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Michigan Ordered to Pay $180,000 in Legal Fees to Video Game Industry

States Now Ordered to Pay Industry over $1.5 Million for Fees In Support of Unconstitutional Game Laws

The State of Michigan must pay the video game industry $182,349 in attorney’s fees and costs as a result of successful litigation challenging an unconstitutional effort to enact a law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, Judge George Caram Steeh, US District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, ruled yesterday. This is the third legal ruling in the video game industry’s favor in similar cases around the country just this week, and makes the total currently owed or paid by states to the video game industry for legal fees in support of unconstitutional game regulation laws over $1.5 million.

“States that pass laws regulating video game sales might as well just tell voters they have a new way to throw away their tax dollars on wasteful and pointless political exercises that do nothing to improve the quality of life in the state,” said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the trade group representing U.S. computer and video game publishers. “In nine out of nine cases in the past six years, judges have struck down these clearly unconstitutional laws, and in each instance ESA has or will recover its legal fees from the states. What’s worse, the politicians proposing and voting for these laws know this will be the outcome. Our hope is that we can stop this pick pocketing of taxpayers and start working cooperatively, as we have with several states and elected officials, to implement truly effective programs to educate parents to use the tools industry has made available — from ESRB ratings to parental control technologies.”

The fees in this case will be paid to the Entertainment Software Association. To date, judges around the country have ruled that the following states and municipalities must pay the game industry’s legal fees for similar legislative efforts to regulate games: Illinois, $510,000; Washington state, $344,000; St. Louis, $180,000; Indianapolis, $318,000; and Michigan, $182,349.

In April, 2006, Judge Steeh handed down a permanent injunction halting the implementation of the new Michigan state law that would restrict video game sales. In his decision declaring the law unconstitutional, the judge dismissed the state’s claim that the interactive nature of video games makes them less entitled to First Amendment protection. “The interactive, or functional aspect, in video games can be said to enhance the expressive elements even more than other media by drawing the player closer to the characters and becoming more involved in the plot of the game than by simply watching a movie or television show,” Judge Steeh wrote. “It would be impossible to separate the functional aspects of a video game from the expressive, inasmuch as they are so closely intertwined and dependent on each other in creating the virtual experience.” He concluded, “Not only does the Act not materially advance the state’s stated interest, but it appears to discriminate against a disfavored ‘newcomer’ in the world of entertainment media. Thus, ‘singling out’ the video game industry does not advance the state’s alleged goal”.

The ESA is the U.S. association dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of the companies publishing interactive games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers, and the Internet. ESA members collectively account for more than 90 percent of the $7 billion in entertainment software sales in the U.S. in 2005, and billions more in export sales of entertainment software. For more information about the ESA, please visit http://www.theESA.com.

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