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CBLDF Knocks Out South Carolina Internet Censorship Law

by  in Comic News Comment
CBLDF Knocks Out South Carolina Internet Censorship Law

Official Press Release

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and a broad coalition representing
the interests of booksellers, artists, writers and publishers have
secured an important victory that strikes down South Carolina’s
Harmful to Minors Internet law as unconstitutional. Last Monday Judge
Patrick Michael Duffy of the U.S. District Court in Charleston, South
Carolina, issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the
law, which would have restricted the rights of adults and older minors
to access constitutionally-protected materials on the Internet.

The Fund joined organizations that represent artists, writers,
booksellers, and publishers who use the Internet to disseminate
graphic arts, literature, and health-related information as a
Plaintiff in this case. Plaintiffs argued that the Act would have
prohibited their members from sending material with serious artistic
and scientific value over the Internet.

Judge Duffy found that the law violated the First Amendment because it
did not employ the least restrictive means for preventing minors from
using the Internet to access harmful to minors material. In addition,
as opposed to filtering technology, which can screen out
sexually-oriented material from any place, Judge Duffy declared that
South Carolina’s law could do nothing to prevent minors from accessing
material from outside the U.S.

Judge Duffy also found that the credit card-based age verification
system that South Carolina had proposed to block minors from accessing
harmful material would create a chilling effect on the speech of
adults. Courts “have unanimously concluded that these measures are
far too burdensome, and chill adults’ ability to engage in, and garner
access to, protected speech for a wealth of reasons.”

“We applaud Judge Duffy’s well reasoned decision in this case,” CBLDF
Executive Director Charles Brownstein said. “We are pleased that it
addressed the concerns raised in our defense of the rights of
cartoonists and retailers who work online, and that those rights will
not be curtailed by what was a very dangerous law.”

At issue in the case was an amendment to South Carolina’s Harmful to
Minors statute that provided criminal sanctions for “disseminating
harmful material to minors” online and which defined “material” to
mean “pictures, drawings, video recordings, films, digital electronic
files, or other visual depictions or representations but not material
consisting entirely of written words.” The statute ruled that a
violation of this law (Section 16-15-375 of the S.C. Code) was a
felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a fine of $5,000, or
both.

CBLDF and partner plaintiffs Southeast Booksellers Association, Print
Studio South, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression,
Association of American Publishers, and Families against Internet
Censorship successfully argued that the law placed unconstitutional
burdens upon the speech of creators and retailers online, both within
the state of South Carolina, and across the United States.

The plaintiffs were represented by David W. Odgen, Janis C.
Kestenbaum, and Kenneth A. Bamberger of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale
and Dorr LLP, Washington, D.C.; Michael A. Bamberger of Sonnenschein
Nath & Rosenthal LLP, New York City; and Armand G. Derfner and D.
Peters Wilborn, Jr. of Derfner, Wilborn & Altman, Charleston, S.C.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 as a 501 (c) 3
non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of First
Amendment rights for members of the comics community. Donations and
inquiries should be directed to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund at
P.O. Box 693, Northampton, MA 01061.

For additional information, please visit www.cbldf.org

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