For immediate release | July 20, 2011

Freedom to Read Foundation welcomes ruling to overturn ban on selling video games to minors

CHICAGO - The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), the First Amendment legal defense arm of the American Library Association (ALA), welcomes the U.S. Supreme Court's recent 7-2 decision to overturn a 2005 California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. FTRF joined booksellers, publishers, writers and other media groups to urge the Supreme Court to strike down the law, which sought to create a new category of unprotected speech encompassing violent images and themes of violence in video games.

Characterizing California's attempt to create a new category of content-based speech regulation for children "unprecedented and mistaken," the court's decision makes clear that videogames are afforded the same First Amendment protection and consideration as books and other content:

"Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages —through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

The Supreme Court also reaffirmed earlier decisions ruling that young people's right to read and receive information is entitled to a significant measure of First Amendment protection, holding that the government's power to protect children from harm "does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

“We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed the First Amendment principles that provide the foundation for the American Library Association's policies, principles and best practices regarding the freedom to read and access materials in the library,” said Barbara Jones, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom in Chicago.

"We are especially pleased that librarians can continue to protect and uphold the First Amendment rights of all library users, including young people, whether the materials in question are video games or any other library resources.”

Jones noted that some libraries had been criticized or even forbidden to hold videogame programming, and said the Supreme Court's decision now allows libraries to create such programming for young and old alike without fear that videogames are subject to specific regulations.

FTRF participated in the lawsuit as a friend of the court, signing a brief that argued that there are no exceptions to First Amendment protection for depictions or descriptions of violence. FTRF was joined on the brief by members of the Media Coalition and other media groups, including the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the Association of American Publishers, Inc.; the National Association of Recording Merchandisers; the Recording Industry Association of America; the Association of National Advertisers, Amusement & Music Operators Association; PEN Center USA; and The Recording Academy.