A coalition of booksellers and internet content providers filed a federal lawsuit on July 13, challenging an expansion of Massachusetts’ obscenity law to include electronic communications that might be harmful to minors, reports the Associated Press. Supporters say the new law, which went into effect July 13, closes a loophole that led the state’s highest court to overturn the conviction of a Beverly man accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to someone he believed was a 13-year-old girl. The Supreme Judicial Court, ruling in a case in February, found that the state’s obscenity law didn’t apply to instant messages. The new law, passed quickly by the state Legislature after the ruling, added instant messages, text messages, eMail, and other electronic communications to the old law. But the changes amount to “a broad censorship law that imposes severe content-based restrictions” on the dissemination of constitutionally protected speech, the lawsuit argues. The plaintiffs include the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and other groups. They argue that the expanded law effectively bans from the internet anything that might be considered “harmful to minors,” including material that adults have a First Amendment right to view, including information about contraception, pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art…

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Maya Prabhu