updated 12/22/2005 6:27:41 PM ET 2005-12-22T23:27:41

A federal judge has agreed to temporarily block a new California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte said the Encino-based Video Software Dealers Association and the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association "were likely to succeed" in their lawsuits arguing that the law violates free-speech rights.

At the least, "serious questions are raised ... including the question of whether there is a causal connection between access to such games and psychological or other harm to children," Whyte wrote in a ruling issued late Wednesday.

The law, which was set to go into effect Jan. 1, prohibits 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.

Other states have passed similar legislation this year after hidden sex scenes were discovered in a popular game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger contends the law will help parents determine which video games are appropriate for their children.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Vince Sollitto said Thursday that the state plans to show during the trial that it "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 challenged similar laws in Illinois and Michigan. A judge in Illinois recently ruled in favor of the video game industry, but Illinois officials plan to appeal.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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