TIMELINES: What Internet law signed into effect Feb. 8, 1996, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court?

February 8, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012


Feb. 8, 1996, United States President Bill Clinton signs the Communications Decency Act (DCA) into U.S. law. The legislation is designed to regulate the Internet in the same way that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates broadcast television and radio using a “decency” standard. Immediately following the DCA being signed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announces a lawsuit aimed at striking DCA down on grounds that it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In 1997, DCA is declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in a decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens. In the opinion of Reno v. ACLU, Justice Stevens writes, “The CDA, casting a far darker shadow over free speech, threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community.”


Last month, in response to a large international online protest, the United States Congress elected to indefinitely shelve the controversial legislation known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA would have granted the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders the right to seek court orders against websites associated with copyright infringement. Opponents of the bill expressed concern that the language of the legislation was vague and could be abused by the government and copyright holders. The existing law requires a website to remove copyrighted material upon request by the copyright holder. However, the copyright holder cannot, at the outset, seek a court ordered injunction to remove the entire website. Websites based all over the world participated in a Jan. 18 online protest, including Google and Wikipedia.