« The Glamourous Life (apologies to Sheila E) | Main | A shot across the bow of LIS schools »

Cascading CIPA

A rant about an Ohio bill to require filtering and other restrictions to material by minors ... including requiring signed parental consent to check out 'R' movies.

If I remember correctly from the Internet Filtering seminar I took last year, restricting access to library materials based on an outside rating system don't tend to hold up in court. The MPAA film ratings board may hold a lot of power within Hollywood, and a lot of influence outside of it, but it's just another volunteer group with no legal standing. It's the same as using the recommendations of the Catholic League to restrict access to material. Henry Reichman, in his book, Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers to Schools (page 32), refers to such actions in regards to public schools as the "transfer [of] authority over a section of the curriculum to a private agency." Since libraries, like schools, are government entities, the same principle applies.

In theory, at least. I'll keep my fingers crossed for Ohio librarians


The MPAA rating system is, of course, an industry system designed in order to avoid government oversight, so it makes some strange sense (though I am not familar with any case history) that government would not be able simply to mandate that system in the public arena. On the other hand, I have to wonder how it is that CIPA (which effectively enforces standards that are not revealed to the community) could stand up in court but use of the MPAA system would not. I mean, the CIPA example amounts to a transfer of authority that is much more complete than use of MPAA, which publishes relatively clear standards for its rating system as I recall.

Sometimes when I think about these things, I feel as if my head will explode.

Mine, too, Frederick ...

I think you hit at the heart of the matter: because the MPAA doesn't want any government oversight, it doesn't hold its system to any legal standard. "Rated mature" or "Not recommended for persons under 17 without parental guidance" has no meaning in a court of law ... while as vague as the "harmful to minors" standard is, it's obviously been recognized as a legal standard and thusly, the government can impose obligations in keeping to that standard.

What always bugged me about how CIPA was passed (and how it was upheld) is the assumption that the technology is foolproof, or close to being so. From what I've read, the sponsors of CIPA were more concerned with crafting a law that wouldn't be thrown out by the justices than they were with understanding the technology behind the mandates they were pushing.