Issue 90, Summer 2003

  • At the end of its term the Supreme Court dealt a blow to the right of library patrons to unfiltered use of computers, ruling that the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is constitutional. The Justices acknowledge that filters block material that is protected speech and fail to block much targeted sexual content, but ruled, nonetheless, that Congress may withhold funding from libraries that don’t filter the Internet, in the interest of protecting minors from expression that is “harmful to minors.”Dissenters disagreed with the majority’s rationale that the law is constitutional in large part because adults can ask to have a computer unblocked, pointing out that the unblocking process is burdensome.The ruling overturns a federal district court opinion that CIPA violates the First Amendment. (For more information on the case, click here)
  • The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional a St. Louis ordinance prohibiting sales of video games with graphically violent content to minors without parental consent. In enjoining enforcement of the ordinance, the court said that the First Amendment protects entertainment as well as political or ideological speech. The case is Interactive Digital Software Association v. St. Louis County.
  • Parody is protected by the First Amendment, ruled the California Supreme Court, overturning a lower court decision in the case of Edgar Winter, et al. v. DC Comics, et al.Musicians Johnny and Edgar Winter had sued DC Comics for “illegally exploiting their images” and for violating their publicity rights with comic book portrayals of them as half-human, half-worm creatures Johnny and Edgar Autumn.”Although the fictional characters… are less-than-subtle evocations of Johnny and Edgar Winter, the books do not depict plaintiffs literally. They are distorted for purposes of lampoon, parody, or caricature,” wrote Justice Ming Chin for the court.
  • Harry Potter books are back in full circulation at the Cedarville School District libraries, thanks to an order from a federal judge in Little Rock, Arkansas. Responding to a complaint from a parent who called the books “evil” for their depictions of wizardry, three school board members had voted to require parental permission for children to read the books claiming that they prompt children to “disobey authority and push occult messages.”Judge Jim Hendren ruled: “Regardless of the personal distaste with which these individuals regard ‘witchcraft,’ it is not properly within their power and authority as members of defendant’s school board to prevent the students at Cedarville from reading about it….[T]he conclusion is inevitable that defendant removed the books from its library shelves for reasons not authorized by the Constitution.”