First Amendment Challenge to Child Online Protection Act

Earlier this year Judge Reed of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Child Online Protection Act (“COPA”) is facially violative of the First and Fifth Amendments, and permanently enjoined the Attorney General from “enforcing or prosecuting matters premised upon COPA at any time for any conduct.” The government appealed.

Yesterday amici curiae filed a brief with the Third Circuit, expressing their concern “about Congress’ attempt to censor what this Court has recognized to be a ‘dynamic, multifaceted category of communication’ – the Internet – by transforming it into a ‘child-proof’ medium whose ‘level of discourse’ would be reduced to that ‘suitable for a sandbox.’ The First Amendment does not allow such sanitizing of public discourse, however well intentioned.” The Center for Democracy and Technology, one of the eighteen amici, includes a link to the brief on its website.

Plaintiffs/Appellees include American Civil Liberties Union; Androgyny Books, Inc., d/b/a A Different Light Bookstores; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; Addazi, Inc., d/b/a Condomania; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Electronic Privacy Information Center; Free Speech Media; Philadelphia Gay News; Powell’s Bookstores; Salon Media Group, Inc.; Planetout, Inc.; Heather Corinna; Nerve.Com, Inc.; Aaron Peckham, d/b/a Urban Dictionary; Public Communicators, Inc.; Dan Savage; and Sexual Health Network.

Amici curiae that filed yesterday’s brief include American Society of Newspaper Editors; Association of American Publishers, Inc.; Center for Democracy & Technology; Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; Computer & Communications Industry Association; Freedom To Read Foundation; Information Technology Association of America; Internet Alliance; Media Access Project; National Association of Recording Merchandisers; National Cable Television Association; Net Coalition; Newspaper Association of America; Online Publishers Association; People for the American Way Foundation; PMA, The Independent Book Publishers Association; Society of Professional Journalists; and United States Internet Service Provider Association.

Internet-Ordained Clergy, Online Gambling, and the Regulation of Online Video

A few items that caught my eye last week-

  • According to the National Law Journal, “Internet-ordained ministers are legal in all 50 states, except for certain counties in Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where the practice has faced legal challenges in the past decade.” I wonder how those counties feel about weddings officiated by Rolling Stone-ordained clergy. Anyway, check out this NLJ article highlighting some of the risks presented by Internet ministers.
  • CNET’s News Blog featured a detailed post on the ins and outs of online gambling, including the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, lobbying efforts to scale back the law, and the purported benefits of playing poker.
  • The Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Adam Thierer shares his concerns relating to some current attitudes toward the regulation of online video, as evidenced by a recent 463 Communications/Zogby International survey. Adam’s post links to the survey, which includes a number of other ‘interesting’ findings.

Regulation of Online Intrastate Gambling

Earlier this week Congressman Tom Feeney (R-Fla), in written materials supplementing previous floor remarks, addressed the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and what he views as a threat to that law:

[L]ast year, I cosponsored legislation with Congressman Bob Goodlatte to help stop the widespread growth of gambling over the internet. Though Federal law already prohibits gambling over telephone wires, the passage of this legislation was necessary to maintain the original intent of the law while also bringing it up to speed with the explosion of current and future technology. However, this update of the law made clear that it would only affect interstate commerce, respecting the rights of states by leaving to them the decision whether and how to regulate gambling within their own borders. New legislation before the Financial Services Committee attempts to undo all of this previous work, instead granting the federal government the expansive and exclusive right to regulate all online gambling. This new legislation would represent the first time in history that the Federal Government would be given power to issue gambling licenses, and it marks a significant shift away from allowing states to determine for themselves what type of policy is best. Proponents of this legislation state that the bill offers states the right to “opt out” of this regulation, but the truth is that the states already have the right to determine their own policy towards gambling without any broader federal regulation that threatens to undermine their control over licensing standards and enforcement actions.

I haven’t seen the bill the Congressman is referring to, and I’m not expressing any opinion here about gambling, or whether it should be legal. But I am scratching my head about the concept of online intrastate gambling.

Is it technologically feasible for a wagering site based in Illinois to only allow persons physically located in Illinois to place bets? I suppose it could be tried, but something tells me that lots of determined people would find ways around such a restriction, which would presumably invite federal attention.

Perhaps the bill’s opponents are instead worried about states losing out on tax revenues that could one day be extracted from online gambling sites purportedly operating exclusively within a single state?

If anyone is familiar with the proposed legislation, I’d be interested in your opinion.

Pull the trigger, yes. Click the mouse, no. The WSJ on Internet hunting laws.

I am not a hunter, and can’t say I really have any interest in becoming one. But an article that appeared earlier this month on the front page of the Wall Street Journal – “Internet Hunting Has Got to Stop – If It Ever Starts” – caught my attention.

Zachary M. Seward reports that “33 states have outlawed Internet hunting since 2005, and a bill to ban it nationally has been introduced in Congress.” Furthermore, he notes that California has banned Internet fishing (see reference to “Computer Assisted Remote Fishing” at the bottom of page 6).

What is Internet hunting you ask? In theory my understanding is that for a fee, one accesses a website featuring a live, outdoor video feed. When a deer or other game wanders into the frame on your monitor, you can – with a mouse click – cause a live round to be fired from a rifle affixed to the camera. I say “in theory” because, as the article highlights, there do not appear to be any such sites presently operating (although this hasn’t stopped a majority of states from prohibiting the practice).

Researching the subject earlier today, I see that just last week Illinois became the 34th state to ban the practice. Also, the federal bill referred to in the WSJ article, intended to ban “computer-assisted remote hunting,” was referred to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this summer.

This post is not intended to judge the values of hunters or animal rights folks, nor opine as to whether hunting should be legal. But there is no disputing that in some states, at certain times of the year, certain birds and mammals can be hunted legally. So how can it be that some of those very same states have now acted to prohibit the practice when accomplished remotely via the Internet?

Again, I’m not a hunter, but I would think that issues relating to safety, licensure, permits, fees, reporting, quotas, disposal, etc. could be addressed in a narrower fashion. Does Internet hunting somehow give the hunter more of an advantage/put the prey at more of a disadvantage, as compared to traditional hunting? Is Internet hunting somehow cruel in a way that traditional hunting is not? Or maybe this has nothing to do with the merits, and is instead a purely political development.

I would be interested in hearing your opinions on these issues.