The Media Coalition announced today that a U.S. District Judge in Massachusetts has granted a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a state law that went into effect earlier this year. Massachusetts booksellers, trade associations, and the ACLU of Massachusetts filed suit in July to block the online censorship law because it imposes severe restrictions on constitutionally protected speech on the Internet, on the grounds that such material might be “harmful to minors.” The Court enjoined the law because it did not require that such material was purposefully sent to a person the sender knew to be a minor. Michael Bamberger of SNR Denton, lead counsel for plaintiffs, said “Given the breadth of the definition of what is harmful to minors, all of which is not obscene and which adults have a constitutional right to receive, the injunction was necessary to ensure that all Internet communications were not reduced to the level of what is appropriate for children.”
Signed in April by Massachusetts Governor Patrick and effective June 12, the law, Chapter 74 of the Acts of 2010, imposed severe restrictions on the distribution of constitutionally protected speech on the Internet. The law could make anyone who operates a website or communicates through a listserv criminally liable for nudity or sexually related material, if the material can be considered “harmful to minors” under the law’s definition. In effect, it bans from the Internet anything that may be “harmful to minors,” even though adults have a First Amendment right to view it. Violators can be fined $10,000 or sentenced to up to five years in prison, or both.
Plaintiffs in the suit are the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Harvard Book Store, the Photographic Resource Center, Porter Square Books, and licensed marriage and family therapist Marty Klein. The complete text of the Court’s ruling can be viewed HERE on the Media Coalition’s web site.
Preliminary injunctions have been granted in Alaska and Oregon in recent weeks, to block enforcement of similar laws in those states. There is a pattern here. We should all be grateful that ABFFE, the Media Coalition, the various ACLU offices, and our friends in the library community continue to stand up and fight these over-reactive laws that seem to be proliferating lately. Without their help, our world would be vastly different, in a very negative way.