cr> ClariNet files suit over Communications Decency law


Craig A. Johnson


Date:          Tue, 06 Feb 1996 19:39:44 -0500
From:          Dave Farber <•••@••.•••>
Subject:       IP: ClariNet files suit over Communications Decency law


            ClariNet files suit over Communications Decency law

ClariNet, along with several other electronic publishing companies and
organizations, have filed suit against the Attorney General to get the
newly passed "Communications Decency Act," an amendment to the Telecom
bill, declared unconstitutional. We also seek a temporary restraining
order against enforcement of the law while the case is under

Suit is being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union which is
funding the advancement of this case. We, along with the ACLU, the EFF
and several others are plaintiffs in this case because we feel the law
would unfairly affect and chill our electronic publishing efforts, and
because we feel the law violates the 1st amendment to the U.S.

As newspaper publishers we are strong supporters of full freedom of
expression. ClariNet has always felt that we should not "protect" our
readers from possibly offensive or "indecent" material. Our job is to
deliver you the news. We sometimes even run stories that might not be
run by ordinary print newspapers in the USA because their content
might be offensive. We believe our readership is educated and
intelligent and able to make its own decisions about what to read. We
also believe that children should be able to read our news, and that
it is up to their parents to control their access and educate them
about how to deal with material their parents feel is inappropriate.

We are particularly distressed by this bill for several reasons. We
are against censorship, as stated, but we are particularly frightened
at the suggestion that the electronic press should be subject to
restrictions which would never be allowed or accepted on the paper
press. This law forbids allowing "indecent" material from reaching
minors, but such a restriction has been proven time and time again to
be unconstitutional when applied to publishers of paper books and

We fear this sort of law because it declares the electronic press to
be second class press, not protected by the full strength of the 1st
amendment. The government was able to restrict radio and TV stations,
denying them that protection, under the argument that they used the
scarce resource of electromagnetic spectrum, and thus were subject to
licencing by the FCC. No such argument applies here.

We in the digital press are growing. All major newspapers now have
online versions as well, or plan them. Many feel that the online
newspapers will supplant the paper versions in the decades to come,
and the digital press will be "the press" as far as the USA is
concerned. Laws like this one would leave the USA without a mainstream
medium that is protected fully by the 1st amendment. They must be
stopped now.

What ClariNet Publishes

For historical reasons, ClariNet also publishes the net's most widely
read free material, the USENET newsgroup rec.humor.funny. While RHF is
not part of ClariNet's paid-subscription electronic newspaper service,
ClariNet sponsors its operation and provides the facilities for its
publication and web server. This publication, dedicated to jokes of
all types, has published and does publish "dirty jokes" which may meet
the definition of "indecent" applied in this new law. To remove all
"indecent" jokes would destroy the newsgroup. Since USENET
distribution is entirely outside of our control, we have no power over
whether minors may or may not get access to dirty jokes.

This law would require all open facilities on USENET to either put in
draconian access controls to stop access by minors, or to "dumb down"
to a level acceptable for children. Open adult discourse would be


The law also prohibits certain discussions about abortion online,
particularly anything that might tell people how to get an abortion.
The suit is challenging this as well.

The Suit

We'll keep you informed on our main web page and this page on the
progress of the suit. It is expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court
rapidly. You will also find details on the home pages of the ACLU, the
EFF and other parties participating in the suit. You should also
support the EFF's Blue Ribbon campaign for free expression online.

We encourage you to contribute to the ACLU and other public
organizations supporting this effort. ClariNet, in addition to being a
plaintiff, is making a donation to the ACLU to support them in this
effort, but our donation will cover but a tiny fraction of the cost of
doing this work. Your help is needed as well. We are confident that
the courts will see this law as onerous and unconstitutional but this
doesn't happen all by itself.

What You can Do

   * Contribute to the ACLU and the EFF
   * If in the USA, write your representatives, senators and the White
     House to protest this law. See the EFF pages for how to do this.
     We advise writing, phoning or faxing rather than E-mail. Remind
     them it's more than just netheads against this law.
   * If you are a ClariNet subscriber, read, and, for coverage of the
     story and our involvement.
   * Support all the plaintiffs, but particularly the ACLU, and other
     online initiatives against this law.
   * Support the blue ribbon campaign.
   * Fight similar laws in other countries.


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