry can now add Oklahoma to their list of victories against game laws, as an opinion was released today in Entertainment Merchants Association v. Henry, Case No. 5:06-cv-00675 (W.D. Okla.). The opinion grants the plaintiff’s request to have the enforcement of the act permanently enjoined.

The opinion makes it quite clear that there is no grounds to support this law. For those unfamiliar, the Oklahoma version of the law placed a $1,000 fine on any dissemination of video games with “inappropriate violence” to minors. This language even included a parent giving a game to a minor. The opinion made a few distinct points on the issues at hand:

1. Video games are protected speech. No particular peculiarities of the medium nor amount of user control can change this legal fact.

2. Regulating violence is a content based restriction on free speech, and therefore presumptively invalid and subject to strict scrutiny. Violence, unlike sexual content, is not regulating obscenity.

3. Video game violence does not compel youth to commit violent acts, nor is there “substantial evidence” of a link between video game violence and youth violence. To quote the opinion on the latter, “Beyond Defendants’ generalized statements, there is a complete dearth of legislative findings, scientific studies, or other rationale in the record to support the passage of the Act. Defendants’ argument that “common sense” dictates that playing violent video games “is not good for children,” and that the onus is on Plaintiffs to prove otherwise, completely fails. (See Defs.’ Resp. at 9.) The First Amendment does not allow prohibitions based on “common sense.” See Kendrick, 244 F.3d at 578; Granholm, 426 F. Supp. 2d at 663-64.

4. The standard on violence in this act was so very vague that it was fatal to the act itself, in addition to the numerous other flaws pointed out. “The Act “does not satisfy the rigorous constitutional standards that apply when government attempts to regulate expression. Where First Amendment freedoms are at stake . . . precision of drafting and clarity of purpose are essential. These prerequisites are absent
here.” Erznoznik, 422 U.S. at 217-18.

The question from here is whether the government officials in Oklahoma see fit to continue to waste taxpayer money and the court’s time in addressing this issue, as California seems determined to do. I have long supported the proposition that parents should be controlling their children’s media consumption, not the government, and this seems to be another step in the right direction.

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About Mark Methenitis

Mark Methenitis is an attorney in Dallas Texas. Mark received his Juris Doctorate and his Master of Business Administration from Texas Tech University and his Bachelor of Arts from The University of Texas.

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