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[FYI] CDA II vorlaeufig ausgesetzt


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Court puts new Net censorship rules 
on hold -- for now 


BY JANELLE BROWN | For at least
the next 10 days, controversial
Web sites can breathe easy. On
Thursday evening, after hours of
testimony in a U.S. district
court in Philadelphia, a judge
issued a temporary restraining
order against the enforcement of
the Child Online Protection Act
(COPA) -- the online censorship
law better known as the CDA II
-- just hours before the new law
would have gone into effect. 

"This is the first round, and
there are many rounds to come,
but for the time being, speech
on the Net retains the same
constitutional protection the
Supreme Court says it deserves,"
said Barry Steinhardt, president
of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, a plaintiff in the

For Steinhardt and the American
Civil Liberties Union attorneys
who won the ruling, today's
hearing brought a sense of déjà
vu: Two years ago, in the same
court in Philadelphia, the ACLU
battled (and eventually
defeated) the implementation of
the stringent Communications
Decency Act. The COPA was signed
into law in October as a
follow-up to the original CDA;
the bill requires Web sites
containing material "harmful to
minors" to institute an age
verification system that will
keep kids out, or face penalties
of up to $50,000 a day and six
months in prison. 

Seventeen plaintiffs --
including the ACLU, the EFF,
Salon, the American Booksellers
Foundation and a coalition
representing many news companies
including the New York Times,
Time, CNet and ZDNet -- have
filed a suit arguing that the
law restricts constitutionally
protected adult speech online. 

The court issued its temporary
restraining order after hours of
testimony from plaintiffs. Salon
editor and CEO David Talbot and
Norman Laurila, the founder and
owner of the A Different Light
gay and lesbian bookstores, both
spoke about the chilling effects
and financial damage the COPA
would cause their online

Laurila read aloud from some of
the more controversial material
posted in the A Different Light
online bookstore -- a story of a
young boy's messy attempts at
masturbation -- and testified
that the law could make the
online bookstore a target for
conservative legal action. "This
act is very frightening to us,"
Laurila said in court. "There
are some small towns in the
South or Midwest that would
consider the very existence of
our Web site as harmful to

Both Laurila and Talbot
testified that adult
verification systems could
seriously damage their
businesses by scaring off Web
visitors unwilling to deal with
the verification process or, in
the case of A Different Light,
give up their anonymity. If the
sites chose not to institute the
verification systems, both
companies would have to censor
the material on their sites. 

"It would be a daunting prospect
-- hundreds of hours of editors'
time to go through the archive
deleting material that we think
would be offensive, and
'purifying' the overall site to
make it acceptable to the most
conservative communities in the
U.S.," Talbot testified. "This
would destroy Salon's editorial
character and personality, and
possibly our business as well.
If we defy the law and are
subjected to $50,000 fines per
violation, this would eventually
drive us out of business -- not
to mention the fact that it's
difficult to edit a publication
from a jail cell." 

The temporary injunction is a
10-day "emergency measure" that
will last until Dec. 2. It
protects Web sites from being
prosecuted during that period,
whether the law is eventually
overturned or not. Steinhardt
said he anticipates that on Dec.
2 the restraining order will be
extended until Dec. 8, when a
hearing for a more permanent
injunction will take place. That
injunction, then, would last
throughout the hearing period. 

And although the fight is far
from over, Steinhardt feels that
the defendants have a good
chance. "We have a very sweeping
opinion from the U.S. Supreme
Court [in the decision striking
down the original CDA] that says
that speech on the Net is
entitled to the highest
constitutional protection, and
that laws that limit that speech
are going to be given the
strictest scrutiny. Because of
that, we feel are in a strong
position going forward." SALON |
Nov. 20, 1998 

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