The non-profit organization, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which has been a longtime defender of First Amendment rights for comic books, today threw its support behind the video games industry by filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the upcoming Supreme Court case Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA). The case holds special significance since it will determine whether video games are in fact protected speech, and, as such, deserving of the same First Amendment protections afforded to other forms of entertainment.
"The case California makes against video games,” said executive director of CBLDF, Charles Brownstein in a statement to the press, “is one familiar to the comic book industry, which was nearly destroyed by government attempts at regulation in the 1950s. Then, as now, moral crusaders claimed that popular new media containing depictions of violence were detrimental to our youth. Then, as now, pseudo-science was used to back such claims. Those claims weren't true in the 1950s, and they aren't true now."
Brownstein went on to say, “We hope that the Supreme Court denies California's attempt to diminish the First Amendment, and spares the video game industry the fate that was suffered by the comic book industry in the past. We also encourage them to deny California's claims so that comic books and other media don't suffer under a new constitutional standard that creates new categories of unprotected speech and diminishes the First Amendment rights of minors.”
As gamers are hopefully aware, Schwarzenegger v. EMA concerns the constitutionality of a 2005 law prohibiting the sale or rental of games, deemed to be violent, to minors. The EMA and Entertainment Software Association appealed the law, resulting in a temporary injunction and eventually a permanent injunction, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte in 2007.
The state of California then challenged the injunction in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in late 2007, and in 2009, the court ruled the law was unconstitutional, prompting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to take the case to the Supreme Court. As a result, this November, the highest court in the land will, for the first time, consider whether video games are protected under the First Amendment, or if they deserve to be treated differently than all other forms of expression.
I highly encourage gamers everywhere to read the CBLDF's brief, because it is essentially a history lesson on how the arguments raised by people today in terms of the societal "harm and danger" posed by video games are almost word-for-word the same as those used over the past century to attack most forms of popular entertainment, from dime novels to jazz music to movies to comic books.