Court rules online porn law unconstitutional

A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled that a law seeking to protect children from online pornography was not constitutionally sound because it limits Web publishers' free speech.

The ruling, made by a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia Thursday, upholds an injunction against the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which has not been enforced since it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in late 1998.

COPA makes it illegal for Web publishers to post sexually explicit material or content deemed harmful to minors without limiting the site to adults, by asking for a credit card number, for example.

Opponents argue, however, that the law restricts adult's constitutionally protected free speech and does not set adequate standards by which to judge if material is "harmful" to minors.

The appeal's court agreed.

In its ruling, the court said that the law "contains a number of provisions that are constitutionally infirm." It went on to state that COPA is not narrowly tailored enough to serve its interest of protecting minors from explicit and harmful material.

"Once again the court has ruled in our favor and struck down a law that goes far beyond restricting pornography," said Ann Beeson, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which initiated the legal challenge.

The 3rd Circuit Court issued the first injunction, saying that it is unconstitutional to judge the legality of Internet content by "contemporary community standards." However, when the case was appealed by the government to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices ruled that the COPA was not unconstitutional on evaluation standards alone and kicked it back down to the appeals court for further review.

Beeson applauded the appellate court's upholding of the injunction Friday, saying that COPA is "another attempt by Congress to criminalize speech that is valuable for adults on the Internet."

The ACLU is representing Web publishers such as online magazine Salon.com, safe sex site Condomania.com and gay community site PlanetOut.com, Beeson added.

The government now has a choice to again appeal the case, and Beeson said she believes it will probably do so.

No one from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending the law, was immediately available to comment on the ruling Friday.

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