Another First Amendment Win in Ohio

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, Ohio has ruled that a state statute, which imposes penalties for disseminating sexually-explicitly material to minors, cannot be applied to open communications, such as websites, public chatrooms or email-based listservs and mailing lists.

In American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) v. Strickland, the Court ruled (PDF) that the law should apply only to “personal directed” communication—such as person-to-person email or a private chatroom—“between an adult and a person that the adult knows or should know is a minor.”

The San Francisco Examiner previously noted the importance of the case to a variety of online sellers, including videogame retailers:

The group had argued the law could be applied broadly to online material and erode the constitutional free speech rights of online booksellers, newspaper publishers and video game dealers. Technology, they say, can’t always keep the harmful information from children.

The decision follows Ohio’s Supreme Court clarifying a pair of specific questions relevant to the case earlier this year.

ABFFE President Chris Finan commented on the decision:

The federal court’s narrow construction of the Ohio statute recognizes that the First Amendment protects the right of adults to use websites and other electronic means for communications that might be inappropriate in a one-to-one communication with a minor.

"We should certainly have in place adequate legal safeguards to shield children from objectionable content, but those safeguards cannot unreasonably interfere with the rights of adults to have access to materials that are protected by the First Amendment,” added Media Coalition General Counsel Michael Bamberger.

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