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High court to hear sex offender case

The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to debate the legality of posting sex offenders' names online. It also will examine whether Congress can extend copyrights.

In its next term, the U.S. Supreme Court will debate the legality of posting sex offenders' names online and whether Congress can extend copyrights, a move that would affect material available on the Internet.

The sex offender case involves statutes that fall under the heading "Megan's Law," which require registration of convicted sex offenders. Several states have laws requiring that information including names and addresses of offenders be released to neighbors and community groups.

At issue is whether publishing that data on a Web site would violate an offender's right to privacy. The court will hear an appeal from Alaska, where part of that state's law was struck down by a lower court last year.

Megan's Law was named after a 7-year-old girl who was raped and killed by a known child molester who had moved across the street from the girl's family without their knowledge.

The justices agreed to decide whether the law applies to those whose crimes occurred before the law took effect. The ruling may have broad impact, as every state has some version of a sex offender registration and disclosure law.

Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia all make sex offender information available to the public on the Internet, said Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho.

In the session that begins in October, the court will also decide whether Congress has violated the Constitution by extending the period that artistic works remain under copyright protection.

The case, Eldritch v. Ashcroft, involves the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, signed by President Clinton in 1998, which retroactively prolonged copyright holders' control of their works for 20 additional years, or up to 95 years.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that the challengers to the law, which included organizations and businesses that specialize in handling material no longer under copyright, "lack any cognizable First Amendment right to exploit the copyrighted works of others."

The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Eldritch Press, which published works in the public domain on the Internet.

Reuters contributed to this report.