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Children’s Online Protection Act of 1998: Internet Censorship Law Loses Again in Court


Contact: Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chair, 406/542-4449 or ian@kpax.com

The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has struck down--for the second time--a 1998 law making it a crime to distribute pornography on the Internet for commercial purposes.

The Children’s Online Protection Act (COPA) had been struck down in U.S. District Court in June of 2000. The Third Circuit Court agreed the next year. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back for further review, but did not uphold the law itself.

The new decision, released March 6, by the Third Circuit holds that COPA is unconstitutionally broad in its restrictions and definitions. It’s possible the Supreme Court may find something to agree with in that finding.

Although COPA and the lawsuit against it are not about journalism per se, SPJ has signed onto the case as a friend of the court because it is in our interest to be involved in important decisions affecting free speech on the Internet.

SPJ also believes that any restriction on the free flow of information can lead to others and eventually could affect the First Amendment rights of journalists.

The full text of the Third Circuit’s decision can be obtained in .pdf format (you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to access it) at the following address:

SPJ FOI Alert Vol. 8; No. 5

To subscribe to the Society of Professional Journalists FOI Alert, contact SPJ at spj@spj.org or call 317/927-8000. In your message, provide your name, organization, mailing address, e-mail address, phone number and fax number. There is no fee. We strongly encourage the wide dissemination and publication of these alerts in other forums.

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