Thursday, October 16, 1997

Attorney General Faces Tough Legal Battle and Sophisticated Technology as Federal Court Prepares for Internet First Amendment Challenge



Clinton D. Fein
President, ApolloMedia Corporation
Telephone: 415/552-7655
Michael Traynor
Cooley Godward LLP
Telephone: 415/693-2000
William Bennett Turner
Rogers, Joseph, O'Donnell & Quinn
Telephone: 415/956-2828


San Francisco based multimedia firm ApolloMedia Corporation today launched a scathing counter attack to the position taken in Federal Court by Attorney General Janet Reno. With an unprecedented multimedia, digital press release, using push media on the company's web site and channel, ( ApolloMedia president Clinton Fein will make public the details of the legal maneuverings that have taken place since the company filed the lawsuit in January, challenging the Communications Decency Act (CDA) provision that makes it a felony to communicate anything "indecent" online "with intent to annoy" another person. A hearing before a special three-judge court has been scheduled for October 20, 1997.

The Department of Justice, which until now had tenaciously defended the "indecency" provisions, changed tactics at the last minute. Now arguing against their own position in Reno vs. ACLU, the government is suggesting that "indecent" in Section 223(a) means something far different from the same term in Section 223(b) of the same law, leading people to wonder if the government has a clue about what congress and the President intended by implementing the law. The Justice Department now says only "obscene" material is prohibited and the "indecent" provision is completely meaningless.

"Frankly I think the Department of Justice is more confused about the provisions and definitions of this Act than we are," said Fein. "What we are witnessing is the pitiful defense of poorly constructed and ill-conceived legislation. If Reno was in a management position at my company, she would be fired."

"This case challenged the decision by Congress to punish 'indecency' as well as 'obscenity.' The government has now virtually caved in with its latest and indefensible ploy to save the law by equating the two words and hence supposedly narrowing the statute, something Congress deliberately elected not to do," said Michael Traynor of Cooley Godward LLP, one of the First Amendment experts representing ApolloMedia. "Now that our government is seeking refuge in the murky waters of obscenity law, the interesting question is how much lower will it sink?"

"The government's latest move is a desperate attempt to avoid a court determination of the unconstitutionality of the CDA," said William Bennett Turner, of Rogers, Joseph, O'Donnell & Quinn, another of the First Amendment experts representing ApolloMedia. "Reno's reading of this law makes nonsense of it, and the court will not allow the CDA to stand without judicial condemnation. There simply is no way to avoid a finding that the First Amendment does not sanction outlawing "indecent" speech designed to 'annoy' politicians."

ApolloMedia simultaneously formally announced the launch of an channel that delivers the key elements of the highly controversial web site directly to a subscribers desktop using push media technology. is the first push media channel to deliver hard-hitting, no-holds-barred commentary on politics and media, utilizing channel definition format tailored to the Seattle based software giant Microsoft's recently released IE 4.0 browser.

" has always pushed the envelope both technologically and with its content " said Clinton Fein, referring to the original drop down menus that allow users to send anonymous emails to politicians and public figures, and the databases that allow users to send anonymous digital postcards on every hot button issue from abortion to the military. The channel plans for future live and pre-recorded "netcasts," including interviews with First Amendment experts, media critics and political commentators. " Sophisticated coding, like speech, requires First Amendment protection," Fein added.

In June, the Supreme Court declared the CDA's prohibition of "indecent" speech on the Internet unconstitutional in a separate case in which ApolloMedia filed an amicus curiae brief. The critically acclaimed and highly controversial ( web site has evoked global reactions from Yugoslavia to the West Bank for its unapologetic and hard-hitting, in-your-face approach to political and social issues, and its irreverent use of technology, prompting the Japan Times to state " Being angry has never been so much fun or so high-minded".


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