Today marked the opening of a multi-week trial in the battle against Internet censorship with ACLU v. Gonzales. The case is being tried right here in Philadelphia.
You’re forgiven if you can’t remember this case, since it started as ACLU v. Reno, then ACLU v. Ashcroft, before getting its current name. The ACLU filed suit against the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), passed in 1998, the day it went into force. The ACLU challenged the law because it would impose draconian criminal sanctions, with penalties of up to $50,000 per day and up to six months imprisonment, for online material acknowledged as valuable for adults but judged “harmful to minors.”
In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld the district court’s decision to stop the enforcement of COPA. Because the Internet had changed dramatically in the five years since the district court gathered factual evidence, the Justices returned the case to the district court for a full trial on whether there are effective ways to keep children safe online that burden speech less than COPA’s criminal penalties.
Our clients include Salon.com, Sexual Health Network, and the owner of UrbanDictionary.com, among others. Clients like Urban Dictionary, which allows people to post their own definitions of words, are particularly at risk from a law like this because they would be responsible for the content of what other people post. (I, of course, had to go look up the definitions of the ACLU!)
The trial is open to the public. It’s in the Federal Courthouse at 6th & Market, 17th Floor, before Senior Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr.
You can find more about the case here, including profiles of our clients and the long convoluted path this case has taken to get to this point.
Sara in Philly