What is the Child Online Protection Act?

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  • Written By: Jessica Reed
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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The Child Online Protection Act, abbreviated COPA, was passed in the United States in 1998 and attempted to protect children, also referred to as minors, from coming across harmful material while browsing online. The act considered harmful material to be any sort of nudity or sexual content and was created to keep children from accessing pornography and related sites. The law stated that those selling or distributing any material considered harmful to minors must prohibit minors from accessing their website. The Child Online Protection Act was ruled as unconstitutional due to its violation of the right to free speech, and as of 2009, it was not enforced or upheld in court.

COPA should not be confused with COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. This law was passed in 1998 and as of 2010 is still in effect in the United States. It limits what an online person or company can do with personal information collected from someone under the age of 13 years old.


Under the Child Online Protection Act, a company or person running a website featuring adult content would have been required to have visitors enter a form of personal identification to enter the site. This could be an identification number, credit card number, or an access code. Any information collected for the purpose of identifying someone as an adult and not a minor was considered private and it was illegal for the business to distribute or use this information in any way other than for identification.

An exception to the rule of harmful material was material considered educational or used for scientific purposes. Pictures or illustrations of the human body used for the purpose of teaching children about human anatomy and how the body works are examples of exceptions. They would not be considered as harmful or illegal under the Child Online Protection Act.

According to the Child Online Protection Act, parents are responsible for caring for their children, but the Internet makes it harder for parents to shield a child from sexual content. Thus the responsibility falls to the government to ensure children do not access harmful material online. While the Child Online Protection Act does require the distributors to verify a person's identity and age, those who are not directly responsible for distributing the material are not held responsible. This protects Internet service providers and companies that host websites from being charged if one of their clients distributes harmful material to a minor.


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Post 3

The problem with laws like this is that they can't go far enough without running into problems like free speech and so forth.

You can put consumer protection laws into place online, but you can only enforce them when the site originates in your own country.

So, you end up having to enforce them through prosecuting the people who are visiting the sites. If it is a child, who are you going to punish?

The only solution is to crack down on where a person can go online, and as far as I'm concerned that shouldn't ever be considered a solution.

The ability of people to connect where ever they want online at the moment is the best thing about the internet.

Post 2

@pastanaga - See, I think that most of the time it should be the parents as well, but I also think that responsible companies should comply with the child online privacy protection act and with COPA as well.

It doesn't take much effort to comply with it, after all, although admittedly it's not perfect. Kids could still steal their parents credit cards or something in order to gain access.

But at least it attempts to stop kids from coming across damaging materials online.

Post 1

There have been several proposals on how to make sure children are kept safe online. Personally, I think that parents should be proactive in this. They shouldn't necessarily have to shoulder all the blame if their kids run into something terrible, but parents can definitely make that much less likely.

You just need to download something like "NetNanny" a program that only lets your kids access certain kinds of sites. You can even choose to keep out sites with other kinds of adult content, like swearing or violence. Or even online games, which can addict kids and lure them into spending all their money or time.

But, the best protection is to be friendly with your kids, so that you know they would tell you what they are up to online.

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