This post, written by senior staff attorney Matt Zimmerman, was originally published on August 9, 2013 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Newark, NJ – A New Jersey federal district court judge granted motions for a preliminary injunction today, blocking the enforcement of a dangerous state law that would put online service providers at risk by, among other things, creating liability based on “indirect” publication of content by speech platforms.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argued for the injunction in court on behalf of the Internet Archive, as the statute conflicts directly with federal law and threatens service providers who enable third party speech online.
“The Constitution does not permit states to pass overbroad and vague statutes that threaten protected speech. The New Jersey statute created that threat and the court was right to block it,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. “Similarly, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act prohibits the state from threatening to throw online providers in jail for what their users do and the statute violated that rule as well. We are grateful that the court recognized the importance of these bedrock principles to online libraries and other platforms that make the Internet the vital and robust tool it is today.”
The New Jersey law at issue is an almost carbon-copy of a Washington state law successfully blocked by EFF and the Internet Archive last year. While aimed at combatting online ads for underage sex workers, it instead imposes stiff criminal penalties on ISPs, Internet cafes, and libraries that “indirectly” cause the publication or display of content that might contain even an “implicit” offer of a commercial sex act if the content includes an image of a minor. The penalties – up to 20 years in prison and steep fines – would put enormous pressure on service providers to block access to broad swaths of otherwise protected material in order to avoid the vague threat of prosecution.
“Within the past month, we’ve seen a coalition of state attorneys general ask Congress to gut CDA 230 to make way for harmful laws like New Jersey’s,” said Zimmerman. “This misguided proposal puts speech platforms at risk, which in turn threatens online speech itself. Law enforcement can and must pursue criminals vigorously, but attacking the platforms where people exercise their right to free speech is the wrong strategy.”
Backpage.com separately filed suit against this law, represented by the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, who also joined today’s argument.
For more on this case: