On Wednesday, Media Coalition filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Louisiana on behalf of multiple parties, including New Orleans booksellers Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books, challenging a Louisiana law passed earlier this year. The suit is trying to reverse a state law requiring websites to verify the ages of Internet users before providing access to material that could be deemed harmful to minors.
The plaintiffs, in addition to the booksellers, are Future Crawfish Paper, publisher of Anti-Gravity magazine, the American Booksellers Association, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. They are seeking a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law until a judge rules on its constitutionality, reported Chris Finan, executive director of ABFE in Bookselling This Week. Failure to age-verify, even if no minor tries to access the material, is a crime that could lead to a $10,000 fine. Louisiana has a separate law that makes it a crime to lie when asked to acknowledge or attest to anything.
In a press release issued by Media Coalition, Britton Trice, owner of Garden District Book Shop, said, “Since we cannot possibly review the one million plus titles on our website, the law would force us to ask every customer visiting our website whether he or she is an adult. That would have a strong and chilling effect on our business because it would make us appear to be an adult bookstore.”
The Media Coalition noted that the law violates the First Amendment rights of older minors as well as adults. Courts have held that older minors have a right to purchase books that deal with the subject of sex that are not appropriate for younger minors. However, the Louisiana law bars anyone under 18 from accessing “harmful” material. If a retailer places an age verification page at the front of a website, it would effectively bar all minors from buying all books.
The plaintiffs are represented by Dentons US LLP, general counsel to Media Coalition; the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Louisiana.