Chicago Transit Authority Sued for Ad Ban

Published October 1, 2009

A video game industry group is suing the Chicago Transit Authority for banning advertising of video games labeled “mature.” The plaintiffs argue the policy is a violation of game companies’ First Amendment speech rights.

Since November 2008 the CTA has banned advertising of video games with ratings of “mature” or “adults only”—such as the wildly popular and controversial “Grand Theft Auto” franchise—on the sides of buses and trains and on billboards at all stops. The policy does not prohibit the promotion of other video games, including those rated “teen.”

After failing to persuade the CTA to change the policy, the Washington DC-based Entertainment Software Association (ESA) filed suit against the transit authority.

ESA Notes Irony

ESA notes the irony that the movie Resident Evil can be advertised on CTA billboards, but ads for the video game on which the movie was based are banned.

“The CTA’s ordinance constitutes a clear violation of the constitutional rights of the entertainment software industry,” said Michael D. Gallagher, ESA’s chief executive officer, in a written statement.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says the ban unconstitutionally “restricts speech in a public forum that is otherwise open to all speakers without a compelling interest for doing so.” It asks the court to declare the policy illegal and award the association court costs and legal fees.

In response to the lawsuit, the CTA notes the ban is in line with prohibitions on alcohol and tobacco ads on its trains and buses.

Doubts ESA Position

Bruce Abramson, an intellectual property expert and president of the California-based Informationism, Inc., doubts the lawsuit will play out in favor of ESA.

“If the transit authority were a private company, this would not be an issue,” Abramson said. “A private company can do whatever it wants. The problem is the CTA is a governmental agency. It seems to me that [CTA] has limited resources, so I would argue that a stewardship of public resources would sell the advertising space to the highest bidder, independent of content.

“But by and large I don’t see an infringement on the protection of speech,” Abramson added. “If [the CTA] said it would sell the space to Christian groups but not to Muslim or Jewish groups, then you’d have an issue.”

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.