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Playboy cites CDA ruling in new case

Playboy Enterprises files a motion to strike down a provision of the telecommunications reform act, marking the first time a company is using the landmark ruling to challenge other provisions of the law.

Playboy Enterprises said today it filed a motion for summary judgment yesterday to strike down a provision of the telecommunications reform act that it says requires "new redundant and expensive" blocking equipment to filter adult-rated material on cable television.

The company is arguing that the provision is unconstitutional for the same reasons that the Supreme Court found the Communications Decency Act, which aimed to regulate adult-rated material on the Internet, to be invalid. It marks the first time that a company is using the landmark June 26 Internet ruling to challenge other provisions of the Telecommunications Act.

It also marks the second legal challenge to the sweeping telecommunications deregulation legislation signed by President Clinton last year. The first was filed earlier this month by SBC Communications, seeking to overturn provisions that blocked Baby Bells from entering the $80 billion long distance phone markets. Both legal challenges underscore the complexity and controversy of the landmark legislation.

This time, the controversy focuses on a provision known as Section 505. "We are extremely pleased with the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Communications Decency Act," said Playboy chief executive Christie Hefner. "We believe that Section 505 is unconstitutional for the same reasons that the Supreme Court found the CDA to be invalid. Section 505 was adopted at the same time as the CDA and it incorporated exactly the same defective legal standard."

Some consumer-rights groups find the provision sound, however, because it helps protect their children from unwanted sexually explicit material. They have taken their case to the steps of the Supreme Court to hold highly publicized protests.

Section 505 could strike a financial blow to Playboy. According to the company, it requires that the blocking equipment be installed in millions of cable homes "regardless of whether a company needs or wants it." It also prohibits cable operators from offering adult-themed services such as Playboy for two-thirds of the broadcast day, any time except from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"The ostensible purpose of Section 505 is to block audio and momentary bits of video programming that can accidentally 'bleed' through from premium or pay-per-view channels on some cable systems," the company said in a statement.

Playboy has been challenging the provision since it was signed into law. In May, the Federal Communications Commission lifted a stay that had temporarily blocked enforcement of the provision. Playboy has returned to the District Court regarding the provision's constitutionality, arguing that the Supreme Court's ruling is basis for further review.