Thursday, January 30, 1997
Annoy.com Annoyed by the Communications Decency Act, Sues Attorney General
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 30, 1997, San Francisco -- Clinton D. Fein, president of the San Francisco based multimedia firm ApolloMedia Corporation, announced today that the company has filed a lawsuit against Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States, challenging the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The CDA was signed into law by President Clinton in February 1996, and makes the communication of anything "indecent" with the intent to "annoy", a felony punishable by a fine and up to two years imprisonment. The lawsuit was filed to protect the company’s "annoy.com" web site.
ApolloMedia is challenging the CDA provision that criminalizes any "indecent" computer communications intended to "annoy" another person. This provision makes criminal constitutionally protected communications among other adults, including public officials. ApolloMedia does not here challenge other provisions outlawing "obscene, threatening, or harassing communications."
The suit was filed today in the United States District Court in San Francisco. It contends that the CDA provisions violate the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Other CDA provisions were struck down last year by a Philadelphia federal court and are currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. These provisions make it criminal to communicate "indecent" materials to minors, and they have certain "safe harbor" defenses. The provision attacked by ApolloMedia is applicable to adults and has no defenses.
ApolloMedia’s business is entirely related to computer-mediated communications. It advises clients on, designs, and constructs sites on the World Wide Web and implements network-related Internet systems for the delivery and management of information. Its website, annoy.com (http://annoy.com), allows visitors to compose and send email messages, anonymously, to public officials and public figures, as well as leave messages about issues of interest to them, such as gun control, domestic violence, race, gay marriage and abortion, among other things. Under the CDA, ApolloMedia could be committing a felony, both because of the services it provides to its clients and as host of annoy.com.
"Attempting to criminalize speech that might be perceived as ‘indecent’ or ‘annoying’ is not only unconstitutional, it’s outrageous. This provision will effectively prohibit the electronic or digital transmission of much political discourse," said Fein. "The CDA is riddled with inconsistencies resulting from uninformed politicians and sensationalist sewage disseminated by mainstream media. Amidst it all, everyone seems to have forgotten who elects who to serve whom ."
"ApolloMedia's courageous action to challenge this misguided law is well within the venerable tradition of the First Amendment, which protects speech and prohibits restraints," said Michael Traynor of Cooley Godward LLP, one of the company's lawyers. "Regardless of how blunt, disgusting, raunchy, juvenile, indecent, annoying, or outrageous such speech may be, the First Amendment safeguards it from would-be censors, prosecutors, the politically correct, and all others. Congress passed and the President signed a vague and oppressive law that criminalizes speech and deprives Americans of a historic freedom. We look forward to the court's striking down this unconstitutional law forthwith".
"Americans have a plain First Amendment right to express themselves indecently, particularly when they’re complaining about the behavior of public officials" said William Bennett Turner of Rogers, Joseph, O’Donnell & Quinn, also representing the plaintiff and a well-known First Amendment lawyer. "The CDA’s clumsy attempt to control the Internet by forcing everyone to talk nice will be struck down by the Court".
Fein adds that being raised in South Africa during apartheid thwarted his desire to be a journalist because of the extreme grip of censorship. "It’s ironic that I would have more freedom of speech in South Africa where I could have been jailed for just quoting Nelson Mandela. Now I can be incarcerated in the United States for simply telling Bill Clinton to stop dicking around with my tax dollars, yet Jesse Helms can call Roberta Achtenberg a ‘damn lesbian’, like he did on the floor of the Senate. Fuck congress, let the Court decide."
ApolloMedia is being represented by William Bennett Turner of Rogers, Joseph, O’Donnell & Quinn and Michael Traynor and Tsan Merritt-Poree of Cooley Godward LLP, both in San Francisco.
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