Preliminary Injunction Granted in Online Censorship Case

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On Wednesday, October 27, a federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against an online censorship law that went into effect in Massachusetts earlier this year. In July, Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) joined a coalition suing to block the law because it imposes severe restrictions on constitutionally protected speech on the Internet. The court enjoined the law because it did not require that such material be purposefully sent to a person who is known by the sender to be a minor.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision to grant an injunction after finding that the law likely violates the First Amendment,” said David Horowitz, executive director of Media Coalition. “While the injunction is in place, booksellers, publishers, and their customers can communicate in cyberspace without fear of the prison sentence or large fine that would results from a prosecution.”

Michael Bamberger of SNR Denton, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement, “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.”

The law, Chapter 74 of the Acts of 2010, could make anyone who operates a website or communicates through a listserv criminally liable for nudity or sexually related material, if the material could be considered “harmful to minors” under the law’s definition. Penalties include fines of $10,000 or up to five years in prison, or both.

Other plaintiffs in the case are the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Photographic Resource Center, and licensed marriage and family therapist Marty Klein.