Americans in fiction

On July 17, 1998, Senators Richard Bryan (D-NV) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced to the 105th Congress the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. In his Introduction, Senator Bryan said this: "I was, frankly, surprised to learn the kinds of information these Web sites are collecting from our children. Some were asking where the child went to school, what sports he or she liked, what siblings they had, their pet's name, what kind of time they had after school alone without the supervision of parents." The bill became law on October 21,1998.

Is her privacy protected?

Internet Speech

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act is just one way in which governments, from the U.S. Congress to your local school board, are scrambling for some control over the Internet. In regulating the Internee, though, does the government infringe on the right of free speech?

Free spccch is a key democratic right, spelled out in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Internet has promoted free speech by giving anyone with a computer the chance to circulate his or her views across the world. Unfortunately;, this has also enabled hate groups and others to infuse the Internet with offensive material.

Computer users can block objectionable Web sites by-ins tailing filtering software. However, lawmakers have also tried to enact laws censoring some online speech. In 1996 Congress passed the Communications Decency Act, This law made it a federal crime to send or display indecent or obscene material over the Internet "in a manner available" to those under the age of 18.

Numerous groups challenged the law in court. They argued that it violated the rights of adults, who can lawfully view graphic material considered inappropriate for children. In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997), the Supreme Court declared the indecency portions of the law unconstitutional. The Court held that speech on the Internet should have the highest level of lnrsc Amendment protection, similar to the protection given to books and newspapers.'1 "his decision was a strong endorsement of free speech on the Internet.

Limiting Free Speech in Schools

As you read earlier, the Supreme Court has ruled that Internet speech is protected by the l;irst Amendment. However, restrictions may apply to school-spoil so red newspapers on the World Wide Web.

In 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that school administrators can regulate the content of student print publications if doing so serves an educational purpose (see the Hazehvood School District v. Kuhlmeier case on page 263), The Court has not yet ruled on Internet student newspapers. Lower courts across the nation, however, are starting to hear cases. Several courts have found that students who produce online papers in school with school equipment may indeed be subject to regulation.

'■A'^fe'- Comparing How do the Rrst Amendment rights of students differ from those of adults?

Intellectual Property

Americans have always believed in the right of individuals to own property and to use it as they sec fit. You can freely sell your old bike, loan your jacket to a friend, or trade away part of your baseball card collection if you so choose. However, special rules apply to intellectual property—things that people create, such as songs, movies, books, poetry, art, and software. When you purchase a CD by U2 or a book like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, you do not gain ownership rights to the artistic product. Only the artist or author who created the work has a right to sell it or let others use it.

Over the years, many traditions, court decisions, and legal devices like copyrights have developed to protect the creators of intellectual property. A copyright is the owner's exclusive right to control, publish, and sell an original work. Copyrights are designed to prevent people from simply taking or copying someone else's creation without permission.

Computers and the Internet, however, make it easy to copy and widely distribute all kinds of intellectual property. As a result, the Internet has become a major battleground for intellectual property rights.

TTie Napster Battle Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster (middle), listens as the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on online entertainment in 2001. Jack Valent! (left), president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Don Henley (right), recording artist, look on. Why did federal courts rule to shut down Napster?

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