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Child porn law in dispute

A felony statute outlawing fake child pornography created with a computer is thrown out by a federal judge, who says it is unconstitutional.

    A felony statute outlawing "simulated" child pornography created with a computer has been thrown out by a federal judge who called it unconstitutional.

    Judge Gene Carter of the U.S. District in Portland, Maine, said the provision stretched too far by criminalizing sexual images of children who aren't real or adults who look youthful.

    "Its incorporated definition of child pornography is constitutionally invalid," he concluded in his ruling issued Friday.

    The law was passed to deter the trading of child pornography over computer networks and the storage of digital images. But it is the law's definition of child pornography that has come under constitutional scrutiny. This provision updated federal child pornography law to eliminate the requirement that prosecutors prove the subjects in the pornography are real.

    Carter's ruling flies in the face of U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti's ruling in a civil case in San Francisco last August, which upheld the 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act. Conti ruled that Congress had a right to ban "fake" child porn.

    The Justice Department defends the law on grounds that fake child pornography can "incite the same reaction in pedophiles." But the adult film industry, which challenged the law in California, argues that the child pornography statute was designed to protect minors--not adults dressed up as youngsters, for example.

    Carter's ruling also is expected to be challenged in the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The Free Speech Coalition appealed the California ruling and is awaiting a decision.

    The case in Maine surrounds a man who was arrested there for possessing pornographic computer images, some of which "appeared" to be children, according to the Portland Press Herald. His lawyers challenged the statute on grounds that the definition of child porn was unconstitutional.