The likewise Constitutionally-challenged successor to the Communications Decency Act, the Child Online Protection Act made it a crime for anyone, by means of the World Wide Web, to make any communication for commercial purposes that was “harmful to minors” unless the person had restricted access by minors by requiring a credit card number. COPA would have imposed criminal and civil penalties of up to $50,000 per day for violations.
While more narrowly drafted than the CDA, the COPA contained most of the same elements that ultimately led to the Supreme Court's ruling in 1997 that the CDA was unconstitutional. COPA placed unconstitutional burdens on a wide category of protected speech, while failing to achieve its goal of protecting children.
COPA raised major constitutional problems in the following ways:
- It imposed serious burdens on constitutionally protected speech, including materials such as movies and television programs when disseminated online;
- It failed to effectively serve the government's interest in protecting children, as it would not have effectively prevented children from seeing inappropriate material originating from outside of the US available through other Internet resources besides the World Wide Web, such as chat rooms or email; and
- It did not represent the least restrictive means of regulating speech, according to the Supreme Court’s own findings that blocking and filtering software might give parents the ability to more effectively screen out undesirable content without burdening speech.
COPA passed in 1998 but was never enforced due to immediate court challenges on First Amendment grounds. After 10 years of tortuous litigation, including two Supreme Court decisions, COPA was finally struck down when the Supreme Court declined to hear the government’s appeal of the Third Circuit’s third opinion on the case, upholding a permanent injunction against enforcement of the law because of Constitutional problems. The overwhelming response to COPA among the courts that heard and re-heard the challenge was that user-empowerment and parental control technologies are better tools for protecting children than overly restrictive regulation of online speech.