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Court: Net porn law too vague

Child Online Protection Act watched closely by studios

WASHINGTON — In at least a temporary reprieve for the creative community, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that a new law making it illegal to post on the Internet sexually explicit content that can be seen by kids is too vague and not ready for primetime.

The 1998 law would require companies operating Web sites to block minors from entering any site featuring material deemed harmful to children and teens.

A lower court stopped the statute from taking effect, saying it violated the First Amendment.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the law wasn’t necessarily unconstitutional, but it ordered the lower court to be more specific.

The Child Online Protection Act, signed into law by President Clinton, carried a penalty of six months in jail and a $50,000 fine for first-time offenders.

Hollywood studios continue to pay close attention to regulation of content on the Internet, since they all have extensive Web sites. Should the Child Online Protection Act become law, studios would have to devise ways — such as adult access codes — to make sure kids aren’t looking at sexually explicit material.

Also Monday, the Supreme Court upheld federal rules requiring the entrenched phone giants to open up their wires to smaller phone companies.

The rules, a hallmark of the 1996 Telecom Act, were designed to foster competition.

(Wire services contributed to this report.)