Chicago Grand Theft Auto IV-Related Ad Ban Blocked

Grand Theft Auto IV Chicago Bus Ad

Some great news from the windy city for gamers today: The US District Court has reportedly issued an injunction against the Chicago Transit Authority, stating that the agency can't ban computer and video game ads.

The CTA, you may recall, ordered Rockstar's Grant Theft Auto IV removed from Chicago buses in April 2008, slightly ahead of the game's release. Their rationale: Local news coverage of several shootings in the city. Publisher Take Two filed suit against the CTA shortly thereafter, alleging the CTA had violated Take Two's contractual and constitutional rights by yanking the ads. The case was settled in September 2008, and the ads reappeared on buses a few months later in November. Nonetheless, the CTA voted to ban future M- and AO-rated games and issued an ordinance which took effect on January 1, 2009.

In July 2009, the games industry advocacy Entertainment Software Association filed suit against the CTA, challenging the ordinance and the CTA's prohibition of select computer and video game ads. The ESA argued that the CTA's ban "unfairly target[s] the entertainment software industry," "restricts speech in a public forum that is otherwise open to all speakers," "impermissibly discriminates on the basis of viewpoint," and amounts to a "violation of the guarantees of free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Apparently the judge officiating the case agreed. Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, acting on behalf of the US District Court for the Norther District of Illionis, stated "…the advertisements the CTA wishes to ban promote expression that has constitutional value and implicates core First Amendment concerns." According to the ESA, today's injunction was granted because the court believes the ESA is likely to win on the merits of their claims, should the case go to trial.

"This ruling is a win for Chicago's citizens, the video game industry and, above all, the First Amendment," said ESA president and CEO Michael D. Gallagher in a press statement. "It is our hope that the CTA sees the futility of pursuing this case further. To do so will waste taxpayer money and government resources. Chicago deserves better and we look forward to bringing this matter to an end."

What's more, it's hard to argue with the ESA's contention that the CTA's ordinance is unnecessary because game-related marketing (ads on buses included) is already subject to the Entertainment Software Rating Board's system. The ads for GTA IV that ran on those Chicago buses prior to the CTA's ban carried the game's ESRB-based M-rating, including the game-specific content descriptors like "intense violence," "strong language," and "drugs and alcohol."

What'll happen now? Either the case goes to trial (bet on the ESA), or the CTA drops its discriminatory ordinance.

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