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American Amusement Machine Association v. Kendrick

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Citation Edit

American Amusement Machine Ass'n v. Kendrick, 244 F.3d 572 (7th Cir. 2001) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

The manufacturers of video games and their trade association sought to enjoin, as a violation of freedom of expression, the enforcement of an Indianapolis ordinance that sought to limit the access of minors to video games that depict violence. The ordinance defines the term "harmful to minors" to mean "an amusement machine that predominantly appeals to minors' morbid interest in violence or minors' prurient interest in sex, is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for persons under the age of eighteen (18) years, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value as a whole for persons under" that age, and contains either "graphic violence" or "strong sexual content." "Graphic violence" is defined to mean "an amusement machine's visual depiction or representation of realistic serious injury to a human or human-like being where such serious injury includes amputation, decapitation, dismemberment, bloodshed, mutilation, maiming or disfiguration."

The ordinance forbids any operator of five or more videogame machines in one place to allow a minor unaccompanied by a parent, guardian, or other custodian to use "an amusement machine that is harmful to minors," requires appropriate warning signs and requires that such machines be separated by a partition from the other machines in the location and that their viewing areas be concealed from persons who are on the other side of the partition. Operators of fewer than five games in one location are subject to all but the partitioning restriction. Monetary penalties, as well as suspension and revocation of the right to operate the machines, are specified as remedies for violations of the ordinance.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

Although the trial court agreed with the plaintiffs that video games are "speech" within the meaning of the First Amendment and that children have rights under the free-speech clause, the court held that the ordinance would violate the amendment only if the city lacked a reasonable basis for believing the ordinance would protect children from harm. The trial court also found a reasonable basis in a couple of empirical studies by psychologists that found that playing a violent [[video game]s tends to make young persons more aggressive in their attitudes and behavior, and also in a larger literature finding that violence in the media engenders aggressive feelings.

The trial court also ruled that the ordinance's tracking of the conventional standard for obscenity got rid of any concern that the ordinance might be too vague. Having decided that the ordinance did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, the trial court did not consider the other criteria that might bear on the decision to grant or deny a preliminary injunction.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The appellate court struck down the ordnance and held that a preliminary injunction was warranted. The appellate court stated that there was no evidence that exposure to the sometimes violent narratives in the video games targeted by the ordinance actually caused harmful behavior and that young people had First Amendment rights and were unlikely to become well-functioning, independent-minded adults and responsible citizens if they are raised in an intellectual bubble.

The court also stated that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if the ordinance is permitted to go into effect because compliance with the ordinance will impose costs on them of altering their facilities and will also cause them to lose revenue.

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