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Judge Strikes Down COPA, 1998 Online Porn Law 348

Posted by kdawson
from the one-for-free-speech dept.
Begopa sends in word that a federal judge has struck down the Child Online Protection Act. The judge said that parents can protect their children through software filters and other less restrictive means that do not limit others' rights to free speech. This was the case for which the US Department of Justice subpoenaed several search companies for search records; only Google fought the order. The case has already been to the Supreme Court. Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr. wrote in his decision: "Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection."
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Judge Strikes Down COPA, 1998 Online Porn Law

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  • by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @09:54AM (#18443265) Homepage Journal
    For once, the mouth on the Censorship icon should have the black strip removed. This law has been the dark specter over every forum I've seen for years, and many non-communication-related services, too.

    The question is, is COPA finally dead, for good? No more judgements to be made on the case? Please? The article doesn't specify if it could be appealed again.

    I realize they'll just pass another law with similar provisions, but at least this helps set the tone in the courts.
    • by statusbar (314703) <jeffk@statusbar.com> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:00AM (#18443381) Homepage Journal
      I am very happy about this.

      I wrote the first available internet filter for windows 3.1 The Internet Filter [internetfilter.com] specifically because it is the parent's responsibility to decide what their children should and should not see, not the government's responsibility.

      --jeffk++

      • by toleraen (831634) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:17AM (#18443689)
        You sir, were the primary motivation for me to learn how to format a hard drive and reinstall Windows when I was younger!
        • by statusbar (314703) <jeffk@statusbar.com> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:24AM (#18443789) Homepage Journal
          Excellent! I'm glad that you figured out a way around it and learned something while doing it!

          Filtering is Power over another [internetfilter.com]

          --jeffk++

        • Ummm... as a parent, I think I would probably notice something like that... but I guess you might get some temporary gratification for a few hours before you lost all computer privileges.

          • My parents wouldn't. Then again, for me it was exploiting a known vulnerability in SurfControl or something like that (don't remember the name) to find the master password and set it to "don't block anything" mode.

            The funny thing is I didn't even care about the porn (I had a Dreamcast web browser for that); I was just sick of it driving up the ping for Starcraft.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Ed Avis (5917)
              At school there was a Windows 3.1 box with Cyber Patrol or some crapware like that, and locked down to disable running fileman.exe, command.com or indeed any program that wasn't in the Program Manager menus. IIRC you could specify in win.ini to forbid File->Run or altering the program groups. In the end I loaded up Winword and loaded in help.exe or some other worthless program as though it were a Word document, then after Word had thoroughly mangled all the bytes in the file I saved it back again and r
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jandrese (485)
            Yeah, but this is early Windows, people reinstalled weekly anyway.
    • by mykdavies (1369)
      Forgive my ignorance on this, but can the US Congress pass a law that clearly violates the Constitution? Are there any mechanisms in place to censure those who pass any such laws, or can they just immediately pass COPA-II that's word-for-word identical, and will have full force of law until the courts knock that down as well?
      • by daeg (828071)
        Legally, I think they can, yes. However, with this ruling, it will make it extremely easy for further laws to have semi-permanent injunctions against their enforcement until the courts can rule on the new laws set immediately after a law hits the books and even before it goes into enforcement.

        IANAL.
      • by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:22AM (#18443759) Homepage Journal
        Congress can pass any law it wants. The executive branch enforces the laws. When someone gets screwed over, the related court case has the potential to strike the law down, if it's deemed unconstitutional. (Which is, largely, a matter of whether the defendant has a good enough lawyer.)

        At least one attempt at getting a law (the DMCA) struck down prior to a citizen being charged was dismissed because, in the judge's eyes, said citizen wasn't then under threat of being charged. As I recall, that had to do with some academic researcher whose research was made illegal, or at least part of a gray area, by the DMCA.
      • but can the US Congress pass a law that clearly violates the Constitution?
        br> Oh my, yes. Legislative branch can pass anything they like. Who's going to stop them? Are there any mechanisms in place to censure those who pass any such laws

        Now we get to that. The judicaial branch can strike it down, or perhaps it can be nullified by widespread refusal of The People (likely) or the police (less likely). Then you're pretty much left with submitting to it or moving on to armed revolt.

        or can they just
      • As has been said, Congress can pass an illegal law if it wants to, and it will be struck down by the courts.

        The mechanisms in place to prevent them from passing the same law again are twofold: One, the people should vote out anyone that stupid. (Ok, so that one's unlikely.) Two, the courts can use previous rulings as precident on similar cases, so all you have to do is point out that the reason that the previous law was illegal is also valid on this law, and the courts will overturn the new law. If the
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Martin Blank (154261)
      This law has been the dark specter over every forum I've seen for years, and many non-communication-related services, too.

      Are you sure you're not confusing COPA with COPPA? Both can apply to forums, but COPPA is a more constant point, requiring that forum admins collect parental permission from potential users age 12 or under.
  • bout time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2007 @09:56AM (#18443305)
    Its about time that courts are finally seeing that our personal liberties are more important than fascist legislation that only appears to protect us and/or our children. Lets hope more are to follow.
  • Awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arootbeer (808234) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @09:57AM (#18443327)
    This is a Good Thing®. I'm so tired of hearing about how people aren't being responsible enough, so we need to remove those responsibilities from them. Seems kinda counterintuitive to me.

    Community standards are not a good way to police a country that promises liberty and justice for all.
  • by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @09:59AM (#18443365)
    Forget the federal attorneys, he obviously intended to sack all the federal judges and replace them with new ones loyal to the Empire
  • Quote FTA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RingDev (879105) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @09:59AM (#18443367) Homepage Journal
    "It is not reasonable for the government to expect all parents to shoulder the burden to cut off every possible source of adult content for their children, rather than the government's addressing the problem at its source," a government attorney, Peter D. Keisler, argued in a post-trial brief.

    Mr. Keisler then pointed at a child in the back of the the court playing a PSP and continued, "I mean, it's not like I have time to watch this brat."

    -Rick
    • It's too bad there isn't a moderation that's "+1, Sad but true."
    • by mwvdlee (775178)
      He's also just assuming that every parent will want to cut off every possible source of adult content for their children. Perhaps some parents want to raise their children with their own values.
    • by Abcd1234 (188840)
      What makes that comment especially stupid is that you *don't* cut this material off at it's source. You cut it off where it enters your home: at your PC. And guess what? A parent can do a far better job of this, at home, than the government can by policing the Internet.
  • by physicsboy500 (645835) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:00AM (#18443389)
    I for one thank our porn permitting overlord!
  • by manifoldronin (827401) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:03AM (#18443435)
    Man, the moms from Mothers Against Canada are gonna be so mad.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:11AM (#18443575) Homepage
    And just how many families are going to give up that unnecessary second income? *crickets chirping* I thought so.

    I've seen a lot of people of both sexes talk the talk, but then not even walk at all when it's time to walk the walk.

    Parental responsibility includes a recognition that your needs aren't important compared to your family's. You like your job, but don't need it to support your kids? You have a moral obligation to quit if it is getting in the way at all of being a parent.

    But we can't say that today because that's "sexist" and "backward." Funny how well "modernity" seems to be working out for families. Divorce rates through the roof, kids screwed up right and left, but hey, let's ignore all of that and focus on abstract ideas that make us feel good, right?
    • by realmolo (574068) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:21AM (#18443745)
      While I agree with you in principle, you seem to be confused about the "unnecessary second income".

      For a LOT of families, that second income is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Mortgage payments are higher than they've ever been. Gas prices are higher than they've ever been. Work for a company that doesn't provide insurance? Insurance prices are ASTRONOMICALLY high.

      Throw a couple of kids into the mix, and anyone at or below the "lower-middle-class" income bracket is struggling, big-time.

      Yes, a lot of those families probably don't manage their money particularly well. But even if they did, they probably wouldn't be saving much. They'd still live paycheck-to-paycheck, they just wouldn't be going into debt every month to pay bills.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by forand (530402)
        Perhaps I am wrong but I read it as sarcasm. Most of the people I know feel they must have the second income to live a "comfortable" lifestyle. That being said I know others who have three kids and survive off only one income which is not very good in and of itself. So I guess I can see it both ways: we feel we need the second jobs but we most certainly do not, your family will not starve or be out on the street with only one bread winner but you might not be able to afford two cars and all the crapy in
        • by mutterc (828335)

          My wife has a job, but it's part time and mostly done from home, so she spends my work days at home with our 6-month-old.

          It doesn't bring in that much money (we could do without the income without much trouble), but in my mind the big benefit is redundancy. When I get laid off (and, like most US techies, that's just the right hire in India away), she can up her hours and bring in some money to augment my unemployment compensation, while I try to find another job. Much better than both of us job-hunting at

      • by malkavian (9512) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:34AM (#18443963) Homepage
        The thing is, a generation ago, this wasn't the case.
        Over the last 30 years, both partners have started working. At the beginning of this, the two worker partnerships brought in a very good sum, comparatively.
        So, it became the thing to do, as everyone wanted to get the 'extras'. And as more money was available within limited segments (read the housing market), the prices rose to the point that the new double incomes would be able to support.
        Childcare services were now more in demand, which meant the prices were able to inflate commensurately too.
        So, in effect, what we have now is more or less the same quality of life overall that was available a generation ago, except it now requires two partners to be working to maintain that standard, rather than one.
        The option to have one partner working has more or less vanished, unless you're really willing to cut corners.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mungtor (306258)
        I think one of the things to consider is whether the lifestyle afforded by the second income is necessary. You don't _need_ a 4500 sq ft McMansion, a pool, a live-in nanny, and 2 $50k+ SUVs. Housing is expensive because too many dual income "families" are willing to overbid on a house where the greatest feature is that it's close to work.

        Most people are unwilling or incapable of changing their lifestyle to provide a decent home for their kids. It seems that most parents are completely unwilling to giv
      • Why do you think I explicitly put the qualification, "unnecessary" in there. Please, don't lecture me on this because I can actually appreciate how hard it can be to live on one income because I live in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the richest and most expensive parts of America. When many Americans in smaller areas were whining about $2 gas, we were contemplating driving down to the small towns to buy our gas there!

        What I am talking about are the families that really don't need a second income. There a
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by couchslug (175151)
        For a lot of them the income is necessary, but there are a great number who do not practice efficiency and thrift. This is because most of MY generation failed to pass on the lessons of our Depression Era parents.

        For example, when my parents didn't have money, they didn't go in debt to buy nonessentials. (If you were POOR, you lived cheap and weren't ashamed of it.)

        They taught us by example and explanation that if it was not food/clothing/shelter/EDUCATION you didn't need it. They also taught us that if you
      • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @11:26AM (#18444737) Homepage Journal

        Throw a couple of kids into the mix, and anyone at or below the "lower-middle-class" income bracket is struggling, big-time.
        I just wish we could figure who is forcing people to have kids.
      • by Shadowlore (10860) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @01:46PM (#18447547) Journal
        For a LOT of families, that second income is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Mortgage payments are higher than they've ever been. Gas prices are higher than they've ever been. Work for a company that doesn't provide insurance? Insurance prices are ASTRONOMICALLY high.

        Wages are higher then they have ever been, and more unnecessary luxuries are deemed as "necessary" than ever before. Blah blah blah. How about using real data? Raw numbers are irrelevant. you need to compare the indices to get a real picture.

        Yes, a lot of those families probably don't manage their money particularly well. But even if they did, they probably wouldn't be saving much. They'd still live paycheck-to-paycheck, they just wouldn't be going into debt every month to pay bills.

        You are so wrong and your assertion is a prime example of what is wrong. Congratulations you are perpetuating the problem.

        Fact is most people, including families, can save a lot of money by paying attention and separating needs from wants, then taking a hard look. For example, take the young couple who become parents. What is the "mainstream" route for them? both are to work so they can have two cars, cable or satellite, plenty of toys for the grown ups, buy formula and diapers. But what really happens? What is really needed? First, the secondary income (hers or his, usually hers) is dwindled away by the cost of childcare and additional taxes. For most people I've dealt with the net "loss" in income from mom staying home is very minor, and more than a third see a net increase in monthly cash flow. That job mom has making 1000/month is usually more like 150 after taking into account the cost of having the job such as transportation (including a second car and the accompanying payments and insurance), childcare, etc..

        Next we turn to the "cost of the child" beyond babysitting. Let us start with diapering. Most people lament the high cost of disposables. And rightly so. Disposable diapers are expensive as hell. Cloth diapers and a washing machine are much cheaper. Now I know many of you are having this image of a sheet of fabric held together by "safety pins". This is not the state of cloth diapering today, nor has it been for a decade. Today's cloth diapers are actually easier than disposables to use. A simple "pickle bucket" setup and a good washing machine will ensure that you don't have this stench about the house. If that isn't enough, the cloth diapered children are less cranky due to less irritation, and healthier due to not having chemicals applied to their nether regions that have been banned from feminine hygiene products for toxicity reasons. Using cloth diapers for the first year alone will save over two thousand dollars on average - including the cost of washing them.

        Now we turn to the other high cost of young children: formula. Again, by taking the natural route you can save thousands. In addition the children are healthier and happier (by not being as cranky and irritable). Breastfeeding is also very convenient for the parents as well. And while on this subject news flash: a separate nursery for the new baby with beds, changing tables, etc. is also entirely unnecessary. Another several thousand dollars you don't need to spend. Baby should sleep with mom and dad for the first year or so. Don't worry dad, if mom is breastfeeding you'll still sleep well -usually better even.

        I've done the mainstream route as well as the route listed above. I can personally vouch for over 5500 in savings for the above route over the "standard" of baby getting room with all manner of furniture, bottles, formula, disposable diapers, etc.. For one child, first year, not counting the unnecessary daily childcare costs. Yet all this is considered "absolutely necessary" today, and it isn't. Buying cotton clothing for your young children (birth through at least 3-4) instead of the more expensive polyester clothing will keep you from spending on "fad" clothing that is really unnecessary. honestly, your 6 month old doesn't care what
    • You didn't say which parent should quit their job and it doesn't matter. If one of the two incomes in a household can support the household, the other one can and probably should quit. It doesn't matter which parent that is.

      Though the truth is that almost everything is sexist one way or another. The average person would probably assume that the statement above was referring to the female in the household. The "femenist" would assume the same and get pissed about it because it is sexist. But try
  • finally (Score:2, Insightful)

    Finally a Judge who understands the First Amendment. Now if we could just get "Inciting a Riot", and "Disturbing the Peace" laws struck down.
    • Re:finally (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Intron (870560) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:34AM (#18443965)
      ...and my favorite, "Free Speech Areas" at political conventions.
      • Re:finally (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ScentCone (795499) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @11:13AM (#18444539)
        ...and my favorite, "Free Speech Areas" at political conventions.

        Um, just out of curiosity... if you and, say, 500 of your idealogical or cultural fellows applied for and got a permit to occupy a public street or use a facility of some sort, and held such an event... and then someone else gathered 1000 drum-banging loons you can't stand to march in and shout down the communication you're trying to have between yourself and your 500 friends, would you consider the complete inability to hold the event for which you obtained the permits, paid the fees, etc., to be an example of your first amendment rights being protected? Or would you consider the 1000 people without the permits, who are specifically stepping in to disrupt your activity, to be the ones at fault? Should every peaceful demonstration or political rally really just be a complete shouting and shoving and size-of-signs contest to see who can drown out who? Why is it that some people think that only disruptive and sometimes destructive street antics are valid discourse in a public space, and don't get the irony because their typical idealogical opponents don't consider such amateur theatrics to be actually persuasive, and as such they don't "retaliate" with the same when the roles are reversed?

        If your protesting or demonstration group - or, a much larger political organization to which you belong and which holds events that you attend - goes through the right steps to spend a day holding an event on the mall in DC (or wherever), would you consider your rights well looked after if your speeches or performances or other messages were simply disrupted/ended by idiots with giant puppets while the police, who are there to enforce the conditions of the permit that you properly obtained, just stand by and watch your event - and your use of the space you arranged to use - become worthless to you? You can't have it both ways.
        • by AK Marc (707885)
          I don't understand how your analogy applies to conventions. The people gathering do not go inside the convention center. The people gathering do not out number the people attending the primary event. Or are you saying that if they convention holders wanted to smother the protesters, they'd just go outside and make some noise for a while and everyone'd go away? I think that such tactics would bring more attention to the protesters than just ignoring them. So, in the case you are mentioning, being protes
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sconeu (64226)
        Yep. Funny thing... I always thought (and was taught in school) that the ENTIRE COUNTRY was a "Free Speech Area".
  • by Anon-Admin (443764) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:22AM (#18443753) Homepage Journal
    As I read the article, the following jumped out at me.

    "The Web sites that challenged the law said fear of prosecution might lead them to shut down or move their operations offshore, beyond the reach of the U.S. law."

    Move their operations offshore?? We see how that worked for the casinos, They will get you when changing plains. :

    How about move it offshore, Move out of the country, and NEVER set foot on US soil again! A hard thing to do in these times. Next you know the US will divert plains and instruct them to land on US soil, just to arrest some one.

    Oh well, welcome to the Land of the Free and home of the Brave....

    Please note that the above statement predates the current laws restricting your freedom of speech, Freedom of the press and freedom to assemble(1). The restrictions on gun ownership(2), The no-knock warrants (4), Holding people with out a trial outside of the country (5,6), Setting bail above the amount a person can make in there lifetime (7), and the loss of amendments 9 and 10 after the civil war. But you are free to excersize you 3rd amendment right! "Amendment #3 No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

    Oh, and as for the Brave part. You can not be brave and defend your self with deadly force unless you have first tried to run away and hide. If there is no where to run, then you can be brave and defend your self.

    I am all for a constitutional Tea party to show that the Americans have not lost the spirit of what was started, Just this time we should sink cigarette trucks! The Tax on them is through the roof! The government makes more from a pack of cigarettes than the cigarette companies do!

    Ok, I am going to put away my soap box and get back to work.
  • Old quote (Score:5, Informative)

    by theonetruekeebler (60888) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:23AM (#18443779) Homepage Journal
    That quote about First Amendment rights being "chipped away", is from Reed's opinion in ACLU v. Reno, 31 F. Supp. 2d 473 [epic.org], issued in 1999.
  • by Etherwalk (681268) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:37AM (#18444015)
    Well, thank the founding fathers, at any rate. Yes, the world has changed and the powers of the federal government have grown beyond the dreams of Jefferson and Madison and those folk. And Yes, maybe they're a bunch of dead rich white slave-owners. But they weren't nincompoops!

    The legal system in this country is pretty messed up, riddled with inefficies and outright injustices. But it still does some things right. =)
  • He has managed to see the forest to spite all the trees.

    My wife and I already plan on her staying at home to raise our kids when they are spawned. For reasons just like this. Parents have a responsibility to be the safeguards of their children. If you aren't up to that responsibility, don't have kids.

    Now , if we could just get clones of this judge to march on Washington.. maybe curtail this damned Nanny State we have brewing.
    • by hesiod (111176)
      > has managed to see the forest to spite all the trees.

      Take that, you stoopid trees! Did you, perhaps, mean "despite all the trees"? Anyway, no offense intended.

      I love to see stuff like this:
      > If you aren't up to that responsibility, don't have kids.

      Woo! I agree completely. Too many people think that the meaning of life is propagation at all costs.

      I once said to my brother that many parents don't really care what happens to their children. He said it was one of the stupidest things I had ever sai
    • My wife and I already plan on her staying at home to raise our kids when they are spawned

      It's spelt "raze." And no matter how you do it, camping at the spawn point just isn't cool.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Churla (936633)
        See, now I will be giggling all day imagining someone in full CS body armor with a rifle sitting quietly in the shadows of a delivery ward at the hospital.

        Then someone busting in and going "Dude, camping spawn points is so not cool!"
  • American Parents need to be prosecuted by our laws for the actions of their children. Growing up, I was constantly reminded by my teachers and my parents that if I commit a crime as a minor, my parents could be held equally accountable. Not knowing if that was actually true then, it seems like a pretty good idea to me. Placing the entire responsibility in plain view like this would be a positive post-action to this decision. Sure the liberals will quip "but what if [substitute a situation]", but lets get one thing straight here: You are the conscious of your children until they are 18 years old. Therefore, the ultimate responsibility for protection from all things evil and wrong is the parent. "What if my child is just wild, and just commits a crime to get me in trouble?" Let me say this: If you have a precedence set which shows you have done everything imaginable to prevent that crime from happening, how can you be held accountably negligent? In itself, this wipes out the majority of slacking little fund sucking little freeloading parents in the US that are basically asking Legislators to raise their children- in the schools, in the afterschool programs, and on the weekends. I'm sick of all the oversite. Childporn is wrong, disgusting, and a very real problem. However, the gating point for access to my children is me
  • Nicccce (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Goblez (928516) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @11:06AM (#18444429)
    parents can protect their children

    Isn't this a concept. That those charged in the protection and upbringing of children should take care of these things, and leave our personal freedoms alone. Who is this judge, and someone give him a promotion and a raise for using common sense and some foresight.

    I liked this as well: which they will with age inherit fully

    Gives some real insight into the Protect the Children mentality. How about we protect what they will value as adults?

  • At the risk of sounding like a newb, can anyone recommend a good content filtering system for a home?

    I don't worry about these things normally (because I am unmarried) but my sister and brother (who both have small children) are petrified about letting their child touch a network-enabled computer.

    From a standpoint of ease of use and effectiveness, what's good?

  • "With age" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fang2415 (987165) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @11:18AM (#18444625) Journal

    First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully

    Oh, that's right. I forgot about that part of the First Amendment that says that the protections it guarantees are limited to people above a certain age. Can somebody remind me exactly which age group of people it is to whom the Bill of Rights doesn't apply?

    Goodbye mod points, but I feel too strongly about this to keep my trap shut...

    • The US Constitution was written is a different time. Because of this, it isn't quite as infected with the rampant legalism most current US laws are - to be more specific, the need to specify each & every point, down to the letter. It can be fairly safely assumed that anytime "the people" is used in the Consitution, what they actually meant was "full citizens of the United States."

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