Bill's opponents hail ruling as First Amendment winPublishers, booksellers and free speech activists were elated when Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. of the U.S. District Court of Philadelphia issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act in a suit challenging the law as unconstitutional. However, despite this initial victory, the suit continues. The Department of Justice, the defendant in the challenge, now has 60 days to appeal the ruling or accept the injunction and proceed with preparations for a full trial.
Pat Schr der, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, which submitted an amicus brief in support of the suit (News, Jan. 16), said, "We're pleased at the outcome of this first round. We can find ways to protect our kids and honor the Constitution at the same time." Ann Beeson, staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit along with 16 plaintiffs in October 1998, told PW, "Obviously, we're all relieved at the judge's ruling. The fundamental issue for the court was the protection of free speech. COPA would clearly deter adult access to protected speech."
The Department of Justice argued that COPA, which imposes criminal and civil penalties on violators, was drafted by Congress to target Internet pornographers who post easily accessible, sexually explicit content on their Web sites to attract consumers. The DOJ argued that Web sites can avoid prosecution under COPA by requiring credit card or age verification checks in order to access explicit content. Plaintiffs successfully countered, however, that the expense of those kind of software barriers would lead to self-censorship.
Despite the injunction, free speech supporters should be wary. While agreeing that fears of self-censorship "were reasonable given the sweep of this statute," Reed also cited "personal regret" at having to issue the injunction. He noted the need to maintain the "status quo" until the court can rule on the merits of this "rare case." He continued, "We do the minors of the country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection." The full text of the court's decision can be found on the Web athttp://www.paed.uscourts.gov/opinions/99D0078P.HTM.