Appeals Court Says Internet Content Should Be Held To Standards Of Strictest Jurisdiction
from the pandora's-box-just-opened... dept
One of the issues we’ve talked about repeatedly over the years is the question of what is the “internet jurisdiction.” Since content is available anywhere there’s an internet connection, under which laws should it apply. If you think that just because it appears on the internet, anyone’s laws apply, then you reach an untenable situation where all online content is controlled by the strictest, most draconian rules out there. That makes little sense. And yet some courts still think this is the appropriate interpretation of the law. In the US it’s already troubling enough that the issue of indecency is measured on an amorphous “community standards” basis, but when it comes to the internet, what community applies? As we discussed a few years ago, this raises all sorts of legal questions. Chris points us to a recent ruling in the 11th Circuit Court of appeals on a pornography case, where the court seems to have made a ruling that effectively says all online content should be held to the standards of the strictest communities. Thus, an erotica website targeting a NY subculture should be held to the standards of a southern bible belt rural community? That seems ridiculous, but it’s what the court said.
In this case, a guy who produced porn content in California was tried in Tampa, Florida, because investigators downloaded his content there:
The Atlanta-based court rejected arguments by Little’s attorneys that applying a local community standard to the Internet violates the First Amendment because doing so means material can be judged according to the standards of the strictest communities.
In other words, the materials might be legal where they were produced and almost everywhere else. But if they violate the standards of one community, they are illegal in that community and the producers may be convicted of a crime.
Of course, the court did say that punishment had to be limited to just looking at how many people in that smaller community accessed the content — which could limit the punishment given by the court, but it still seems problematic. Other courts, including one in California, have found differently on similar questions, so it seems likely that, at some point, this issue will finally go back to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it seems likely that the Supreme Court will focus on what counts as “community standards” rather than whether or not laws against obscenity even make legal sense under the First Amendment.