Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Close a Loophole, Open a Bag of Worms

A modification to a Massachusetts law against disseminating obscene materials to minors is causing trouble. A change intended to close a gap (that meant digital material was not included considered "matter") has been interpreted by some* as banning from the internet absolutely anything that might be considered "harmful to minors". That would probably included adult fiction and associated promotional material.

So before obscene matter was: "...any handwritten or printed material, visual representation, live performance or sound recording including but not limited to, books, magazines, motion picture films, pamphlets, phonographic records, pictures, photographs, figures, statues, plays, dances." Presumably provided by an adult to a child.

Now it includes: "...electronic mail, instant messages, text messages, and any other communication created by means of use of the Internet or wireless network, whether by computer, telephone, or any other device or by any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo-electronic or photo-optical system." Which is being interpreted as material just available online, and not deliberately provided to a child.

The manager of the Harvard bookstore is specifically concerned that the law could be applied to materials such as book covers shown on a store website.

* Including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Harvard Bookstore, the Photographic Resource Center, Porter Square Books .


Teddy Pig said...

So are they going to turn off the internet?

Teddy Pig said...

Or simply sue everyone?

veinglory said...

I think the concern is that they could use this law selectively to go after people or groups they disapprove of for some reason. While they clearly would not use the law wholesale wherever it applied, anyone knowingly contravening it would be, um, "exposed".