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Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association

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Court/Judicial body: Supreme Court

Citation: 564 U.S. 786 (2011)
Date: 27 June 2011
Instrument(s) cited: United States Constitution, First Amendment: freedom of speech

Case summary

Background: The Entertainment Merchants Association – a group of video game and software producers – filed suit against a California law that restricts the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The law prohibited the sale of games that include killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being in a manner that a reasonable person would find is offensive to community standards as to what is suitable for minors and causes the game to lack in “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors”. The game producers argued that the Californian law is an undue restriction of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects the freedom of speech.

Issue and resolution: Freedom of speech. Whether restrictions on violent video games are consistent with the First Amendment. The Court concluded a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm, but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.

Court reasoning: The Court noted that video games qualify for First Amendment protection under the US Constitution because they communicate idea through literary devices similar to books, plays, and movies. Additionally, the First Amendment does not “discriminate” when the form of communication is nontraditional such as a video game. The court explained that a legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech by weighing the value of the category against its social costs. Traditionally, the First Amendment has never allowed for the restriction of children’s access to depictions of violence. Therefore, the state cannot create a new category of content-based regulation founded solely on speech directed at children. Therefore, the law was ruled unconstitutional and struck down.

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