Federal legislation passed in 1998 imposing civil and criminal penalties on commercial Web publishers who allow persons under the age of 18 to access material deemed "harmful to minors" under prevailing community standards. An injunction won by free speech advocates prevented enforcement of COPA. In September 1999, the Freedom to Read Foundation of the American Library Association (ALA) filed an amicus curiae brief in support of 17 online content providers, plaintiffs in a successful challenge (American Civil Liberties Union v. Ashcroft) in which the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the community standards clause in the law overly broad.
In May 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the application of community standards to the Internet but remanded the case to the lower court for examination of unresolved free speech issues. On March 6, 2003, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia again ruled COPA unconstitutional on grounds that the law deters adults from accessing materials protected under the First Amendment. On August 11, 2003, on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), the Bush administration filed a new appeal asking the Supreme Court to reconsider COPA on grounds that other methods of protecting children from exposure to sexually explicit materials, such as filtering software, are inadequate. In June 2004 in a 5-4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Philadelphia court, blocking enforcement of COPA, but stopped short of declaring the law unconstitutional and, for a second time, sent Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union back for a new trial, which began on October 25, 2006.
On March 22, 2007, U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr. struck down COPA, finding it in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. On July 22, 2008, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2007 decision, and on January 21, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals of the lower court decision, effectively killing COPA. See also: Communications Decency Act.