High Court to Hear Adult Content Case

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Source: PlanetOut.com Network

By: Barbara Dozetos

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case that pits free-speech advocates against legislators who passed laws aimed at keeping adult content away from children.

The Child Online Protection Act (COPA), passed by Congress in 1998 and signed into law by former President Clinton has never been enforced. After the ACLU filed a case on behalf of 17 plaintiffs, who believe the statute violates freedom of speech by requiring commercial Web site operators to use electronic means to verify their users’ ages, a federal judge issued an injunction placing the law on hold. The Justice Department is now asking the Supreme Court to overturn the injunction and allow enforcement of the law.

COPA sets up penalties for site operators of up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $150,000 per day of law violation. Among the plaintiffs who could be subject to these punishments are A Different Light Bookstore and Philadelphia Gay News.

COPA was legislators’ attempt to correct problems in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which the Supreme Court struck down in 1997 on First Amendment grounds. Even though the high court has not overturned COPA, Congress has already made a third legislative attempt to keep online pornography away from children. The newest law, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CHIPA), which was passed in December 2000, requires public libraries and any other organization that receives public funds and offers children Internet access to install filtering devices designed to block pornography.

Three months after CHIPA became law, the ACLU filed a First Amendment suit against the federal government seeking to have it overturned. Among the plaintiffs in that case are PlanetOut.com, OutInAmerica.com and a lesbian teenager, who said the required filters would block access to sites that were critical in her coming-out process.

"We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate to the court that Congress once again fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the Internet," ACLU attorney Ann Beeson told Reuters.

The court is expected to hear the case and issue a decision during its next term, which begins in October.