Mich. video-game law put on hold

Thursday, November 10, 2005

DETROIT — A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction yesterday to stop a Michigan law that bars retailers from selling or renting violent video games to minors from going into effect until a lawsuit filed by the gaming industry is resolved.

The Entertainment Software Association, Video Software Dealers Association and Michigan Retailers Association, trade groups representing U.S. computer and video-game publishers, filed the suit in September, charging that the law is unconstitutionally vague and limits residents’ First Amendment rights.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the law in September, and it was scheduled to take effect Dec. 1. The lawsuit names Granholm, state Attorney General Mike Cox and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy as defendants.

In his order, U.S. District Judge George Steeh said the defendants were not likely to win the case and that the “loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”

Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, applauded the judge’s decision in a statement yesterday evening, calling the state’s arguments “weak and unpersuasive.”

A message was left last night for a Granholm spokeswoman.

The gaming industry also has filed lawsuits to block similar laws in California and Illinois. All three state laws were passed after hidden sex scenes were discovered in a popular game, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” Public complaints also spurred a Federal Trade Commission investigation and a new rating for the “San Andreas” game from “M” for mature to “AO” for adults only.

Federal courts have struck down video-game restrictions approved by Washington state, Indianapolis and St. Louis County in Missouri, saying they encroached on the First Amendment.

Granholm also has signed bills aimed at keeping adult-rated games with sexually explicit material away from children, but attorneys for the gaming industry are not contesting those laws.

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