Judge to rule on landmark Internet porn law

A U.S. law designed to prevent children from viewing pornography online would undermine the free speech of millions of adult Internet users, opponents of the measure said on Monday.

The law is so imprecisely written it would restrict most adult Internet users to material that is only suitable for children, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs said in closing arguments of a four-week trial.

The ACLU and others sued the U.S. government, claiming the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 violates the Constitution, and they argued on Monday that filtering was a more effective tool that does not curtail free speech.

But attorneys for the U.S. government called the law necessary to protect young people from sexually explicit material and said Internet filtering technology was not good enough to block offending websites from personal computers.

"Evidence shows that many parents do not actively use the filters," said Joel McElvain, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department.

Judge Lowell Reed of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is expected to rule in spring 2007, and lawyers said the ruling was likely to be appealed because the case is seen as an important test of free speech limits on the Internet.

Among those suing are Nerve.com, an online magazine about sexual literature, art and politics that claims 1 million readers a month, and Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary of contemporary slang with 40 million readers.

The law, known as COPA, could force them to stop publishing, ACLU attorney Chris Hansen said.

"That's an awful lot of speech that would be chilled by COPA going into effect," Hansen said.

The law has never been implemented because it was challenged in court immediately after its signing by former President Bill Clinton.

It was held to be unconstitutional by federal district and appeals courts. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed an injunction against enforcement to stand, and referred the case back to the Pennsylvania court for a full trial.

The law would impose a maximum fine of $50,000 a day and up to six months in prison for anyone who uses the Internet to "make any communication for commercial purposes that is available to any minor and that includes any material that is harmful to minors."

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