COPA Injunction Decision Due Monday

Tick, tick, tick. You can almost hear the clock counting down on the temporary restraining order preventing the enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). Midnight on Monday, February 1, the restraining order, issued by U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed last November, will expire. Plaintiffs and Defendants alike expect Reed to hand down a decision on whether he will rule in favor of an injunction against the new law.

COPA would make it illegal for Web site businesses to knowingly allow children under the age of 18 access to pornographic material. To do so would be a felony and if proven, could result in up to six months in jail and a $50,000 fine. Ouch. This law was passed over a year after its predecessor, the Communications Decency Act (CDA), was rendered inactive based on First Amendment rights. So, now many people are calling COPA, CDA II because it is so obviously attempting to accomplish the same restrictions as the previously failed CDA.

COPA, however, is more narrowly defined then CDA. While CDA would have applied to all Web sites, Internet bulletin boards and E-mail, COPA is structured to use a "harmful to minors" standard. This standard has a firm foundation in case law. And just how are site owners supposed to know if a minor is entering their site? Well, the law would require users to provide a credit card number, or some other method of proof of age, before allowing them access to "harmful to minors" material. Web site operators feel this is too restrictive and would negatively effect their businesses. They believe that fewer people will visit sites that require an additional level of access screening.

The battle lines are clearly drawn. The plaintiffs argue that implementation of the law would be unconstitutional because it would infringe on the First Amendment right to free speech. Also, they state COPA would cause a financial hardship on Internet adult-site businesses. The ACLU is concerned the law may be used against non-pornographic web sites. COPA has given web sites dealing sex education, homosexual rights and abortion cause for concern, too.

On the other hand, the defendant in the case, the Justice Department, said any financial hardships resulting from the new law would be incidental and the Constitution wasn't written to guarantee profits for Web site businesses. They state the law is designed to require Net-based pornographers to require credit card information as proof of age before allowing access to "harmful to minors" content.

Tick, tick, tick. As soon as Reed's decision is announced, you can read it here.