Judge Brian A. Jackson of the federal district court in Baton Rouge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of Louisiana’s so-called online age verification law. Under the law, website owners would need verify that every Internet user was 18 or over before providing them with access to non-obscene material that could be deemed harmful to any minor.
The law was challenged in November in a lawsuit filed by the Media Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union who argued that the bill violated First Amendment free speech protections. According to the lawsuit, booksellers would have had either to place an age confirmation button in front of their entire website, thereby restricting access to materials that may be appropriate for all ages, or to attempt to review all of the books or magazines available at their website and place an age confirmation button in front of each individual page that might be inappropriate for any minor.
In issuing the injunction, judge Jackson determined that the vague description of what actions are prohibited by the law “creates a chilling effect on free speech.” A failure to age-verify, even if no minor ever 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.
Among the parties on whose behalf the suit was filed were the New Orleans independent bookstores, Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books as well as the the American Booksellers Association.
“This is an important victory for me as a bookseller and for my customers,” said Tom Lowenberg, co-owner of Octavia Books. “This law would have placed an impossible burden on our website by forcing us to ‘ID’ every person who visited the site before allowing them to browse our books or risk getting a $10,000 fine.”
“We are thankful for the court’s ruling to block the state from enforcing this law that would have forced booksellers and publishers to restrict access of their customers and readers on their online stores to what is acceptable for a 12 year old,” said David Horowitz, the executive director of Media Coalition. “The court agreed that parental controls are a more effective and less restrictive way for parents to limit their kids’ access to sexual material on the Internet without violating the constitutional rights of adults and older minors.”