Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 535 U.S. 564 (2002) (also called Ashcroft v. ACLU or Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union) was a 2002 United States legal court case involving the American Civil Liberties Union and the United States government. The Supreme Court of the United States decided the case, which began in 1999, and found that, contra the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, " COPA's reliance on community standards to identify 'material that is harmful to minors' does not by itself render the statute substantially overbroad for purposes of the First Amendment" (majority opinion). This decision came just four weeks after Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, which dealt with a similar law, the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA).
COPA was Congress's second attempt to criminalize the Internet distribution of what it considered pornography, including simulated pornography and artwork.
COPA enforces penalties of a $50,000 fine and six months in prison for the posting for "commercial purposes" of content on the internet that is "harmful to minors". Material that is "harmful to minors" is defined as:
"any communication, picture, image, graphic image file, article, recording, writing, or other matter of any kind that is obscene or that—
"(A) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taking the material as a whole and with respect to minors, is designed to appeal to, or is designed to pander to, the prurient interest;
"(B) depicts, describes, or represents, in a manner patently offensive with respect to minors, an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, an actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual act, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals or post-pubescent female breast; and
"(C) taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors." §231(e)(6).
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