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Agreement reached in suit over 'harmful to minors' Internet law in Utah

Published May 19, 2012 7:33 am

Court • Dispute dates back to 2005.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A federal judge has approved an agreement between the state and a coalition of free speech plaintiffs in a long-running lawsuit, ensuring those who post adult content on the Internet can't be prosecuted for failing to label it as "harmful to minors."

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson approved the agreement earlier this week in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, local artist Nathan Florence, trade associations, publishers of graphic and comic books and librarians — who all argued the law infringed on free speech rights.

Benson's order states adults don't need to label content they post as harmful to minors. The law does allow prosecution of those who intentionally send material deemed harmful to minors to a specific minor or someone whose age hasn't been determined.

The outcome marked a win for First Amendment rights, said plaintiffs' attorneys.

"This declaratory judgment makes clear that adult-to-adult communications on the Internet, and through other electronic means, cannot be restricted simply because minors also access the Internet and other electronic communications," said David Horowitz, executive director of Media Coalition, an organization that represents the trade associations of booksellers, publishers, graphic and comic books, and librarians.

Assistant Attorney General Jerrold Jensen said the harmful to minors statute remains the same, and that it had only been misinterpreted by the plaintiffs.

"It does not apply universally, it has to be a one-on-one encounter," Jensen said Friday. "That was our position from day one."

In 2005, the ACLU filed a lawsuit arguing the wording of the law violated the First Amendment for adults by making it illegal for adult-to-adult communications on the Internet on the basis that a minor might access the website or blog.

In 2007 the statute was amended, but the plaintiffs argued it still barred certain forms of visual art, photography and graphic novels, without posting it would be harmful to minors. It also didn't allow for information about human sexuality and the health rights of the LGBT community, according to the lawsuit. In response, the law was amended again in 2008.

"Judge Benson's order removes the cloud cast over Internet speech that Utah's broadly worded statute had created," John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, stated in a news release announcing the end of the case. "With this declaration, the ACLU of Utah can continue to make information such as our 'Know Your Rights' materials for students and LGBT youth available online without fear of possible prosecution for doing so."

The ruling issued by Benson awards attorney fees to the plaintiffs in the dispute. Those fees have not yet been determined.

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity