New law makes it a felony to download obscene material


Monday, June 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Free speech advocates say a new Oklahoma law making it a felony to download obscene material onto a computer is ripe for abuse by prosecutors and may be unconstitutional.

The law passed in the closing days of the 2003 Legislature carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000. It was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry on May 27 and took effect immediately.

Rep. Fred Perry, R-Tulsa, who proposed the law, says the intent is to target distributors of obscene material, particularly child pornography. The law specifically forbids the download of both child pornography and obscene material.

``They are not going to prosecute some guy who downloads a file for his own purposes,'' Perry said.

But Mike Camfield, development director for the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the law could be abused by prosecutors with a narrow view of what constitutes obscenity.

In 1997, an Oklahoma County district attorney won a court ruling that the Academy Award-winning foreign film, ``The Tin Drum,'' was obscene.

Police then confiscated copies from video stores and from private homes of people who had checked out the video.

One copy was removed by officers from Camfield's apartment.

``I would have thought it pretty far-fetched before June 25 of 1997 that police would expend all the resources they spent going after the 'Tin Drum,``' Camfield said. ``It wasn't obscene and it wasn't child pornography.''

The case was ultimately thrown out of court.

Perry said his bill simply updated an outmoded statute that was written before the Internet existed and people had the ability to obtain obscene material by downloading it onto a computer or disk.

``Some distributors of porn were getting off on a technicality, a loophole,'' he said.

Sgt. Tim Stadler of the Cyber Crimes Unit of the Tulsa Police Department said he proposed the law after a man he arrested was acquitted in a case involving images of bestiality on a computer.

Stadler said the computer was found in a mobile home as part of an investigation of grade tampering at Tulsa Community College.

``A judge didn't buy the fact that copying included downloading from the Internet,'' Stadler said.

Stadler said Tulsa police officers are not interested in making arrests for violating the new law in ``regular porn'' cases.

``Regular porn is legal,'' he said. ``We're not talking about Playboy or Penthouse.''

``This is not going to be abused. I'm positive of that,'' Stadler said.

Camfield said he's not convinced that the law won't be abused, and he said it may be unconstitutional anyway.

The U.S. Supreme Court has found that obscene material is not protected as free speech by the Constitution, but it has also ruled that mere private possession of obscene material is not a crime.