CBLDF Knocks Out South Carolina Internet Censorship Law

Official Press Release

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and a broad coalition representingthe interests of booksellers, artists, writers and publishers havesecured an important victory that strikes down South Carolina'sHarmful to Minors Internet law as unconstitutional. Last Monday JudgePatrick Michael Duffy of the U.S. District Court in Charleston, SouthCarolina, issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of thelaw, which would have restricted the rights of adults and older minorsto access constitutionally-protected materials on the Internet.

The Fund joined organizations that represent artists, writers,booksellers, and publishers who use the Internet to disseminategraphic arts, literature, and health-related information as aPlaintiff in this case. Plaintiffs argued that the Act would haveprohibited their members from sending material with serious artisticand scientific value over the Internet.

Judge Duffy found that the law violated the First Amendment because itdid not employ the least restrictive means for preventing minors fromusing the Internet to access harmful to minors material. In addition,as opposed to filtering technology, which can screen outsexually-oriented material from any place, Judge Duffy declared thatSouth Carolina's law could do nothing to prevent minors from accessingmaterial from outside the U.S.

Judge Duffy also found that the credit card-based age verificationsystem that South Carolina had proposed to block minors from accessingharmful material would create a chilling effect on the speech ofadults. Courts "have unanimously concluded that these measures arefar too burdensome, and chill adults' ability to engage in, and garneraccess to, protected speech for a wealth of reasons."

"We applaud Judge Duffy's well reasoned decision in this case," CBLDFExecutive Director Charles Brownstein said. "We are pleased that itaddressed the concerns raised in our defense of the rights ofcartoonists and retailers who work online, and that those rights willnot be curtailed by what was a very dangerous law."

At issue in the case was an amendment to South Carolina's Harmful toMinors statute that provided criminal sanctions for "disseminatingharmful material to minors" online and which defined "material" tomean "pictures, drawings, video recordings, films, digital electronicfiles, or other visual depictions or representations but not materialconsisting entirely of written words." The statute ruled that aviolation of this law (Section 16-15-375 of the S.C. Code) was afelony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a fine of $5,000, orboth.

CBLDF and partner plaintiffs Southeast Booksellers Association, PrintStudio South, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression,Association of American Publishers, and Families against InternetCensorship successfully argued that the law placed unconstitutionalburdens upon the speech of creators and retailers online, both withinthe 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 Haleand Dorr LLP, Washington, D.C.; Michael A. Bamberger of SonnenscheinNath & 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) 3non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of FirstAmendment rights for members of the comics community. Donations andinquiries should be directed to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund atP.O. Box 693, Northampton, MA 01061.

For additional information, please visit www.cbldf.org

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