Woodhull Panel – FOSTA & Internet Censorship

The Woodhull Freedom Foundation is the lead Plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging FOSTA. Its legal challenge started in the spring of 2018, when the organization began to struggle with its online promotion of events involving sex workers at its annual Sexual Freedom Summit. The law broadly prohibits the promotion or facilitation of consensual sex work using the Internet.  Facilitation generally means; “to make easier.”  Woodhull questioned how it could promote its 2018 Summit events involving sex worker advocacy and harm reduction, or publish the biographies of its sex worker presenters, without running afoul of the new law. Was it promoting sex work, or making sex work easier? FOSTA’s failure to define the words “promote” or “facilitate” or even “prostitution” made it difficult for any reasonable person to know where the line would be drawn. That struggle resulted in the lawsuit challenging FOSTA for violating the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

Since FOSTA was adopted, countless websites have gone dark and sexual content has been purged from large online platform providers. Sex workers now face increased danger, and law enforcement has lost its access to online information to prosecute traffickers. Woodhull, and the other Plaintiffs, have kept fighting. The appeal of the district court’s decision dismissing the case, based on lack of standing, was heard by the United States Circuit Court, D.C. Circuit, on September 20, 2019. AVN’s take on the Oral Argument can be found here.

Woodhull has continued to conduct its Summit, despite FOSTA. In 2019, it partnered with the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) in its efforts to support the sex worker community as Woodhull pursues its mission of affirming sexual freedom as a human right. The 2019 Summit included a panel specifically addressing the impacts of FOSTA – both on sex workers specifically, and Internet freedom generally. The panel included Emma Llansó, Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s (CDT) Free Expression Project, Ronald London, attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine, and the author, Lawrence Walters, of Walters Law Group.

The panelists are all involved in the fight against FOSTA in some form. CDT has been a staunch advocate for online freedom and helped sound the alarm bells when the FOSTA and SESTA bills were working their way through Congress. London, along with his partner Bob Corn-Revere, are counsel of record in the Woodhull v. United States, along with Walters and attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The FOSTA panel lasted over 90 minutes and provided a full update on how FOSTA has harmed sex workers, hampered law enforcement, and stifled online innovation. Llansó described how the FOSTA “monster” came to be, and how it dramatically changed existing federal law that provided immunity for interactive computer services which host third party content. Walters and London discussed the status of the lawsuit, and the potential outcomes. Ultimately, the case may be headed for a U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

The panel delved into the numerous myths that fueled the adoption of FOSTA, such as:

  • Criminalization of prostitution works
  • All prostitution is sexual slavery
  • Sex trafficking is fueled by a proliferation of pornography
  • Decriminalization is harmful

Each of these myths have been debunked by facts, studies, or experiences in other countries that have decriminalized prostitution. The more criminalized sex work is, the more violence and exploitation sex workers face – by police, customers, and others. Consensual sex work is very different activity from sex trafficking, and cannot be effectively treated by one-size-fits-all laws like FOSTA.  As discussed during the panel, sex trafficking is not caused by pornography, despite persistent efforts to conflate the concepts. A similar strategy has been used by censors to link illegal child pornography with constitutionally-protected adult media. Jurisdictions that have decriminalized prostitution have seen fewer negative health and safety consequences for sex workers.

The damage already caused by FOSTA highlights the importance of Woodhull’s lawsuit. London pointed out how civil claimants are already arguing that FOSTA allows website operators to be sued for any state law violations that are consistent with FOSTA’s prohibitions. This greatly expands the potential legal exposure facing Internet platforms, and results in more censorship of erotic speech. Fortunately, Woodhull has many allies in its fight. Additional Plaintiffs in the suit include The Internet Archive; Alex Andrews / SWOP Orlando, Human Rights Watch, and Eric Koszyk (a licensed massage therapist who lost his opportunity to advertise on craigslist.org due to FOSTA).  Numerous other groups have filed briefs in support of the challenge at the appellate level, including CDT, Reddit, the Free Speech Coalition, Decriminalize Sex Work, the Institute for Free Speech, and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. London pointed out that some groups also filed briefs in support of the Government, such as a coalition of individual states. However, their brief actually supported the Plaintiffs’ arguments since they illuminated the credible threat of prosecution by states anxiously awaiting the opportunity to broadly enforce FOSTA against website operators.

The panelists fielded many questions from the audience on how they should operate in a post-FOSTA world, and the potential results of the litigation. Some wanted to know more details about the lawsuit or potential additional challenges to FOSTA. Some were curious about new threats to banking relationships or mandatory age verification. The panelists warned that other bills, modeled after FOSTA, are currently pending which would take away even more protection for online service providers and inhibit speech in other areas. Overall, the well-attended panel offered a realistic assessment of how FOSTA changed the internet for anyone operating in the adult or sex worker industries and provided a beacon of hope for change through the courts.

The full session can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/bJ-j9KJNr0M


Lawrence G. Walters heads up Walters Law Group, www.firstamendment.com. The firm represents clients involved in all aspects of the adult industry. Nothing in this article is intended as legal advice.

Website Reporting Obligations under Federal Law


Adult website operators are typically familiar with the obligations imposed by Title 18 U.S.C. § 2257 (“Section 2257”) which mandates the compilation and maintenance of certain records relating to the production of sexually explicit content.  Less well known, but equally if not more important, are the reporting obligations imposed on certain website operators under 18 U.S.C. § 2258A.  This federal statute requires “electronic communication service providers” such as hosts, forums, dating sites, tube sites, and advertising networks, to report any apparent violations of child exploitation laws, to the CyberTipline; http://www.missingkids.org/cybertipline/, operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”).  The following is a summary of those reporting obligations.


What Violations Must Be Reported?

Qualifying service providers must report “apparent” violations of federal laws relating to child exploitation or child pornography.  No specific definition of what constitutes an apparent violation is included in the statute.  However, as discussed below, there are benefits to erring on the side of submitting a report in questionable cases.


When Must the Report Be Made?

The report to the CyberTipline must be made as soon as reasonably possible after the website operator obtains actual knowledge of any facts or circumstances that a violation of the relevant laws has occurred in connection with the operation of the site or online service.  While no specific time frame is included in the law, the statute contemplates prompt reporting of suspected violations.


What Must the Report Contain?

There are 2 types of reports that can be submitted: a public report, or a secure, private report by a registered service provider.  The registration process requires that certain information about the service provider be voluntarily submitted. The secure report permits uploading of images, and provides a receipt confirming the submission.  Service providers are encouraged by NCMEC to register and submit secure reports by submitting an email to its coordinator at espteam@ncmec.org.

The report must include certain categories of information:

  • Identifying information about the individual responsible for posting or transmitting the images, such as IP address, or email address (including any self-reported information submitted by the user).
  • Historical information about when and how the user posted the illegal content.
  • A description of how the violation was discovered by, or reported to, the service provider.
  • Geographic location information relating to the responsible user such as billing address, IP address, or zip code.
  • The suspected images themselves. Note, all “associated images” must be preserved by the service provider as well.
  • The complete communication relating to the suspected images, including any data, digital file, or other information relating to the transmission of information.


What Other Obligations Apply?

In addition to reporting suspected violations, the service provider must preserve the  NCMEC report for a period of 90 days, plus an additional 90 days if requested by NCMEC.  The full contents of the NCMEC report must be preserved, along with any other images that are “comingled” or “interspersed” with the suspected images.  Read broadly, this could include all images that appear on a given web page, or which are uploaded by a particular user into the user’s folder or directory.  The website operator must also take steps to keep the preserved material in a secure location, and limit access to the material by its agents or employees.  Finally, operators must permanently destroy any reported images upon the request of law enforcement.

Importantly, the statute does not impose an obligation to monitor any user or the content of any user.  Moreover, there is no obligation to affirmatively seek out potential violations of the applicable laws.  In other words, service providers are not required to become child exploitation investigators.


Why Should the Report be Filed?

Affected website operators might ask themselves why they should get involved in submitting reports to law enforcement, relating to their users’ activities.  The most obvious answer is because the law requires such involvement.  Failure to report suspected violations is a criminal offense which can result in the imposition of substantial fines.  Moreover, federal law provides a form of immunity from civil or criminal prosecution for the service provider, in connection with the submission of any reports to the CyberTipline.  See, 18 U.S.C. §2258B(a).  However, this legal protection can be lost if the service provider engages in any intentional misconduct, or if it acts (or fails to act) with actual malice, or reckless disregard for injury to others. §2258B(b).


Certain popular online business models trigger compliance obligations with a wide variety of federal statutes and regulations.  Among them are the statutes imposing reporting obligations to the CyberTipline.  Affected website operators are encouraged to educate themselves regarding the details of these requirements, to avoid inadvertent violations and to foster a cooperative relationship with agencies investigating instances of child exploitation.

Close Up the Internet and Repeal the First Amendment

You know elections are upon us when politicians start talking about wanting to “close up” the Internet, or censor Twitter and Facebook.  Throw in a couple terrorist attacks and you have the perfect storm for loss of cherished First Amendment rights.

Donald Trump’s suggestion that America should consider “closing up the Internet in some way to fight Islamic State terrorists in cyberspace” illustrates the danger lurking around the corner for any disfavored speech.  In the early days of the Internet, the U.S. government took the lead in attempting to censor ‘indecent’ online communications, by passing the “Communications Decency Act (“CDA”).” Deemed the “Great Internet Sex Panic of 1995,” politicians in that time saw adult websites as a threat to the foundations of society, so they attempted to “close up” that part of the Internet.  What remains of the CDA is now often cited as a protection of free speech (i.e., “Section 230”), but the bulk of the legislation, which prohibited indecent Internet content, was struck down by a unanimous Supreme Court in 1997.  The Court could spot that blatant censorship attempt a mile away.

Now the Senate is considering legislation that would force social media companies to monitor posts, and report any “terrorist activity” to the government.  Sen. Diane Feinstein did some investigating and found that while sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter take down content in response to valid abuse reports, they do not proactively monitor their networks, or report suspected violations to the government. “I think they should,” she said at a recent Judiciary Committee hearing.  Of course, the entire legal premise on which most online service providers operate is that they are not required to monitor the content of third party posts, or scour their networks for references to potentially unlawful activity.  Imposing that kind of burden could easily bring Internet traffic to a screeching halt, given the manpower, expense, and legal risks associated with operating an online service under those conditions.

However, the government has been busy laying the groundwork for imposing the burden of monitoring and censoring online speech in numerous ways; beginning with the startling life sentence handed down against the operator of SilkRoad.com, the passage of the SAVE Act, the criminal prosecution of escort advertising networks, and the intimidation of credit card processors associated with Backpage.com (later found to be unconstitutional). Each of these actions represents an attempt to hold an online service provider responsible for third party posts or advertisements.

Some of those calling for the proverbial heads of social network operators for permitting uncensored use of their networks rely on a provision of the USA Patriot Act, which prohibits anyone from providing “material support” to a terrorist organization.  If this action is prohibited, how can Twitter get away with providing a network for distribution of jihadist propaganda? Or so the argument goes. Despite Supreme Court Justices expressing some “grave concerns” with the constitutionality of that prohibition under the First Amendment, the law was upheld in 2010.  Thus began the gradual chipping away at what used to be a clear prohibition on criminalizing political speech.

Others who are upset with an open marketplace of ideas cite to legal obligations imposed on Internet service providers to remove and report child pornography, or take down reportedly infringing material under the DMCA, as evidence the government already has the tools it needs to create a valid, online censorship regime. Each of these instances can be distinguished from the wholesale prohibition of online communications envisioned by those desperate to find a quick fix for the complicated threat of terrorism facing today’s world populace.  Child pornography falls into one of the rare, historically unprotected categories of speech, given its unique, horrific nature – and the fact that it records the criminal act of child abuse.  DMCA takedowns do not involve censoring speech by the government, but the civil enforcement of intellectual property rights by copyright holders.  The targeted material may still be protected by the First Amendment, but owned by someone with superior rights to control its distribution. Mixing all these potential ‘options’ into a big, convoluted soup encourages the talking heads and politicians to conclude that there “must be a way” to close up the Internet, and keep us safe.

Renowned enemy of the First Amendment, Eric Posner, uses the threat posed by ISIS to promote “new thinking about the limits on freedom of speech.”  His latest attack on one of civilization’s most sacred values proposes a law that would criminalize access to websites that glorify or provide encouragement for ISIS.  Aside from the fact that true jihadists would likely use encrypted communications to evade detection, and investigators would lose the ability to monitor and track threatening communications, censorship never works and often backfires.  Typically such laws call more attention to the censored speech or inadvertently silence opposition views as well. History proves that the cure for bad speech is more speech, not censorship.  While recent calls to clamp down on free speech rights have been effectively mocked by civil libertarians, the proposals are becoming too frequent for comfort. Should one of these proposals gain traction, be prepared for a demand to block some type of erotic speech that a legislator decides is too extreme for his or her tastes. That’s exactly what happened when Iraq started blocking terrorist’s speech earlier this year – the ban on pornography soon followed.

In any other time, the author would conclude this article with a calming observation that the First Amendment protects offensive and even hateful speech, and that would be the end of it. The calls for censorship would eventually be quelled by cooler heads that were well-grounded in constitutional restraint on governmental power.  But we live in a time when Yale University students are perfectly willing to sign a petition to repeal their First Amendment rights (including the right to petition). We also exist in a world of trigger warnings, safe spaces, and abundant micro-aggressions, where university professors call for some “muscle” to kick journalists out of public protests.

The First Amendment was once held sacred – particularly when it came to online communications.  The Internet was everyone’s soap box, where the speaker didn’t need big media money to get a message out. The courts acted quickly to strike down laws that conflicted with free expression rights. However, in a time when 34% of poll respondents say the First Amendment goes too far, and the same percentage have no idea what rights the First Amendment protects, the bedrock principles that have formed the basic protections for online speech are on shaky ground.  Let’s hope they survive another election cycle.

More of the Same from Polk County’s Thought Police

Sheriff Grady Judd and his crew is at it again. Now they’ve turned their sites on some hapless gas station owner in Dundee, Florida, for allegedly selling some girly videos. Little did she know that the all powerful local government knew better than her what kind of entertainment the delicate citizenry of Polk County could tolerate. So now Minakashiben Patel sits in jail, apparently on a no-bond status, facing charges of obscenity. This isn’t the first time that this Central Florida jurisdiction has tried to enforce its version of “decency” on its citizens. The following article gives a pretty good history of Sheriff Judd’s efforts to promote Christian values in Polk County government: http://orlandoweekly.com/news/church-and-state-1.1109454. The First Amendment never stopped a skilled politician like Grady Judd, however.  He takes pandering to a new level, and destroys lives in the process. Fortunately, the First Amendment protects the New York Times the same way as a small gas station owner, when it comes to dissemination of free speech. We shall see how this case plays out, but their random obscenity prosecutions are certainly a threat to civil liberty, and the whole effort demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the changing societal mores in this country. Just look at how fast 50 Shades of Grey flew off the shelves. In year 2013, I think we can tolerate the sale of a few adult films sold in a local gas station.

Feminism or Fascism: Iceland’s Stunning Ban on Pornography May Be Spreading

Iceland recently made headlines with the latest project on its allegedly progressive agenda: a nation-wide ban on pornography.  No stranger to proscribing activities related to commercializing sex, Iceland has already passed laws banning printed pornography, prostitution and stripping, and has done so all in the name of feminism.  Rattling off the standard laundry list of the evils of porn, the Icelandic Parliament noticeably lingered on the “damaging effects” adult material has on the children who view it and the women who participate in it.  Iceland’s Office of the Interior Minister defended the ban by stating that Icelandic citizens deserve to live and develop in a non-violent environment, therefore, the resulting law is “not anti-sex, but anti-violence.”  What’s potentially more concerning is that this feminist backlash against commercial sexualization is gaining serious momentum throughout Europe, as evidenced by the European Union’s recent parliamentary vote on a blanket pornography ban.  Taking a page from the Nordic view on feminism, the EU claims the ban will foster gender equality and combat sexual stereotypes by sanctioning individuals and businesses “promoting the sexualization of girls.”  With Parliament disclosing very little about the potential ban, most Europeans are looking to the recent path blazed by Iceland for some guidance on what’s to come.*  So what is the likelihood of Iceland being the first democratic state to successfully ban pornography?  The answer to that question probably depends on your definition of success…

Given that Iceland is expected to implement similar blocking filters to those used in China and Iran, it stands to reason that Iceland would enjoy comparable success in restricting online content.  However, the environmental and temporal differences between Iceland’s efforts and that of middle and far east authoritarian regimes, shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.  Countries like China and North Korea limited citizens’ access to online content, but such restrictions have been in effect practically since the Internet’s inception.  Any armchair psychologist will tell you – and any parent of a toddler will confirm – it’s human nature to want what you can’t have.  And if whatever you can’t have, is something that was in your possession but was taken from you, well that ups the ante even more.  Like most citizens across the globe, Iceland’s people have had unfettered access to online adult material.  To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter how inherently progressive a country is, when you confiscate a piece of personal autonomy, there’s bound to be consequences.

Even if the Icelandic government seamlessly weathers whatever discontent that’s thrown its way, there’s still the matter of enforcement.  Logistically speaking, Iceland will employ filters barring citizens from accessing flagged websites, and fire walls prohibiting Icelandic credit cards from purchasing adult content.  But what about the tangible transport of digital pornography?  Streaming, downloading and cloud access aren’t the only ways to retrieve digital content.  What’s stopping someone located in another jurisdiction from entering Iceland’s borders with a pornographic DVD?  With so many vehicles capable of transporting digital content, common sense says that it would be impossible to inspect each and every tablet, flash drive, laptop, and Smartphone that crosses Iceland’s borders.  As long as there’s been contraband, people have been smuggling contraband – the digitization of such contraband has only made it that much easier.

The ability to control infiltration of the banned content leads directly to the next hurdle – the black market.  We live in the Internet Age; every technological restriction is met with a response circumventing that restriction.  Whether it’s a scrubbing tool used to mask IP address identification or software that scrambles collected geo-location location, there are countless techniques enabling the average Internet user to evade government-imposed limitations.

Without getting too high up on the First Amendment soap-box, this type of regulation tends to invoke the constitutional scholar in all of us.  If Iceland wants to completely ban pornography, exactly what kind of material is considered “pornography”?  Without careful and meticulous drafting, any such law will inevitably encompass content as innocuous as the mere display of genitals.  Some reports say that the ban would only include “violent or degrading content.”  As admirable as that is, we’re still left with the subjectivity surrounding the definitions of “violent” or “degrading.”  Another variable to throw into the mix in determining what would constitute pornography is the intended purpose of the material in question.  Specifically, was the content created for private consumption or commercial use?  If Iceland’s chief concern is to prevent the commercialized sexualization of women and children, logically, only material disseminated commercially would violate the ban and any application of the law beyond that specific scope would be a flagrant infringement on privacy rights.  Given the widespread creation and sharing of private erotica, a substantial amount of pornographic material would presumably be unaffected by the legislation.

In a very short time, Iceland will undoubtedly find itself at the age-old prohibition impasse, asking which holds more clout: a government imposed ban or the tenacity of those looking to circumvent that ban?  As shown with most government-sanctioned goods or services, a black market develops; those participating eventually monopolize the marketplace; a consistent profit is generated; and ultimately standard supply and demand principles are used to exploit and perpetuate a marketplace devoid of legislative supervision.  Government-imposed prohibitions might change behavior, but a behavioral change does not prove that the problem was solved; only that it has been forced underground.  On that note, one must question whether the “problem” existed in the first place.  One person’s degrading porn, is another’s…you know the rest.  Ultimately, Iceland is unlikely to become a porn free zone irrespective of the pending legislation.  If history has taught us anything, it’s if there’s a will, there’s a way.


*As this post went to press, the EU Parliament voted against the anti-porn proposal due to censorship concerns: “Language that would ban online pornography has been dropped from a report approved by the European Parliament.”

The Ends of the Earth – How Far Can U.S. Content producers pursue foreign infringers?

I. Introduction.

We all witnessed the uproar over PIPA and SOPA at the beginning of the year. Internet free speech advocates took to cyberspace in a call for action against these proposed laws. Advocating for the broad principle of intellectual property protection, lobbyists for the mainstream film industry argued for the enhanced ability to go after foreign “rogue” websites involved in infringing activity. While the underlying motivations for enacting PIPA/SOPA may have been well-intentioned, they impacted personal freedoms to the point that made many Americans uncomfortable, and the legislation soon stalled in response to the public pressure. A major concern with PIPA/SOPA was that the bills granted the U.S government legal authority over any website domain, wherever hosted or operated, even in the absence of a domestic jurisdictional connection. While the legislative efforts continue, the courts have recently expressed concern, through a series of legal decisions, with enforcement of intellectual property rights against foreign website operators. These decisions may have a substantial impact on the ability of U.S. content producers to pursue foreign websites for copyright and trademark infringement.

U.S. courts primarily gain personal jurisdiction over the parties by the physical presence of the defendants in the location where the lawsuit was filed. However, when the defendant is a foreign entity or individual operating a website, U.S. courts have been increasingly hesitant to find the existence of jurisdiction, merely based on web presence. A U.S. district court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant if the party is “subject to the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A). This means that personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant may be acquired by: (a) the defendant’s physical presence in the subject state; or (b) the state’s long-arm statute. A “long-arm” statute allows a court to assert jurisdiction over an out-of-state (or foreign) defendant based on injury suffered by the plaintiff in the state, or some other activity creating a relevant connection. Most long-arm statutes permit this type of extraterritorial jurisdiction so long as doing so constitutes ‘fair play,’ and otherwise comports with Due Process notions.

II. Recent Judicial Decisions.

In the earlier days of the Internet, U.S. courts seem to have had no qualms about imposing American law on websites maintaining any form of customer base within the U.S., regardless of where the site was operated. However, in recent times, as the world has gotten smaller and foreign online presence more established, judges are starting to realize that the U.S. may have previously attempted to exert a little too much control over the Internet. With seemingly endless cyberspace growth fostering a more “global marketplace,” U.S. courts may be starting to pay more heed to other countries’ laws and sovereignty. Concerns such as diplomacy and comity have come to the forefront, as all nations compete for a seat at the Internet table.

This struggle has played out in the attempt to enforce U.S. copyright and trademark law abroad. Over the last few months, several courts have addressed the issue of whether foreign websites can be held liable for intellectual property violations asserted by U.S. plaintiffs. These courts have all dismissed the cases for lack of jurisdiction. In Fraserside IP L.L.C. v. Hammy Media, Ltd., 2012 WL 124378 (N.D. Iowa Jan. 17, 2012), a federal judge found that the adult entertainment power house, Private Media Group (through its IP holding company), could not establish personal jurisdiction to sue operators of the adult tube site, xHamster.com, in the state of Iowa. Finding that the Cyprus-based tube site lacked sufficient minimum contacts in Iowa, the court rattled off a laundry list of reasons for its decision: “xHamster has no offices in Iowa, no employees in Iowa, no telephone number in Iowa, and no agent for service of process in Iowa. xHamster does not advertise in Iowa. No xHamster officer or director has ever visited Iowa. xHamster does not maintain any of its servers within Iowa. All of xHamster’s servers are located outside of the United States.” This ruling is consistent with the general principle that the mere availability of a website in the U.S. will not be sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over the site operators. The same ruling occurred with Private’s case in Iowa against another foreign tube site, DrTuber.com. Fraserside v. Moniker, et al., Case No.: 11-cv-03040 (N.D. Iowa 2012).

A few months after the xHamster.com decision, a California district court protected another adult entertainment website by denying the plaintiff’s motion for a default judgment in the “faceporn.com case,” Facebook v. Pedersen, 10-Cv-04673 (N.D. Cal. March 2, 2012). Relying on a relatively broad jurisdictional argument, Facebook claimed that the defendant intended to compete directly with Facebook and given Facebook’s global notoriety, anyone infringing on Facebook’s intellectual property would know such infringement is harming a California entity. According to the district court ruling, plaintiff’s argument failed two-fold as Facebook lacked any evidence that the defendant purposefully directed its activities at California and further, was unable to prove that the defendant’s conduct successfully redirected traffic away from Facebook. Notably, the court essentially made the arguments for faceporn.com, since the decision was based on a motion for default judgment.

Coming out of Nevada just over a week later, another off-shore website dodged the jurisdictional bullet in the case of Stevo Design, Inc. v. SBR Marketing, Ltd., 2:11-CV-0304 (D. Nev. March 13, 2012). The Nevada district court ignored any potential personal jurisdiction issues, instead dismissing the case based on lack of “subject matter” jurisdiction – an issue that had not even been argued by the defendant. Subject matter jurisdiction involves the underlying authority of the court to consider the case, in the first instance. Often seen as a relatively simple hurdle, U.S. law gives the federal courts subject matter jurisdiction in when the suit is based on a violation of a federal statute, or when the resident of one state sues a defendant of a different state (or another country). Claiming that several of its sports betting reports were unlawfully uploaded and published via the defendant’s website, SBRforum.com, plaintiff’s sued forum site for various violations arising under the Lanham Act and the U.S. Copyright Act. The court noted that all of the alleged infringement occurred entirely on SBRforum.com. Because the defendant’s website was operated in Costa Rica, the court found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to even consider the case since federal statutes provide no relief for infringement that occurs solely in a foreign nation.

III. Conclusion.

What may have been taken as a ‘given’ in the past is now being questioned by this new line of cases, imposing what appears to be a higher burden on those seeking to hold foreign website operators responsible for U.S. intellectual property violations. The mere fact that the site is globally available and happens to maintain a U.S. customer-base may no longer be sufficient as a basis for bringing foreign defendants into U.S. courts, under recent judicial rulings. Whether these rulings are a brief respite for foreign website operators, or the beginning of a new judicial trend, remains to be seen. But adult content producers become more aggressive in pursuing theft of their content by foreign website operators, these legal issues are sure to gain significant attention in the coming months.

Tube Site Business Model is Legal – Protected by Free Speech Principles

Kevin Cammarata’s lawsuit against redtube.com, a popular ‘tube’ site, and its advertisers, was dismissed, and that dismissal was recently upheld by the California Court of Appeals. In addition, the court determined the suit to be an illegal SLAPP Suit, and awarded attorneys fees.

The the operation of a tube site was described as “conduct of placing speech on the Internet where it can be viewed for free by the public.” The court rejected any claims of predatory business practices, and noted:

We reject Cammarata’s argument that his causes of action arise from [Redtube.com’s] predatory pricing, not its speech, because here the product being priced is speech.” See, Xbiz.com, Appeals Court Rules Against Cammarata in RedTube Case,

The ruling is important in the continuing development of the law surrounding user generated content website operation. The utility of sites such as forum for expression of protected speech cannot be underestimated. Hopefully the courts will continue to afford legal protection for this business model, and dismiss ill-conceived lawsuits, brought against online service providers operating venues for expressive activities.

Sex, Lies and Children

A favorite trick of the censors in this country is to blur the lines between protected speech, in the form of adult erotica on the one hand, and patently illegal material, in the form of child pornography on the other, by mixing the two at every opportunity. Family Values groups and other opponents of free speech routinely use the terms “pornography,” “obscenity” and “child pornography,” interchangeably, in the attempt to cause confusion in the mind of the public, and intentionally link perfectly legal content with evidence of a horrific crime. The media often plays along, whether through ignorance or complicity, and refers to the new child porn arrest as a “Pornography Bust.”   All of this helps convince the public through confusion, that pornography has something to do with abuse of children, and that all of it is probably illegal somehow. In some jurisdictions, law enforcement investigators seize every chance to mix these concepts in a blender, by charging defendants with obscenity as well as child pornography, no matter how remote the connection, or how strong the evidence. Some evidence of this can be found in a couple recent cases initiated by the Polk County, Florida, Sheriff, Grady Judd.   This is the same Sheriff that was made famous by declaring that he had jurisdiction to regulate anything online, so long as it was available for download in Polk County, Florida.  According to Judd:

“But it makes no difference, because if you fed that server or you could receive information off that server in this county, then it gives us jurisdiction. … Technically I could charge someone in Kansas, if I received child pornography here, obtained a warrant and had him extradited from Kansas and tried here.” http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/051018glaser/

Note the stray reference to “child pornography” there. That particular case had nothing to do with children, but was an adult obscenity case against Chris Wilson, arising from his operation of a user-generated content site. This quote provides a unique glimpse into the strategy of many law enforcement agencies and anti-porn groups, who constantly mention child pornography whenever discussing adult erotica.

Judd’s office recently investigated an antique store owner by the name of John Denitto, who engaged in some adult content production on the side. See, here. Sheriff’s Deputies raided the business based on the claim of a “confidential informant” that a teenager was being photographed there. Leaving aside the fact that a teenager can be 18 or 19 and still legally participate in adult photography, this unconfirmed statement gave law enforcement the hook they needed to raid the modeling studio, under the guise of a child pornography investigation. However, no evidence of child pornography was ever found, and the “confidential informant” turned out to be a former “model” herself, who was trying to buy her way out of her own criminal problems by turning informant for the state. Not the most reliable informant, to put things mildly.

But what does a good Deputy do when his information results in the seizure of nothing more than a bunch of video tapes of adults having sex? File obscenity charges, of course! Not much is required to arrest someone for alleged obscenity. A charging document needs to be filed saying that a prosecutor believes in good faith that there is probable cause that the material is obscene. Polk County usually goes the extra step of getting a local judge to sign off on a confirmation that such probable cause exists, but that is all smoke in mirrors. Any erotic work might be obscene, simply based on its sexually-explicit nature.  The question of obscenity is for the judge or jury.   So just about anybody involved in the commercial production or distribution of adult material can be prosecuted for obscenity. That is one of the (many) reasons the obscenity laws are unfair, unconstitutional and inhumane on modern society. There is no fair warning as to what material might result in serious felony charges, with implications and innuendo of child pornography to boot. Denitto’s felony obscenity case remains pending, and no proof of child pornography ever came to light.

Law enforcement and prosecutors know that as soon as the specter of child pornography is raised, the defendant loses public sympathy, support of friends, and jury appeal. So they try to throw it in any time they can.

In another recent case from Polk County, Sheriff Deputies arrested Timothy Keck for numerous counts of obscenity depicting a minor.  This sounds like a valid offense, until the facts get in the way. Keck was a former Sheriffs Deputy himself, until he had a falling out with the agency. Oddly enough, he found himself was targeted for some Internet surveillance by the same agency, and a warrant was issued for offenses involving child pornography. Keck allegedly used Limewire, a popular file sharing service, to download various images, including numerous drawings of underage individuals engaged in sexual activity. That’s right, drawings.   Oh, and the investigators apparently also dug up a single image from a temporary cache file allegedly depicting only the genitals of an underage couple in the act of intercourse.  It has not been explained how one divines the age of models based solely on a depiction of their genitals engaged in a sex act. But Keck faces one count of possession of child pornography (for the temp file) and 26 counts of distribution of obscenity, for the drawings. This arrest has been described by Judd as the “largest roundup in the county,” and “horrific.” See: here and here ;

Given that Keck was lumped in with 45 other suspects, all of whom are referred to as a group despite the lack of any apparent connection, some of the other images involved in the other cases may well have been horrifying. Child pornography is a heinous, inexcusable crime, and legitimate cases should be vigorously prosecuted.   But when politicians or special interest groups start mixing in allegations of child porn with adult pornography, both children and adults are the losers.   Trying to force a tenuous charge of child pornography just to tarnish the reputation of a suspect in an adult obscenity case dilutes and reduces the importance – and indeed the ‘horror’ – of real child pornography cases.   Future child pornography investigations will not be taken as seriously by prosecutors, judges and juries, as a result.   Adults also lose, when important constitutional safeguards are dismissed or glossed over as a result of the forced connection with child pornography allegations in these cases.  Sexually-oriented media is entitled to full First Amendment protection. Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 534 U.S. 234 (2002). Protecting the most controversial and indecent speech is essential so that all other speech remains securely within the coverage of the First Amendment.

The tactic of mixing child pornography with adult obscenity has been used in countless other cases in the past, including the highly-publicized obscenity case against Mike Jones[1] in Chicago, and the federal obscenity case against certain written stories involving children by Karen Fletcher a/k/a Red Rose[2].   Child pornography was not the focus of either of these cases, but the concepts were thrown around by the prosecutors in court and in the public, in an effort to tarnish the reputation of the defendant, and make the obscenity charge more likely to stick.

[1] Jones was charged with several counts of both obscenity and child pornography, the latter involving dubious evidence of possession in temp files.  His attorney, J.D. Obenberger referred to the child porn charges as “concocted.”  All charges against Jones were ultimately dismissed after the court suppressed the state’s evidence resulting from an illegal search.

[2] Fletcher was indicted for federal obscenity violations, although the U.S. Attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, referred to the material as involving “…the rape and torture of children.” C, Deitch, Dirty Words, Pittsburg City Paper, http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/PrintFriendly?oid=oid:30196.  Of course, no children were raped or tortured by Ms. Fletcher, and she was never actually charged with child pornography.

Nowhere is the misuse of child pornography charges more apparent than in the case of ‘sexting.’ Countless articles, blogs and Op-Ed pieces have come out recently, decrying the use of harsh child pornography statutes against teenagers accused of sending racy photos of themselves. Eg. Provocative Photos: Don’t Overreact to “Sexting”   Several states are currently considering legislation to decriminalize the behavior, or reduce its severity to nothing more than a misdemeanor.   This is a step in the right direction.   Children convicted of child pornography are forced by a federal law, the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act, to register as sex offenders – a label that can deal damage for the rest of their lives. Teens impacted by this registration requirement cannot go to school, find jobs, or lead normal lives. Eg.: Sexting Teens Who Send Racy Photos Run Risk of Child Porn Charges. Oddly, this is the only instance where the child porn victim is also the perpetrator.

The end game for the activists and politicians here is to cause the public to immediately associate any incident involving pornography with the rape and abuse of children. If they can somehow work the word “child” into any sentence referencing “pornography” they have achieved a victory. But the misuse, and overuse, of child pornography statutes to prosecute these tangential cases involving cache files, young-looking adults, and sexting behavior, undermines the core policies of the child pornography laws for a cheap political purpose. Children will suffer when these cases are passed over by prosecutors, or dismissed by judges flooded with dubious claims of child exploitation. The censors may gain minor ground with some, but the voices opposing distortion of constitutional freedoms under the guise of protecting children are getting louder.

Lawrence G. Walters, Esq. www.FirstAmendment.com © 2009. All rights reserved.

No Sex or Gambling on the Train – Utah Officials Have Spoken

How sad is this?  Utah officials have banned surfing for porn and gambling on Transit Authority trains.  Offenders sneaking a peek at the latest fetish site, or placing a bet on the ballgame, will be fined up to $500.  Transit Authority Thought Police will be “monitoring” the devices of anyone suspected of going to the bad places on the inter-web:


That august institution, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), has decided, in its infinite wisdom, and acting as a moral compass for the citizens of the state, that playing online casino games on your mobile phone is just as bad as visiting porn sites.

The UTA has announced that any traveler accessing a wireless Internet service, via cellular telephone, or computer to play on online gambling websites, will be hit with fines of up to $500. An equivalent fine will also be aimed at any of its customers using their wireless devices to access pornography websites.

Supporters of this legislation point to the fact that the Internet service is provided to travelers on the Utah trains and buses free of charge, and as such, the UTA then has every right to tie restrictions to its use. A spokesman for the Utah Transit Authority announced that passengers’ devices could be inspected by UTA agents who would monitor suspect user devices, and who had the power to issue on-the-spot fines. On the plus side – passengers would have the right to appeal any UTA fine.

Ok, it is Utah and all, but porn police on the train?

The Craigslist Case; the First Amendment Implications


Operators of user generated content websites, including social networks, ‘tube’ sites, and online adult classified operations, may be substantially implicated by the outcome of the litigation involving Craigslist.com.  This case implicates everything from the scope of Section 230 immunity for user-posted material, to the constitutional prohibition on prior restraint of speech.  Whether intentionally or otherwise, Craigslist has taken on a battle that may shape the user generated content business model for decades to come.

Craigslist, of course, has become the best known online classified site of our time.  Its (generally) free classified ad posting service attracts over 50 million users per month – both buyers and sellers.[1] Well before the recent dustup involving the state attorneys general – in November, 2008 – Craigslist became concerned with its own “erotic services” ads, and began requiring users to submit personally-identifying information, including phone numbers and credit card numbers prior to placing ads.[2] This allowed the company to identify the posters of these ads, and provide better cooperation with law enforcement, if necessary.   Not satisfied with this adjustment to company policy, a few months later, a Chicago-area sheriff sued Craigslist for facilitating prostitution.[3]

Unfortunately for Craigslist, things really heated up the following month, when a Boston man utilized the website to meet a masseuse in a local hotel, where he later allegedly murdered her.[4] His arrest on April 20, 2009, caused a public outcry against the widespread availability of thinly-veiled ads for prostitution on Craigslist.com

In response to mounting public pressure, Attorney Generals from several states demanded the closure of the “erotic services” section of Craigslist the following month.[5] Ultimately, Craigslist agreed to close the controversial section on May 13, 2009, and to replace it with a closely-monitored “adult” section.[6] However, that substantial concession was not enough for South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, who demanded that Craigslist block all of the ads relating to prostitution or pornography from South Carolina resident’s view.[7] In that regard, he publicly stated: “The only agreement we could have is they block everything (sexually explicit) in South Carolina.”  McMaster then penned a letter, which was prominently displayed on the Attorney General’s website, threatening the filing of criminal charges in the event Craigslist did not remove all offending material by 5:00 pm Friday, May 15, 2009.[8]

That no-so-subtle threat turned out to be “a bridge too far” for McMaster in his battle with Craigslist.  The ultimatum provided Craigslist with the opportunity to sue South Carolina law enforcement officials, and seek a federal injunction preventing McMaster from carrying out his threat.[9] Craigslist’s lawsuit resulted in substantial negative publicity for South Carolina’s Attorney General, as the press began to pick up on the critical First Amendment concerns generated by law enforcement’s demand for censorship of Craigslist.com.  The flap also generated some important public discussion of the protections afforded to user generated content websites under federal law; specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides a safe harbor for websites that allow third party postings.  Had McMaster done even the slightest bit of homework on the issue, he would have undoubtedly concluded that his demand – requiring a complete ban on access to constitutionally-protected, erotic material – was actionable under the First Amendment.  The aggressive litigation response by the site required some fancy backpedaling by McMaster, as he tried to spin this as a victory for South Carolina, and take credit for the elimination of the erotic services category from Craigslist.  Unfortunately for McMaster, Craigslist had removed the disputed classified section even before he submitted the ultimatum, and that point was not lost on the local and national media covering the dispute.[10]

Shortly after filing the lawsuit, McMaster’s legal team wisely consented to the issuance of a temporary restraining order, preventing his office from initiating any criminal charges as a result of Craigslist’s classified ads.[11] In the end, McMaster agreed not to file the threatened criminal charges against Craigslist, thereby resolving that issue in the lawsuit.[12] Had McMaster not backed down, the court would have almost certainly enjoined the threatened criminal prosecution on its own.

The legal arguments advanced by Craigslist in this lawsuit are of significant importance to adult webmasters operating any type of user generated content site or community forum.  Given the widespread popularity of this business model, and its many permutations, an analysis of the legal issues raised by the Craigslist case is important to the industry as a whole.

First Amendment – Prior Restraint Issues

The most compelling argument that can be advanced by Craigslist in this case is premised on the First Amendment’s protection of free expression.  Not only does Craigslist have the right to publish its ads, its users have a right to receive the information found on the website.[13] Important in the First Amendment analysis is the fact that Craigslist does not (and from a practical standpoint, cannot) review or approve each advertisement before it is published on the website.  Given the sheer number of ads appearing throughout this classified mega-site, any review or approval requirement would likely put the Company out of business.  Accordingly, even if McMaster is correct about the legality of the advertisements at issue, Craigslist is not in control of the content of its classified ads, and therefore would not likely possess the requisite scienter or criminal intent to violate either prostitution or obscenity laws.

With respect to obscenity, it must be noted that all sexually-explicit materials appearing on the Internet are presumed to be protected by the First Amendment, unless and until they are found obscene by the trier of fact.[14] Accordingly, law enforcement cannot constitutionally issue a blanket demand that Craigslist prevent any obscene material from appearing on the website, since Craigslist cannot know, in advance, which materials might be found obscene by a judge or jury at some place and time in the future.[15]

McMaster is not the first law enforcement official to use the heavy hand of possible obscenity prosecution as a tool to accomplish censorship of erotic materials.  In the 1970’s, law enforcement would routinely harass retailers selling erotic publications such as Penthouse magazine, with the intent to force the magazine off the shelves.[16] The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the issuance of an injunction prohibiting this sort of bad faith harassment and prosecution of the retailers, finding the activity to be an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.  In a similar case, an anti-pornography campaign was put to an end by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal which found the effort to be unconstitutional.[17] There, the Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona even went so far as to suggest that the owners and clerks working in newsstands and bookstores selling sexually-explicit material were involved in the Mafia.[18] As the court explained: “[This sort of activity] can put the plaintiffs out of business without ever convicting any of them of anything.”[19] Numerous other bad faith prosecutions, in retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights, have been enjoined by the courts, over the years.[20]

McMaster appears to be particularly concerned about the availability of “pornography” to South Carolina residents.[21] However, the only way to ensure that this state’s residents will not be exposed to such material would be to block the entire website, including all its categories, from the State of South Carolina.  Again, Craigslist cannot control the nature of the content appearing in its classified ads, and therefore complete censorship is the only way to comply with South Carolina’s demands.  Needless to say, the demand to block pornography from South Carolina is, itself, blatantly unconstitutional, given the First Amendment protections afforded to sexually-explicit speech.[22] Accordingly, it appears that Craigslist would be successful in its claim that compliance with McMaster’s ultimatum constitutes an illegal prior restraint on protected speech.

Section 230 Issues

Sites like Craigslist are protected not only by the First Amendment, but also by specific provisions of federal law.  When enacting the Communications Decency Act,[23] Congress wisely recognized the practical problems that would result from any attempt to impose liability on website operators for the speech or communications of third parties.  If such liability were permitted, Internet service providers could be held responsible for the content of each and every website hosted on their servers, and search engines could be held responsible for the content of all of the search results provided by their services.  To alleviate this concern, Congress included Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act, which provides: “No provider…of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”[24] This “safe harbor” language has been given broad scope and effect by the courts.[25] Websites that allow third party content have been found to be immune from a wide variety of civil claims ranging from housing discrimination suits, to negligence, to civil rights.[26] Federal intellectual property claims are excluded from the scope of Section 230 immunity; however another federal statute, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,[27] provides its own similar safe harbor for copyright claims, if certain conditions are met.[28]

So what about criminal prosecution?  That is the big, unanswered question in this area of law.  Thus far, a website service provider has never been found to be immune from criminal prosecution as a result of Section 230 immunity.  While all of the reported cases interpreting this section have arisen in the context of a civil claim, the statute, itself, does not appear to be limited to civil liability protection.  Instead, the law broadly states: “…no liability may be imposed under any state or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”[29] South Carolina obscenity and prostitution laws may well be inconsistent with Section 230 immunity if they are imposed against a website operator, and based on the communications posted by third parties.  Accordingly, the Craigslist case may be the first to squarely confront the scope of Section 230 immunity, in the context of criminal prosecution.

A ruling in favor of Craigslist would be a game changer for user generated content websites, as it would open the door for extremely broad legal protections to be afforded to these websites.  It may be, however, that in order for the state or local law to be considered “inconsistent” with Section 230 that it would have to deal with a substantive criminal offense that is similar to conduct addressed in the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”).  The CDA imposes criminal liability on individuals who transmit obscene materials via the Internet.[30] Under the more narrow interpretation, only state level obscenity laws would be preempted by Section 230.  This would still benefit Craigslist, since at least a portion of McMaster’s threats were premised upon prosecution for pornographic and/or obscene images.  However, the prostitution charges may survive the safe harbor, under this analysis.

The only case, of which this author is aware, where the argument regarding Section 230’s applicability to criminal prosecution was raised, was in the highly-publicized obscenity prosecution by Polk County, Florida against Christopher M. Wilson.[31] There, the Defendant argued in his pretrial Motion to Dismiss that Florida’s obscenity law was preempted by Section 230, since the images forming the basis for the obscenity allegations were posted by third parties on his user generated content site, over which he exercised no content control.  Fortunately for Wilson, a higher court intervened in the case, issuing a writ of habeas corpus, finding the Defendant’s pretrial detention to be illegal, thereby clearing the way for a favorable resolution of the case involving no felony conviction and no jail time.[32] As a result, a decision was never issued on the merits of the argument, so the issue has yet to be addressed by the courts.

User generated content sites of all makes and models will be carefully watching the outcome of the Craigslist litigation, given the important Section 230 issues at stake.

Commerce Clause Issues

Craigslist also raises the important question of whether McMaster’s threatened state law prosecution triggers potential Commerce Clause concerns.  While issues surrounding the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution are somewhat esoteric for the average adult webmaster, they may prove to be critically important for Craigslist and user generated content sites throughout the nation.

In its most basic form, the argument goes like this: The individual states should not be permitted to impose a hodgepodge of inconsistent state laws on national (or international) commercial activities.  Such activities can only be regulated at the federal level.  This makes good sense, since little issues like the mandatory width of railroad tracks need to be uniform throughout the fifty states so trains can stay on the tracks when crossing state lines.  Similarly, restrictions on commercial airlines, importation of foreign goods, and telecommunication systems all need to be regulated at the federal level, for our country to successfully function as a cohesive collection of individual states.

This Commerce Clause argument has been accepted in the context of Internet commerce on numerous occasions, where the states have attempted to impose restrictions on the transmission of sexually explicit materials via the Internet.[33] In every case where that issue has been raised, the state statute was declared unconstitutional in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.  Any attempt to impose state obscenity or prostitution laws on websites implicates similar commerce clause concerns.  Each statute, and each case is different, and legitimate distinctions may exist with respect to regulation of targeted classified ads focusing on specific geographic areas.  Moreover, the Commerce Clause analysis is nuanced and complex, often making the outcome unpredictable.  But Craigslist has raised a legitimate and important issue of constitutional law in response to South Carolina’s attempt to impose state law restrictions on Internet communications.  Even if the dormant Commerce Clause is found to be inapplicable to geo-targeted online classified ads, other user generated sites may have more compelling and successful arguments in future cases.

The Court of Public Opinion

McMaster has taken quite a bit of heat for his ham-fisted approach to law enforcement against such a popular and widely used website as Craigslist.  But the Internet industry should be thankful for his bumbling, in some respects.  Because he went too far in demanding censorship of Craigslist.com, the public discourse has turned away from prostitution, pornography, and decency, to First Amendment censorship and Section 230 protection.  Many law enforcement officials, who might have made the same freshman mistake as McMaster, have now been educated regarding the unique protections afforded to user generated content sites, and may be more hesitant to take action if they see something questionable on one of these websites.  If the target of the investigation had been a fetish tube site, the public discussion of the issue may have been quite different and more supportive of the Attorney General’s tactics.  But since the target was Craigslist, which is used by employers, friends, and family throughout the nation, the public was decidedly more sympathetic.  If law is to be made in this area, it is better that Craigslist bring the case to court as opposed to some other plaintiff with less public acceptance.  While Lady Justice is blind, she has been known to have x-ray vision on occasion, with legal decisions sometimes being influenced by the identities of the parties.

Without a doubt, McMaster stepped in a large pile of excrement with his overzealous bullying tactics.  But the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the show as the courts of law and public opinion sort out just how much protection user generated content websites should enjoy when the next bully with a badge decides to impose an agenda of Internet censorship.

Lawrence G. Walters, Esquire, is a partner with the law firm of Weston, Garrou, Walters & Mooney, with offices in Orlando, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and San Diego.  Mr. Walters represents clients involved in all aspects of the adult industry and has practiced law for two decades. The firm handles First Amendment cases nationwide, and has been involved in much of the significant Free Speech litigation before the United States Supreme Court over the last 45 years.  All statements made in the above article are matters of opinion only, and should not be considered legal advice.  Please consult your own attorney on specific legal matters.  You can reach Lawrence Walters at Larry@FirstAmendment.com, www.FirstAmendment.com or AOL Screen Name: “Webattorney.”

[1] S. Kirshner, “Craigslist CEO Needs Help on His Soundbites,” Boston.com (April 27, 2009), found at: http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2009/04/27/craigslist_ceo_needs_help_on_his_sound_bites/.

[2] J. Skillings, “Craigslist sues So. Carolina attorney general,” CNET News (May 20, 2009), found at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10245380-93.html.

[3] “Sheriff sues Craigslist as ‘largest source’ of prostitution,” Chicago Breaking News Center (March 5, 2009), found at: http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/03/sheriffs-lawsuit-says-craiglist-largest-source-of-prostitution.html.

[4] “Med Student Arrested In Craigslist Murder,” CBS News (April 20, 2009), found at: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/04/20/national/main4958272.shtml.

[5] A. Johnson, “Authorities seek to crack down on Craigslist,” NBC Washington (May 6, 2009), found at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/around_town/the_scene/Authorities_seek_to_crack_down_on_Craigslist.html.

[6] G. Sandoval, “Craigslist to remove ‘erotic services’ section,” CNet News (May 13, 2009), found at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10239610-93.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1023_3-0-5.

[7] C. LeBlanc, “McMaster says no to Craigslist deal,” The State (May 14, 2009), found at: http://www.thestate.com/local/story/785877.html.

[8] Read McMaster’s letter to Craigslist here: http://www.scag.gov/newsroom/pdf/2009/craigslist_letter.pdf.

[9] “Craigslist sues So. Carolina attorney general,” supra.

[10] E.g., M. Arrington, Stand firm, Craig (and Jim), Washington Post (May 18, 2009), found at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/18/AR2009051800628.html;

Bad Publicity May Backfire, The Independent Mail (May 19, 2009), found at: http://www.independentmail.com/news/2009/may/19/bad-publicity-might-backfire/

[11] Craigslist, Inc. v. Henry D. McMaster, et. al., Civil Action No. 2:09-1308-CWH (May 22, 2009) (Consent Order, Honorable Weston Houck).

[12] “McMaster says no to Craigslist deal,” supra.

[13]Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 482 (1965).

[14] Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997); Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002).

[15] Of course, the inability to know, in advance, what materials are illegal should render all obscenity laws unconstitutional, in violation of Due Process rights, in this author’s view, however obscenity laws have inexplicably withstood such challenges over the years.

[16] Penthouse Int’l Ltd. v. McAuliff, 610 F.2d 1353 (5th Cir. 1980), cert. dismissed 447 U.S. 931 (1980).

[17] Krahm v. Graham, 461 F.2d 703 (9th Cir. 1972).

[18] Id. at 705-06.

[19] Id.

[20] E.g. Weston v. McDaniel, 760 F.Supp. 1363, 1371 (N.D. Ga. 1991) (grand jury proceeding against criminal defense attorney enjoined as retaliatory against Plaintiff exercising his right to Freedom of Speech); Entertainment Ventures, Inc. v. Brewer, 306 F.Supp. 802, 822 (N.D. Ala. 1969) (enjoining all state criminal obscenity prosecutions); Daughterty v. City of Eastpoint, 447 F.Supp. 290, 296 (N.D. Ga. 1978) (prosecution under sign ordinance enjoined not withstanding pendency of appeal of criminal action); The Video Store, Inc. v. Holcumb, 729 F.Supp 579 (S.D. Ohio 1990) (state court criminal prosecutions against video store owner enjoined because of bad faith harassment); Empire News, Inc., v. Soloman, 818 F.Supp. 307 (D.Nev. 1993) (adult bookstore licensing law prosecutions against owners of adult bookstore enjoined on First Amendment grounds).

[21] S. Gaudin, “State AG ultimatum to Craigslist: Pull racy ads or face prosecution,” Computerworld (May 6, 2009), found at: http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9132631.

[22] Reno, supra.

[23] 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1).

[24] Id., see also Section 230(e)(3): “No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any state or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”

[25] Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., v. Craigslist, Inc. 519 F.3d 666 (7th Cir. 2008); Carafano v. Metrosplash.com, Inc., 339 F.3d 1119, 1122 (9th Cir. 2003); Doe v. AOL, 783 So.2d 1010 (Fla. 2001) cert. den. 534 U.S. 891 (2001)

[26]Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., v. Craigslist, Inc. 519 F.3d 666 (7th Cir. 2008)(fair housing claims) Doe v. AOL, 783 So.2d 1010 (Fla. 2001) cert. den. 534 U.S. 891 (2001)(negligence); Noah v. AOL Time-Warner, Inc., 261 F.Supp.2d 532, 538 (E.D. Va. 2003)(civil rights).

[27] 17 U.S.C. § 512.

[28] Id.

[29] 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(3) (emphasis added).

[30] The original CDA also included a broad prohibition on any indecent material on the Internet; however those provisions were invalidated by the United States Supreme Court in Reno, supra on First Amendment grounds.

[31] State of Florida v. Christopher M. Wilson; Case No. CF-05-7738 (Fla. 10th Cir. 2006).

[32] See, J. Geary, “Wilson Avoids Jail,” The Ledger (April 22, 2006), found at: http://www.theledger.com/article/20060422/NEWS/604220360?Title=Owner-of-Controversial-Web-Site-Gets-5-years-Probation-.

[33] American Book Sellers Foundation for Free Expression v. Dean, 202 F.Supp.2d 300 (D. Vt. 2002); PSI Net, Inc. v. Chapman, 167 F.Supp. 878 (W.D. Pa. 2001), question certified, 317 F.3d 413 (4th Cir. 2003); Cyberspace Communications, Inc. v. Engler, 142 F.Supp.2d 827 (E.D. Mich. 2001); ACLU v. Johnson, 194 F.3d 1149 (10th Cir. 1999); American Libraries Association v. Pataki, 969 F.Supp. 160 (S.D.N.Y. 1997); Center for Democracy & Technology v. Pappert, 337 F.Supp.2d 2006 (E.D. PA 2004); Southeast Booksellers Ass’n v. McMaster, 371 F.Supp.2d 773 (D.S.C. 2005).