Federal Regulators Attack Online Free Speech Decision

John Kramer
John Kramer · August 19, 1999

Washington, D.C.– Attempting to overturn a decision that extended free speech rights to software and the Internet, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today appealed a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina that held that Internet publishers and computer software developers, as well as traditional newsletter publishers, can publish without first being licensed by the CFTC.

“It’s a shame that a federal regulatory agency still refuses to accept that the First Amendment protects publishers from licensing requirements,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm that represented the publishers and consumers of online content, web sites, software, books and newsletters at issue in the litigation.

“Our clients merely provide information, analysis and opinions. We will continue to vigorously defend both their free speech rights and Judge Urbina’s well-reasoned opinion before the appeals court,” Bullock added.

The district court decision, handed down on June 21, 1999, set an early and important precedent in favor of extending First Amendment protection to software development and the Internet, areas of law where the jurisprudence is only now being established.

“The district court ruled quite clearly that the federal government had overstepped its bounds,” said the Institute’s Managing Vice President John K. Keppler. He added: “As the judge stated, the CFTC is ‘attempting to act as the watchman for truth for the public.’ That’s an assertion the First Amendment flatly rejects, whether its form is books, newsletters, software or the Internet.”

The CFTC appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Briefing will take place over the next several months with oral argument likely before the end of the year.