Payment processors are keeping an eye on the Supreme Court of the United States as it determines the fate of a California statute restricting minors' ability to purchase violent video games. The Entertainment Software Association and the Video Software Dealers Association challenged the Golden State statute, and on-demand strategic billing solutions provider Vindicia Inc. recently filed a brief arguing against the restriction.
As a provider of on-demand strategic billing for marketing and sales that manages subscriptions and on-time payments for online merchants, Vindicia has a vested interest in the outcome of the case.
"The state of California lost at both the trial court and appellate levels in regard to the law, so for now enforcement of the law is on hold," said Paul Rianda, a California-based attorney specializing in the bankcard industry. "The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. Opponents to the statute will argue the right to free speech and those advocating it will look at the greater good of the young adults and trying to keep them safe and developing in a proper manner."
California Civil Code Sections 1746-1746.5 make it a crime to sell or rent video games that the code defines as violent to anyone under age 18 and subjects retailers to fines of up to $1,000 per game sold. The code defines "video game" as "any electronic amusement device that utilizes a computer, microprocessor, or similar electronic circuitry and its own monitor, or designed to be used with a television set or a computer monitor, that interacts with the user of the device."
The definition for "violent" is more extensive and covers video games in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, among other criteria.
"The statute puts the impetus on the payment processor to look carefully at what the merchants are doing," Rianda said. "If a payment processor was not doing all it could to monitor the merchant's behavior, it might also be liable for that conduct."
Vindicia filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the two associations challenging the statute, and company Chief Executive Officer Gene Hoffman will attend the Nov. 2, 2010, oral argument pertaining to the case. Vindicia's brief asserts that the vagueness of the statute raises questions about its application to online gaming models and possible impacts on First Amendment rights and business interests.
In addition to arguing that video game content is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, the brief argues that the statute's restrictions on sales unduly burden adult speech and that video games are primarily used by adults. Vindicia advocates the use of parental controls as a more effective means to control youth access to unsuitable content.
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