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Supreme Court to hear arguments on case involving violent video games

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • A 2005 California state law is in limbo pending the Supreme Court's ruling
  • The law would have banned the sale or rental of games considered excessively violent
  • Such games let players kill, maim, dismember or sexually assault human images

(CNN) -- A free speech dispute over a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children is set to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

Arguments in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants are scheduled to take place Tuesday and Wednesday.

A 2005 state law -- designed to strengthen the current industry-controlled rating system -- would have placed an outright ban on the sale or rental of games deemed excessively "violent" to those under 18.

As defined by California, such interactive games are those in which the player is given the choice of "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" in offensive ways. Retailers could be fined up to $1,000 for any violation.

The law is in limbo pending the high court's ruling.

Video: Virtual violence and free speech

Video game makers have said the ban goes too far against their free speech rights, and the existing industry-imposed, nationwide voluntary ratings system is an adequate screen for parents to judge the appropriateness of computer games. The state says it has a legal obligation to protect children when the industry has failed to do so.

The motion picture industry has its own self-monitoring ratings system, imposed decades ago after complaints that some films were too explicit for the general audience. A high court ruling allowing greater government control over the evaluation of expressive content could be applied to other media.

The Supreme Court in recent years has thwarted repeated congressional attempts to protect children from pornography, saying such legislation went too far in limiting adult access to lawful but explicit sexual content on the internet. The court has also said in various contexts that minors enjoy a variety of free-expression rights.

CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears contributed to this report.