In a ruling issued late Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte granted a preliminary injunction sought by the Encino-based Video Software Dealers Association and the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association.
The two industry groups "were likely to succeed" in their arguments the law violates free speech rights, the judge wrote.
At the least, "serious questions are raised concerning the state's ability to restrict minors' First Amendment rights in connection with exposure to violent video games, including the question of whether there is a causal connection between access to such games and psychological or other harm to children," he wrote.
The trade groups sued in October, naming Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and other local officials.
The law was set to go into effect Jan. 1. It bans retailers from selling or renting violent video games to those 17 and under, imposes a $1,000 fine on violators and mandates stricter product labeling. It's similar to legislation that other states passed earlier this year after hidden sex scenes were discovered in a popular game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."
Schwarzenegger, who signed the measure into law Oct. 7 and contends it will help parents determine which video games are appropriate for their children, defended the law Thursday.
When the state presents its case, Schwarzenegger spokesman Vince Sollitto said, "the court will have a full opportunity to understand why the governor and the Legislature believe the state has a compelling interest in protecting children from potential harm from exposure to extremely violent video games."
The preliminary ruling marks a good sign for the video game industry.
"For the sixth time in five years, federal courts have now blocked or struck down these state and local laws seeking to regulate the sale of games to minors based on their content," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association.
The industry groups also sued this year in Illinois and Michigan, where laws were also passed to restrict video game sales to minors. A judge in Illinois recently ruled in favor of the video game industry, shooting down that state's law, but Illinois officials have vowed to appeal.
By May Wong