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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK
US court quashes child porn law
Links between child porn and sex abuse were disputed
The United States Supreme Court has struck down a federal law banning virtual images which look like children engaged in sexual acts.

The court ruled 6-3 against the law, which it said violated free speech, and was too vague and far-reaching to be constitutional.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist
Chief Justice Rehnquist was one of the dissentors
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the ruling, rejected arguments by the US Justice Department that virtual child pornography was linked to the sexual abuse of children.

The law - adopted by Congress six years ago - stipulates sentences of up to 15 years for distribution or five years for possession of computer images of children having sex, even if the images do not involve real children.

Correspondents say that the ruling is a victory for pornographers, but also for legitimate artists who could until now have been deemed criminal for showing sex scenes.

Recent Hollywood films such as Traffic and Lolita depict sex scenes with actors playing the part of minors.

'Almost indistinguishable'

"The First Amendment requires a more precise restriction," wrote Justice Kennedy, referring to the part of the US constitution which guarantees freedom of speech.

But three judges disagreed. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the dissentors that computer-generated images were almost indistinguishable from real children engaging in sex.

Congress passed the law in 1996, justifying the ban on the grounds that such images harmed children indirectly by encouraging paedophiles.

The challenge was brought by the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association of businesses that sell adult-oriented material.

The group did not challenge a section of the law banning the use of identifiable children in virtual images.

See also:

19 Mar 02 | Americas
FBI busts major child porn ring
17 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Child sex trade 'is terrorism'
10 Sep 01 | Americas
Shock over US child sex trade
19 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Internet is 'paedophile playground'
21 Jun 01 | Americas
Child web users are sex targets
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