U.S. lawmaker targets those who distribute material deemed ‘harmful to minors’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives may consider a bill allowing parents to sue anyone involved in the distribution of pornographic material that is obscene or otherwise “harmful to minors” to which those younger than 18 could be exposed.

On April 28, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced the “Parents’ Empowerment Act of 2004” which uses “community standards” to determine what is patently offensive, appeals to prurient interest or lacks social values for minors. The bill mandates that a successful lawsuit would result in a $10,000 minimum award.

Members of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are opposing the bill because they say its wording is too vague and would threaten the rights of stores that sell pornographic material which is legal for adults but also sell products aimed at children.

“It is something we find philosophically repugnant,” said Charles Brownstein, the legal defense fund director. “It would allow the minor or guardian to sue anybody in the distribution food chain.”

Hunter said the bill would give parents the tools to protect their children by punishing those responsible for exposing them to pornographic and indecent material.

“I firmly believe that those responsible for the current threat of obscene material and its ill-effects should be punished for distributing such material to our children,” he said.

The bill, H.R. 4239, was referred to the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property on May 20.