Recently introduced federal legislation could have a major impact on libraries, bookstores, and other distributors of entertainment material, such as books. Protecting children from material deemed "harmful to minors" is an admirable ideal, but this bill casts a wide net.
H.B. 4239, the “Parents’ Empowerment Act,” if enacted, would allow a parent to sue in federal court anyone who knowingly disseminates any media containing “material that is harmful to minors.” The only exception is that of parent ownership of the materials -- there is no exception for libraries. If the minor is the prevailing party, they will be awarded a minimum of $10,000.
The bill is directed at distribution that “a reasonable person can expect a substantial number of minors to be exposed to the material and the minor, as a result to exposure to the material, is likely to suffer personal or emotional injury or injury to mental or moral welfare.” The language concerning "injury to mental or moral welfare" seems to be not be viewpoint neutral, instead focusing on the morality of the material -- this language presently occurs nowhere in the US Code.
An additional problem is that the language for "distribution" is so vague, this bill could affect not only libraries' print collections, but also Internet searching on library computers and library blogs. According to the Christian Coalition, stopping Internet distribution of "pornography" is the purpose of this bill.
The bill is presently in the House Judiciary Committee.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a press release criticising the bill.