ESA sues Chicago Transport Authority over game ad bans

The Chicago Transport Authority doesn’t like those evil, evil vidjagames dirtying the city’s beautiful buses. In January of this year, the CTA enacted a ban on any advert that  “markets or identifies a video or computer game rated “Mature 17+” (M) or “Adults Only 18+” (AO).” The ESA has taken this as a violation of free speech, and is bringing the issue to court.

The CTA’s ordinance constitutes a clear violation of the constitutional rights of the entertainment software industry,” states ESA CEO Mike Gallagher. “Courts across the United States, including those in the CTA’s own backyard, have ruled consistently that video games are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as other forms of entertainment. The CTA appears unwilling to recognize this established fact, and has shown a remarkable ignorance of the dynamism, creativity and expressive nature of computer and video games. The ESA will not sit idly by when the creative freedoms of our industry are threatened.”

Them’s fighting words if ever I saw ’em. I’m glad that the ESA won’t take this kind of crap lying down. Videogames are always being singled out while other mediums are apparently free to act as they choose, and it’s really reaching the point of farce. Hopefully the ESA stikes a blow against the CTA in the courts. Hit the jump for the full press release.

July 22, 2009 – Washington, DC – The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) today filed suit against the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), challenging the CTA’s prohibition on certain computer and video game advertisements as a violation of the guarantees of free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, charges the CTA with unfairly targeting the entertainment software industry by enacting an ordinance that selectively bans advertisements of computer and video games rated “Mature 17+” (M) or “Adults Only 18+” (AO). 

“The CTA’s ordinance constitutes a clear violation of the constitutional rights of the entertainment software industry,” said Michael D. Gallagher, CEO of the ESA, which represents U.S. computer and video game publishers. “Courts across the United States, including those in the CTA’s own backyard, have ruled consistently that video games are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as other forms of entertainment. The CTA appears unwilling to recognize this established fact, and has shown a remarkable ignorance of the dynamism, creativity and expressive nature of computer and video games. The ESA will not sit idly by when the creative freedoms of our industry are threatened.”   

In January of this year, the CTA enacted Ordinance 008-147, prohibiting any advertisement that “markets or identifies a video or computer game rated “Mature 17+” (M) or “Adults Only 18+” (AO).” The ESA’s suit contends this new ordinance unconstitutionally “restricts speech in a public forum that is otherwise open to all speakers without a compelling interest for doing so.” In addition, the Complaint argues that the ordinance impermissibly discriminates on the basis of viewpoint and ignores less restrictive means of achieving the supposed ends of the ordinance. 

The ESA also stated that the CTA’s ordinance is unnecessary because game-related marketing is already subject to the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s Advertising Review Council (ARC), which strictly regulates computer and video game advertisements that are seen by the general public.  The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) assigns content ratings to computer and video games, which, in turn, are displayed on the advertisements for those games.

The Entertainment Software Association is the U.S. association dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies publishing interactive games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers, and the Internet. The ESA offers services to interactive entertainment software publishers including a global anti-piracy program, owning the E3 Expo, business and consumer research, federal and state government relations, First Amendment and intellectual property protection efforts. For more information, please visit www.theESA.com.

Jim Sterling