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US court okays violent videogames for kids

In the name of free speech

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The US Supreme Court has voided a Californian law which prevents the sale of violent videogames to minors, claiming it violates the nation's constitution-enshrined freedom of speech.

Filmstar Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed the bill in 2005 while state governor, intending to make it illegal for retailers to sell adult-oriented games to anyone under the age of 18. Those who failed to comply could be fined up to $1000.

The law never took effect though thanks to a legal challenge, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. On Monday, the Supreme Court threw out the law, stating that it contradicted the principles of free speech. Videogames qualify for First Amendment protection, it said.

"The most basic principle, that government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content ... is subject to a few limited exceptions for historically unprotected speech, such as obscenity, incitement and fighting words.

"But a legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test," the Supreme Court's judgement reads.

The Supreme Court insisted the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) system - the US' equivalent of Europe's Pegi rating system - "does much to ensure that minors cannot purchase seriously violent games on their own, and that parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home." ®

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