Ohio Court Revamps “Harmful To Minors” Internet Law


What constitutes “harmful to minors?”  It’s an issue that has only been partially resolved by a recent court of appeals ruling in Ohio on a narrow definition of the phrase pertaining to information found on the internet.

Marty Klein, an online publisher who provides content on a variety of sexual health topics ranging from contraception to nudity, fought a law passed in 2000 criminalizing the act of providing any sexually explicit material on the internet aimed at minors, without defining what “sexually explicit” is or how in fact it is provided to the minor.  

The court of appeals in response to numerous attempts to rewrite the law after it was overturned, has now settled on a definition:

Yesterday a federal Court of Appeals ruled that the statute must be construed narrowly. People can only be prosecuted for sending sexually explicit, non-obscene material to a known minor through “personally directed” electronic communication such as person-to-person email. While I don’t agree with this approach either, at least it’s the same standard restricting what material can be given to a minor in person.

The rule still remains broad and somewhat ambiguous, but should no longer apply to health sites that attempt to teach sex ed information such as contraception and how sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy occur.

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  • sschoice

    Ok, here’s two of the relavant sentences:
    .

    People can only be prosecuted for sending sexually explicit, non-obscene material to a known minor through “personally directed” electronic communication such as person-to-person email. While I don’t agree with this approach either, at least it’s the same standard restricting what material can be given to a minor in person.

    .
    What is the difference between say forwarding by email a copy of the content of a high school sex education curriculum, or a syllabus, to minor, and sending “personally directed” sexually explicit material by email? If one high school student does that for another, and say the recipient is in some class where comprehensive sex ed is not taught either because it’s not an option or because their parent elected somehow for them to not get it, there might be parties who would argue that the latter party is receiving “personally directed” sexually explicit, non-obscene material from the former party.

    That’s a rather contrived example, but one can imagine others where there might evolve some cause of action for either an irate parent or (more likely) a third party like an anti-choice group to complain about an online blog that might answer a question, even hypothetically, for a minor about contraception or even STDs. If providing that kind of information through online media is supposed to be a legitimate activity, a law like that would potentially criminalize or at least regulate that activity.
    .
    The very phrase “sexually explicit, non-obscene” sounds an awful lot like Comstock-era language that was used to regulate and essentially prohibit the use of the mail to distribute information about contraception. Maybe something like was footnoted in “Traps for the Young” (1883), perhaps?
    .
    Please, we don’t want to digress into how this could lead to a ban about contraception (because that’s not reasonably foreseeable), but it looks like this could lead to regulating how blogs provide information about contraception, for example, to minors, or to anyone really who does not provide proof or at least some attestation of their age.