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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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High Court Turns Down Pornography Law Appeal

(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to consider attempts to revive the Child Online Protection Act, rejecting a request for review by the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Without comment, the justices turned down ACLU v. Mukasey, which the 3rd Circuit dismissed in July 2008.

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia found that the law was too broad and wasn't the least restrictive means for protecting minors from sexually explicit Web content.

The COPA imposed civil and criminal penalties, including up to six months in prison, on anyone who knowingly posted "material that is harmful to minors" on the Web "for commercial purposes."

The day after the COPA became law on Oct. 21, 1998, a group of content providers, Web users and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit, seeking to bar its enforcement. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, and pointed out that filtering and blocking technology was a more effective and less restrictive way to shield minors from online sexual content.

The appeals court agreed, concluding that the "community standards" language rendered the act unconstitutionally overbroad.

After two appeals to the Supreme Court, the case was again remanded to the district court to determine whether Internet content filters and other alternatives are more effective than the COPA restrictions. In 2007, the lower court concluded that the COPA "facially violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of the plaintiffs" for three reasons: It is not narrowly tailored to the compelling interest of Congress, the government failed to show that the statute is the least restrictive and most effective alternative, and the law is "impermissibly vague and broad."

The government appealed, arguing that the lower court improperly focused on the "marginal cases" of Web publishers who provide their content for free and ignored the "heartland" of the law's proscriptions.

"The fact that COPA places burdens on Web publishers whom the Government does not consider to be within the 'heartland' of the statute does not make those burdens any less onerous or offensive to the principles of the First Amendment," Judge Greenberg wrote.

The court said the evidence shows filters are more effective and less restrictive than the act - in part, because filters bar minors from seeing all pornography on the Web, not just pornography posted from computers in the United States.

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