Child Online Protection Act - The Law

October 20, 2006
ACLU Defends Free Speech Online >>

In what was codified as 47 U.S.C. 231, COPA provides that:

(1) PROHIBITED CONDUCT.-Whoever knowingly and with knowledge of the character of the material, in interstate or foreign commerce by means of the World Wide Web, makes any communication for commercial purposes that is available to any minor and that includes any material that is harmful to minors shall be fined not more than $50,000, imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both.

(2) INTENTIONAL VIOLATIONS.-In addition to the penalties under paragraph (1), whoever intentionally violates such paragraph shall be subject to a fine of not more than $50,000 for each violation. For purposes of this paragraph, each day of violation shall constitute a separate violation.

(3) CIVIL PENALTY.-In addition to the penalties under paragraphs (1) and (2), whoever violates paragraph (1) shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $50,000 for each violation. For purposes of this paragraph, each day of violation shall constitute a separate violation.

COPA specifically provides that a person shall be considered to make a communication for commercial purposes "only if such person is engaged in the business of making such communication." 47 U.S.C. 231(e)(2)(A). A person will be deemed to be "engaged in the business" if theperson who makes a communication, or offers to make a communication, by means of the World Wide Web, that includes any material that is harmful to minors, devotes time, attention, or labor to such activities, as a regular course of such person's trade or business, with the objective of earning a profit as a result of such activities (although it is not necessary that the person make a profit or that the making or offering to make such communications be the person's sole or principal business or source of income). A person may be considered to be engaged in the business of making, by means of the World Wide Web, communications for commercial purposes that include material that is harmful to minors, only if the person knowingly causes the material that is harmful to minors to be posted on the World Wide Web or knowingly solicits such material to be posted on the World Wide Web.

47 U.S.C. 231(e)(2)(B).

Congress defined material that is harmful to minors as:
any communication, picture, image, graphic image file, article, recording, writing, or other matter of any kind that is obscene or that-

(A) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taking the material as a whole and with respect to minors, is designed to appeal to, or is designed to pander to, the prurient interest;

(B) depicts, describes, or represents, in a manner patently offensive with respect to minors, an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, an actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual act, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals or post-pubescent female breast; and

(C) taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

Id.at 231(e)(6). Under COPA, a minor is any person under 17 years of age. Id.at 231(e)(7).

COPA provides communicators on the Web for commercial purposes affirmative defenses to prosecution under the statute. Section 231 (c) provides that:

(c) AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE.-

(1) DEFENSE.-It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the defendant, in good faith, has restricted access by minors to material that is harmful to minors-

(A) by requiring use of a credit card, debit account, adult access code, or adult personal identification number;

(B) by accepting a digital certificate that verifies age; or

(C) by any other reasonable measures that are feasible under available technology.

The disclosure of information collected in implementing the affirmative defenses is restricted in 231(d):

(d) PRIVACY PROTECTION REQUIREMENTS.-

(1) DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION LIMITED.-A person making a communication described in subsection (a)-

(A) shall not disclose any information collected for the purposes of restricting access to such communications to individuals 17 years of age or older without the prior written or electronic consent of-

(i) the individual concerned, if the individual is an adult; or

(ii) the individual's parent or guardian, if the individual is under 17 years of age; and

(B) shall take such actions as are necessary to prevent unauthorized access to such information by a person other than the person making such communication and the recipient of such communication.

(2) EXCEPTIONS.-A person making a communication described in subsection (a) may disclose such information if the disclosure is-

(A) necessary to make the communication or conduct a legitimate business activity related to making the communication; or

(B) made pursuant to a court order authorizing such disclosure.

The full text of the law is available online at: www.epic.org/free_speech/censorship/copa.html

Statistics image