CENSORSHIP OF THE INTERNET


THE COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT



The CDA was passed by the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate during a conference meeting in February of this year. This bill was signed into the law books on February 8, 1996 by President Bill Clinton. The CDA "attempts to make service providers liable" for the content that passes through their servers (Burton, 1996).

The intended purpose of this legislation was to impose "a 'decency' standard to the Internet. The bill outlaws the so-called 'seven dirty words' online." In retaliation to the CDA, the editor of The American Reporter, Joe Shea, submitted an essay authored "by retired judge Stephen Russell" which was intended, by Russell, to "offend the new law." This publication led to the court case Shea vs. Reno, filed by Washington, D.C. (American Reporter).

During the final deliberations of the CDA, "the word 'indecent' was substituted for the word 'obscene'." The word indecent is understood to encompass a broader area of material than the original term. This last minute change has instigated larger concerns (Burton, 1996).

According to the court case Miller v. California (1973), there are three criterion for material to be deemed obscene:

"Indecency is a pattern of patently offensive depictions or descriptions of sexual or excretory activities or organs. Pacifica v. F.C.C. (1978)" (In Focus, 95).

The last minute change in terms is believed to have allowed for literary works to be included in the prohibited material. "The oft-quoted example is that this bill would prohibit the distribution of such classic works of fiction as Catcher in the Rye or Lady Chatterley's Lover (Burton, 1996). When faced with this concern, it could be argued that history will prove that the CDA will no more affect these items than legislation has in the past. "No serious literary or artistic works would be banned by an indecency law" (In Focus, 95).

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