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Court denies right to Net porn

A professor fighting for the right to access Net porn loses his legal challenge.

A University of Oklahoma professor has lost his legal challenge to a schoolwide ban of Internet pornography.

Professor Bill Loving's case focused on a state law that bans users on state-owned computers from accessing pornography on the Net. The law was passed unanimously by the Oklahoma House and Senate in April.

An Oklahoma court heard Loving's challenge on January 18, which he filed last spring after the university barred campus access to almost 200 Internet newsgroups in the "alt.sex" area of Usenet.

U.S. District Court Judge Wayne Alley ruled yesterday that Loving failed to prove that his constitutional rights under the First Amendment were violated when the university banned the newsgroups.

Loving claimed the university's move was censorship and prior restraint. If the court had ruled in his favor, Oklahoma universities would be exempt from the law. Legislators argued, however, that university computers were paid for with tax dollars, and that Oklahomans don't want their money contributing to the distribution of pornography.

The court ruled that "the state, no less than a private owner of property, has the right to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated."

It also ruled that the university's dual-server system introduced this month provides sufficient protection of free speech under the First Amendment.

Oklahoma University set up two new computer servers. One blocks certain alt.sex newsgroups, while the other gives open access to the entire Net, but requires a password to enter. The open-access network requires users to agree that they are using the Net for academic purposes and their age is verified.

To justify their rapid removal of the newsgroups to the court, the university showcased "obscene" pictures downloaded from the blocked newsgroups, such as child pornography and photos displaying sexual acts and nude adults. However, those same photos can still be accessed under the university's current Net access plan.

The case comes amid a nationwide battle against Net censorship. Also on the forefront: the Supreme Court's constitutional test of the Communications Decency Act expected to start this spring, and the American Civil Liberties Union's suit against a similar New York law, which was filed earlier this month.

Oklahoma's resolution is similar to a Virginia law that went into effect July 1. The Virginia law also makes it a crime for state employees to use state computers to access or distribute sexually explicit material.

The ACLU told CNET it will file a case against Virginia law in the next few weeks.

Loving teaches course about mass communications law and censorship. Although he's up for tenure in a few months, he still brought the case against university President David Boren.

"My principles are worth more than a paycheck," he said before the ruling. "If I allowed this to happen, I'd be a hypocrite because I teach my students about the value of the First Amendment."