Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment

10
May
13

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.

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18
Mar
13

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.”

19
Mar
12

The Sunshine State: A Ray of Hope for Content Producers

I. Mandatory Condom Law Spurs Potential Exodus from L.A. Area
In late January, 2012, the city of Los Angles passed a landmark law requiring all adult content producers to mandate the use of condoms by performers as a condition for obtaining a filming permit. This first-of-its-kind, mandatory condom law sent shock waves through the adult industry, and represented a huge victory for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (“AHF”), which pushed for passage of the law by gathering a sufficient number of signatures to force the City to hold a special election on the issue. Instead of spending four million dollars on a special election, the City Council decided to pass the law on its own.
This concern may not be limited to the City of Los Angeles much longer. The AHF has already launched a similar petition drive, attempting to mandate condom use throughout Los Angeles County as a whole, in the hopes of getting the issue on the ballot for the November, 2012 general election. It is certainly possible that L.A. County could react the same way as the City, and simply pass the condom measure on its own without putting the issue to the electorate; effectively disregarding constituent input in its entirety.
Reacting to the rumors that the adult industry will move its operations elsewhere, the neighboring Simi Valley City Council reportedly plans to follow suit with its own mandatory condom ordinance. “We are not going to accept the pornographic purveyors from Los Angeles County,” Simi Valley Mayor, Bob Huber said when asked to comment on the issue. With the ordinance expected to be introduced in the very near future, Simi’s City Council is currently considering a slightly modified version of the L.A. measure. Under the potential Simi Valley law, content producers would be required to present proof of on-set health care professionals monitoring condom usage, as a prerequisite to receiving a permit to film within the city’s limits. As an additional precaution, the content producer would have a specific time period after completion of each project to submit an unedited copy of the content to the Simi Valley Police Department for confirmation of compliance.

II. Content Producers Consider Their Alternatives
Although the adult industry has been historically centered in the Los Angeles area, the recent, precedent-setting legislation has adult content producers considering a mass exodus to friendlier jurisdictions – even some outside of California entirely. Steven Hirsch, founder of Vivid Entertainment Group, stated that his company would simply move out of the city or the state and film elsewhere, as a likely alternative to complying with the mandatory condom law. Regardless of whether using condoms during erotic video production is a good idea or not, consumers seemingly prefer ‘bareback’ or condom-free content. Many adult performers also view condom usage as a personal choice that they should be allowed to make as opposed to something that should be mandated by the government. As far as the risk of disease, the current industry standard is for performers to be tested for STD’s at least every thirty days while they are working. One adult film star observed that people are more likely to catch a STD from someone outside of the adult industry, given the frequency of STD testing for adult performers. Thus, condom-free films will likely be made somewhere – even if prohibited in the Los Angeles area.
Since the adult industry generates an annual revenue stream of eight billion dollars, and 90% of U.S. adult films are currently produced in Los Angeles, the stakes are high. Local and state authorities stand to lose substantial tax revenue should the industry depart from California. However, since it appears that such departure is imminent, production companies are considering their options. Naturally, areas like Nevada or Arizona are under consideration, given their close proximity to California. However, upon getting wind of a possible migration to Arizona, state officials pushed back, and warned that adult content production may be deemed prostitution under state law. Therefore, the state of Florida stands to provide a viable opportunity for those considering a move to greener pastures.
III. The Climate in Florida
While Florida politics and law enforcement priorities are inconsistent throughout the state, certain areas of Central and South Florida have been a long-time home to some of the industry’s largest content producers. Several years ago, a Jacksonville newspaper reported on the growing popularity of both professional and amateur adult content production in the state of Florida. The story, which identified several local content producers, noted that Girls Gone Wild regularly visits Florida to capture the company’s world-renowned exhibitionist material. Another company referenced in the article, JacksVids, allowed customers to pay to have sex with a performer on tape, after which the video was uploaded to a site and sold to members. With local law enforcement recognizing that the monetary exchange was for filming, not sex, Sheriff’s deputies had difficulty identifying any actionable criminal conduct. “[T]here are so many constitutional protections, it’s extremely difficult to prosecute. It really has to go way outside society’s norms to come up to the level of criminal,” observed a sheriff’s deputy from the Jacksonville – notably one of the State’s most conservative areas.
In other locations, such as South Florida, adult content producers have been prospering for years. For over a decade, Miami-Dade County has been home to some of the largest adult content producers and website operators in the business. Also notable is that the high profile (and still controversial) .XXX registry operator, ICM Registry, Inc., calls Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home.
Again, law enforcement in South Florida appears to have come to terms with the existence and legality of the adult industry. In fall of 2004, a local television network conducted an undercover “investigation” exploring the vast world of Miami’s adult content production, probing the amateur “gonzo” niche in particular. When asked to comment for the story, local police conceded that despite the raw, “uncut” nature of gonzo erotica, its production was not illegal. Perhaps the indifference to adult content production can also be partially attributed to Florida’s acceptance of nudity in general, exemplified by the State’s numerous clothing-optional beaches, resorts, and festivals. Offering a safe-haven for those looking to shirk traditional inhibitions, one Florida county has even been dubbed the “North American Capital of Nudism.” Florida is quickly becoming a seminal location for the naturist movement; a reputation that could easily benefit adult content producers. This, along with society’s increasing acceptance of the adult industry and erotica in general, bode well for content producers or webmasters considering Florida as a base of operations.
That’s not to say that all areas of the state are completely safe for adult industry producers to set up shop. Polk County, Florida for example, is notorious for its routine prosecution of obscenity cases against anyone involved with producing erotic content within its jurisdiction. Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd, has even gone to the lengths of extraditing an individual from Colorado to face obscenity charges based on sending a book relating to pedophilia to the Polk County jurisdiction. The author has defended at least a dozen obscenity cases emanating from Polk County. Florida’s panhandle, spanning from Pensacola to Tallahassee, has also developed a reputation as a risky area in terms of obscenity prosecutions. In 2006, Pensacola-based webmaster, Clinton McCowen a/k/a “Ray Guhn,” was prosecuted by the State Attorney in that jurisdiction based on his alleged involvement with producing adult website material focusing on group sex themes. However, the obscenity, racketeering, and prostitution charges premised on content production were ultimately dismissed, in exchange for the defendant’s guilty plea to financial crimes. Aside from select areas of the State like the Panhandle and Polk County, Florida has generally adopted a ‘live and let live’ approach to the adult entertainment industry in recent times.
IV. Historical Basis for Locating in California
Historically, most adult film production has occurred in California as a result of a ruling from the Supreme Court of California holding that prostitution and “pandering” laws do not apply to the production of adult content in that state. This Court decision gave adult content producers a sufficient level of comfort to enable production of erotic material without fear of arrest for prostitution or “pandering” based on claims that they were paying individuals to engage in sexual activity. Since then, only one other state has been the beneficiary of a similar decision: In 2008, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire likewise held that its state prostitution statute cannot be legally applied to criminalize adult content production, under New Hampshire’s state constitution. While adult content producers did not go flocking to New Hampshire after that decision was rendered, the ruling might have given pause to prosecutors in other states who might have otherwise considered bringing charges against adult content producers under similar prostitution laws. No prosecutor wants to be responsible for bringing the landmark case resulting in their state becoming the latest safe-haven for adult content production. A state attorney who lets that happen on his (or her) watch can kiss any political or judicial aspirations “goodbye.” Therefore, a quiet detent has existed in the other forty-eight states (including Florida), where the applicability of prostitution laws to adult content production remains unsettled, with law enforcement generally looking the other way when it comes to such issues.
V. Why Florida?
Turning back to Florida, the adult industry has continued to grow and thrive in the Sunshine State since the early days of the Internet. Some of the reasons for this include the generally progressive community standards in South Florida, the warm climate, and the lack of any state income tax. The cosmopolitan makeup of Miami-Dade County, along with a strong presence from the fashion and modeling industries, results in ready access to many beautiful young women and men who are often willing to perform in erotic-themed material. Also an international travel hub, Miami fosters easy access to a constant supply of fresh faces seeking fame and fortune in the entertainment industry. Florida’s steady climb to the top of the list of locations piquing content producers interests has not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by the decision to hold the 2012 XBIZ Summit in Miami, Florida.
Few, if any, obscenity cases have been initiated in South Florida since the embarrassing loss suffered by former Fort Lauderdale Sheriff, Nick Navarro, who attempted to prosecute the producers of 2 Live Crew’s rap album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, for violation of Florida’s obscenity laws. In that case, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the record, while sexually explicit, was not obscene as a matter of law. Other law enforcement officials in the area lost their stomach for obscenity cases after that high profile failure.
Similar censorship efforts, dating back almost twenty years, have failed from Tallahassee down to Daytona Beach, Florida as well. The unanimous acquittal of a video store owner brought up on obscenity charges in Tallahassee caused the prosecutor in that case to predict that the area would become a “porn haven.” In Marion County, Florida, prosecutors failed in their attempts to prosecute three separate store clerks from a local video store, based on their involvement with the sale or rental of allegedly obscene material. Several years later, in the same jurisdiction, jurors acquitted a man for wearing an allegedly “obscene” T-shirt depicting a nun masturbating. Another controversial state attorney was branded as having “skewed priorities” after losing several obscenity cases in both civil and criminal courts against local video store owners offering sexually explicit material. This failed “porn crusade” ultimately cost the “grandstanding” State Attorney his job, after he was voted out of office largely in reaction to concerns over censorship by the electorate.
While it is notable that Paul Little, a/k/a Max Hardcore, was prosecuted in Tampa, and convicted of federal obscenity violations (due to the presence of hosting servers containing the subject material in that jurisdiction), few other federal obscenity cases have been brought in Florida in the last two decades. Further, despite Little’s prosecution, the adult entertainment industry continues to thrive in the Tampa area, which reportedly has the most adult businesses of any metropolitan area in the country, and has been dubbed the “lap dance capital of the world.” Even in Orlando, Florida – home of Disney World – adult entertainment companies have prospered and generally been left alone by law enforcement after some unsuccessful attempts to censor adult video stores in the early Nineties. Perceived as the geographic happy-medium between South Florida’s overt sexual freedom and the Panhandle’s more conservative approach towards erotic material, Orlando adult content producers capitalize on what one local newspaper referred to as, “[…] the Florida lifestyle: sunny skies, sandy beaches, palm trees and tan girls in skimpy bikinis.”
Aside from a friendlier local political climate, Florida tends to afford content producers more bang for their buck – no pun intended – thanks to significantly lower operating costs compared to their West Coast brethren. “Our original plan was to go to California, but it would have been costly so we decided to set up shop here in Florida,” observed Leon Bryan of the Orlando-based Demon Seed Pictures. Industry veteran and publisher of AVN Online, M.J. McMahon, accredited Florida’s “large and willing talent base” for its ongoing adult content production success.
Moreover, Florida authorities have not targeted adult content producers for workplace safety violations as has CAL-OSHA in California. The well-publicized raids on West Coast adult content studios have threatened the “independent contractor” relationship that most producers have tried to maintain with their performers. There is no “FL-OSHA.” That said, in June of 2010, the Florida Department of Health initiated an investigation requested (not surprisingly) by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, regarding the failure to use condoms in Florida’s “fast growing” adult film industry. The investigation was based on broad health regulations prohibiting the creation of a “sanitary nuisance.” Four Florida production companies were named in the investigation; however, the scrutiny appears to have run its course as no further action has been taken since the announcement of the investigation over a year and a half ago, and no new investigations have commenced. Notably, no city or county in Florida has considered any ordinance requiring mandatory condom use by adult content producers.
VI. Conclusion
While Florida may not have the established case law protecting content producers from prostitution charges, like California or New Hampshire, it certainly offers many other attractions: Beautiful models, dynamic cities, temperate climate and perhaps most importantly – no mandatory condom laws. As the Los Angeles area becomes less and less friendly to the adult entertainment industry, production companies are considering their alternatives. Some may discover a bright new future in the Sunshine State.

26
Sep
11

United We Stand; Divided We Fall – If Only It Were That Simple

Liberal or conservative? Mac or PC? Romney or Rick? Exacerbated by politics, economic theories, technological preferences and even something as trivial as your reality TV show of choice – these days, it always seems like we’re always picking a side in one way or another. Given that we’re so quick to draw that proverbial line in the sand, one can’t help but wonder how any groups rally together for a common purpose anymore. In this respect, the adult industry is the same as any run-of-the-mill church organization, PTA, or even the federal government – there’s infighting. Representative of, arguably, the strongest motivator of human nature, the adult entertainment industry has the unique task of justly operating within its own sociosphere , all while conveying a somewhat united front to the outside world. But between high-profile obscenity prosecutions, piracy problems, the economy, and DOTXXX, the pressure on those in the industry hasn’t made it easy to sit around singing Kumbaya at the latest industry gathering.
In all fairness, dissension, disagreement, and the dialogue the two create – that’s the kind of stuff we thrive on. When I say ‘we,’ I mean those of us involved in the adult entertainment industry – in one way or another. I understand that we all got involved in the industry for different reasons, intended or not, but we all have that little bit of rebellion deep down inside – if we didn’t, we wouldn’t still be here. This begs the question: Is that drive to question the status quo so innate within us that we simply cannot recognize when it benefits the greater good of the industry to offer support based less upon conditions and more upon the recognition that we’re all supposed to be fighting the same fight?
Despite its substantial contribution to everything from technological development to global charity, the adult industry is not necessarily held in the highest regard in mainstream society. Because of this ‘outsider’ perception, conveying a united front on headline-grabbing issues is all the more important. It seems that the higher-profile the issue, the more cavernous the division is within the industry; especially with matters having a direct impact on the mainstream. Unfortunately for us, those issues that reach the ‘outside’ world, so to speak, are the ones that warrant the most serious attempt at forming a unified front.
As we’ve seen in the past, this industry has actually turned on its own a time or two – a regrettable circumstance that does nothing but harm the industry as a whole. The Extreme Associates and Max Hardcore cases are two perfect examples of situations where the industry severely lacked in supporting its own. Arguably, one of the most significant legal attacks against the adult industry, US v. Extreme Associates, was the federal government’s first major obscenity prosecution since the early 1990’s; a grim reminder that political rants on “moral values” aren’t always just empty threats. For those who don’t remember, in 2003, husband and wife business partners, Rob Black and Lizzy Borden were indicted on various conspiracy and obscenity charges based on the “extreme” hardcore nature of adult content produced by their corporate entity, Extreme Associates. The case was dismissed by the district court in January 2005, which ruled that the federal obscenity statutes were unconstitutional because they violated an individual’s right to privacy. The DOJ appealed and found success in a Third Circuit decision overturning the District Court’s ruling, which eventually lead to the couple pleading guilty on obscenity charges and their subsequent imprisonment. Similarly, in 2008, Paul Little (a.k.a. Max Hardcore) was convicted of ten counts of distributing obscene materials, stemming from adult films produced by his company, Max World Entertainment. He was ultimately sentenced to a 46 month prison term. The lack of support – both, financial and moral – offered to these individuals illustrates exactly how the adult industry should not respond to government attacks against a fellow industry associate. Black and Little were essentially on their own, as other content producers tried to distance themselves from the type of content subject to prosecution. Sadly, it became alarmingly easy to distinguish one’s self and/or business practices from “those people” who were targeted in the DOJ’s latest witch hunt du jour.
If we’re being frank here, it was the extreme nature of Black’s and Little’s content that likely had industry players running to their lawyers asking whether their content was ‘safer’ than the material subject to prosecution. Those same lawyers may well have cringed at the thought of advising any public support or association with defendants under federal indictment. But support for the most extreme end of the industry ironically helps keep all others safer. Bottom line: The members of the adult entertainment industry should not only have rallied behind Paul Little and Rob Black, but should thank them for being willing to take a bullet for the same people that averted eye contact for years instead of readily opening their wallets as a gesture of unwavering solidarity. The federal government (and more than a few right-wing political groups, for that matter) would love nothing more than for the industry to cannibalize itself – and with Extreme Associates and Max Hardcore, that’s what happened. Even more industry division has resulted from the DotXXX battle, which has left close friends no longer speaking with each other. It is time to rise above.
Despite its wavering past, hope springs eternal. In 2008, when producer John Stagliano was indicted on seven counts of violating federal obscenity laws stemming from the sale and distribution of adult films by his company, Evil Angel, the industry galvanized solidly behind John. Even though he was financially able to defend himself from the governmental onslaught, most industry stakeholders provided much-needed moral and public support for his cause. Approximately two years later a federal district court judge dismissed the case finding that the evidence provided was insufficient for a jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Stagliano case is a prime example of the adult entertainment industry pulling together to present a united front. Recognizing the fluidity of obscenity prosecutions and the particular content targeted in them, Stagliano’s legal team addressed the industry, specifically requesting that it not make the same mistakes seen in the Max Hardcore case. Calling on each content producer to be a ”foot solder” in the battle against unwarranted prosecution, Stagliano’s attorneys encouraged industry players to preserve current business relationships, donate to the cause and maintain unconditional assistance despite fear of prosecution. John Stagliano chose to fight the good fight and luckily the industry as a whole remained a foundation for that fight.
Remaining optimistic thanks to the Stagliano case, I have also had the pleasure of seeing first-hand the industry unite on a much smaller, but equally as important, scale in opposing the current prosecution of Theresa Taylor (a.k.a. Kimberly Kupps). Involving the all-too-familiar venue of Polk County, Florida, Ms. Taylor is facing felony state obscenity charges based on the content of her website KimberlyKupps.com. The content targeted in this case is well within the mainstream of modern erotic fare, and has thus far not resulted in the distancing and finger pointing that occurred during the Extreme Associates and Max Hardcore cases. This Kupps prosecution epitomizes the slippery slope that occurs when law enforcement agents deem themselves the judge, jury, and executioner in enforcing overly subjective legal standards to adult content. Having already received dozens of donations to help fight the censorship machine that reared its ugly head once again in Polk County, I remain extremely encouraged and pleased to see the adult industry supporting the cause – even for a state level prosecution such as this.
The spirit of this post is a call to action for the adult entertainment industry, not to dwell on missteps of the past. Heck, even the industry lawyers have their own share of in-fighting. But in order to know where we are going, we must know where we’ve been, and in turn recognize the mistakes that were made on the way. I am proud, and always humbled, to have the opportunity to fight for the First Amendment rights of the adult industry, and represent those victimized by sex hysteria. But in order to make progress and deter the government from committing future Free Speech violations, the members of the adult industry must stand in solidarity with each other, regardless of petty intra-industry disputes, issues with competition, disagreements over content, or fear of becoming the next target. Aptly referenced by our colleague, H. Louis Sirkin, Esq., in discussing the importance of unconditional industry support of its own members, I leave you with this famous quote: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” [Pastor Martin Niemöller]

21
Jun
11

Reading the Tea Leaves  Discerning the Ultimate Fate of Section 2257

Adult content producers and webmasters have become increasingly resigned to the fact that Section 2257 compliance is here to stay. Renowned industry attorney Greg Piccionelli, Esq., has recently written a detailed set of articles reminding producers of their complicated obligations necessary to achieve 100% compliance with 2257. The increased focus on records keeping obligations is the result of a confluence of events, such as; the district court’s dismissal of the Free Speech Coalition’s (FSC) most recent legal challenge to the statute and associated regulations; the historical trend in the courts in previous 2257 challenges; and the potential for a Republican president in 2013, complete with a newly-appointed conservative Attorney General.

So, is this reluctant acceptance of 2257 as a fact of life warranted? Or is there still a possibility that these burdensome obligations will be lifted – potentially in favor of a more realistic and constitutional system of performer age verification? The answer to these questions requires that we delve into the history of the challenges to Section 2257, and recap the current status of the law.

Initially, the Free Speech Coalition should be congratulated for continuing to fight the good fight against Section 2257. They’ve litigated hard in several courts in the attempt to beat back these sweeping regulations. J. Michael Murray, Esq., whose firm was hired to mount the most recent
challenge, which is currently pending in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals – is one of the best First Amendment lawyers in the biz. But given the history of previous legal challenges to the statute and the way the wind is blowing in the current case, adult webmasters and content producers may need to come to grips with the fact that 2257 will be upheld, therefore, enforcement by the FBI may resume at any time.

The previous attempts to invalidate 2257 have spanned over two decades since its inception in 1988. The original law was struck down as unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds shortly after its passage. American Library Ass’n. v. Thornburgh, 713 F. Supp. 469 (D.D.C. 1989). After the Thornburgh challenge, Congress amended the statute to no longer utilize a rebuttable presumption that the performer in question was a minor, but to directly impose criminal sanctions for noncompliance. The ALA challenged 2257 again challenged, but this time the First Amendment didn’t come out on top. In American Library Ass’n. v. Reno, 33 F.3d 78 (D.C. Cir. 1994), the amended version of 2257 was upheld, as the court rejected the ALA’s argument that the record-keeping provisions were content-based restrictions. In doing so, the Reno court agreed with the feds that record-keeping requirements are necessary to prevent the exploitation of children and a commercial market for child pornography. Further, the district court tailored the scope of the record-keeping provisions by narrowing the definition of “secondary producers” and eliminating the indefinite temporal requirement for maintaining records.

All was calm on the 2257-front for a few years until Sundance Assoc., Inc. v. Reno, 139 F.3d 804 (10th Cir. 1998), when the Tenth Circuit decided to shake things up a bit and take the DOJ down a peg. The Sundance court invalidated the regulations that imposed records keeping obligations on “secondary producers;” a broad category of ‘producers’ that was created purely by agency regulation and not referenced in the actual 2257 statute. The industry as a whole generally relied on the Sundance decision as the correct interpretation of the law. In the real world that meant that only original producers of adult content kept records, and webmasters that were uninvolved with content production maintained no records of their own, but simply identified the ‘primary producer’s’ records custodian on their website, in order to discharge their perceived obligations under the statute. The DOJ disagreed with the Sundance interpretation of the law, but the statute went unenforced for several years after the Sundance case, so the industry became complacent with the status quo.

That all changed in 2005, when the DOJ passed new regulations which re-ignited the “secondary producer” debate, by imposing records-keeping requirements on all producers including webmasters that published material on a website. The Code of Federal Regulations issued in June of 2005 defined a secondary producer as one who “inserts on a computer site or service a digital image of, or otherwise manages the sexually explicit content of a computer site or service that contains a visual depiction of, an actual human being engaged in actual or simulated sexually explicit conduct.” Overnight, hundreds of thousands of websites became illegal given the lack of 2257 records to back up the content appearing on those sites.

In response to these amended regulations, and the tremendous panic in the industry, the FSC filed suit in Colorado, which happens to be within the realm of the Tenth Circuit, and was therefore bound to follow the Sundance case as precedent. wordFree Speech Coalition v. Gonzales, 406 F. Supp. 2d 1196 (D. Colo. 2005). On December 28, 2005, the FSC received a late Christmas present when the district court, following Sundance, preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the new requirements for all secondary producers who were members of the FSC at the time. As the Attorney General commenced the appeals process in Gonzales, Congress was taking matters into its own hands by passing the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act, which officially amended 2257 by adding “secondary producers” to the list of those responsible for the record keeping obligations. This essentially ‘fixed’ the main problem identified in the Gonzales case. In the wake of the Adam Walsh Act passage, the Gonzalez court granted a partial summary judgment against the FSC in the case, finding that the Sundance decision no longer applied to 2257 as amended. Free Speech Coalition v. Gonzales, 483 F. Supp. 2d 1069 (D. Colo. 2007). On May 1, 2007, based on an agreement by both the DOJ and the FSC, the Gonzales court dismissed the case, likely as a result of the legislative resolution of the main legal challenge raised in the litigation.

This left 2257 in a state of presumed validity until a breathtaking win followed quickly by a heartbreaking loss in the case of Connection Distributing Co. v. Holder, 557 F.3d 321 (6th Cir. 2009) (en banc), cert. denied 2009 U.S. LEXIS 6926 (Oct. 5, 2009). In fall 2007, a panel of three judges on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found the record-keeping requirements set forth in 2257 imposed an overbroad burden on protected speech. Shortly after the opinion was issued, the government successfully petitioned the entire Sixth Circuit for “en banc” review of the panel decision. Ultimately, the en banc court rendered a devastating blow to the adult industry by vacating the well-reasoned panel decision, and upholding 2257 in the face of numerous constitutional challenges.

In 2008, the DOJ passed another set of regulations, clarifying its position on records keeping compliance by both primary and secondary producers (along with many other issues). Those regulations became effective in March, 2009, and are what the industry lives by today.

Ultimately, the FSC mounted its most recent challenge the statute and related regulations by filing FSC v. Holder, 2010. U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75471 (E.D. PA July 27, 2010), in Pennsylvania. However, the district court rejected the FSC’s challenges last summer, and dismissed the case (alternatively) on the grounds of collateral estoppel/res judicata, which means that the prior losses suffered by the FSC in the Gonzalez case prevented the organization from re-litigating those issues in the Holder case. Id; see Memorandum Opinion dated July 27, 2010, at p. 45. This doctrine of ‘claims preclusion’ essentially means that the same party can’t keep suing over and over again, asking different courts (or the same court) for the same relief. The FSC has appealed the dismissal of its most recent case to the Third Circuit, in the hopes of reviving the legal challenge and obtaining some relief on behalf of the industry.

While the author wishes the FSC all the success in the world in its pending appeal, the chances of success in striking down 2257 are looking somewhat slim. As is evident from the above, the majority of court decisions have rejected challenges to 2257, and the FSC has been a party to a couple of these cases already, which negatively impacts its chances of prevailing, given the issues of claims preclusion referenced above. While all the previous court decisions may be wrong, from an academic perspective, a brief gaze into the crystal ball provides a pretty good idea what will happen with the current challenge in the Third Circuit. As a general rule of thumb recognized in the legal community, the chances of prevailing in any appeal are less than 25%. When you factor in things like the fact that the case is being backed by the adult industry, the previous losses by the FSC, and the government’s claim that the challenged regulations are designed to “protect the children” from exposure to sexual activity, the chances of a win on appeal tend to grow even slimmer. Anyone who’s been involved in litigation before will tell you to expect the unexpected, but truth be told; the FSC is fighting an uphill battle.

Certainly this information will be tough to swallow for those closely involved with the case, who undoubtedly remain hopeful for a positive outcome. But as a practical matter, any producers who are counting on invalidation of 2257 as their records-keeping strategy need to wake up and read the tea leaves – to mix a metaphor. All producers of 2257-triggering content should be in full compliance by now, in preparation for another potential loss on appeal, and eventual enforcement of the statute. Moreover, given Congress’s track record lately and waning public approval of the current Administration, a rigorous enforcement plan could be very likely if there is a Republican to answer to in 2013.

At this point in the game, the only realistic hope for invalidating 2257 is for a party with substantial funding and completely separated from the FSC, to initiate a new challenge using a different legal strategy than that which has been employed thus far. Unfortunately for the FSC, as a party plaintiff in the previous cases, it is burdened with these ‘res judicata’ and ‘collateral estoppel’ defenses based on its previous losses in court. Any new 2257 challenge would need to come from a new entity, which may need to carefully avoid association with the FSC or its members, given how courts determine (based on “privity”) which parties are barred by claims preclusion defense. Additionally, for any realistic shot at a successful claim, any new challenge would need to be based on different legal arguments and theories. Admittedly, the arguments made in the litigation thus far have been viable and should have carried the day with any intellectually-honest judge. But that’s not always the reality when one steps into court – particularly when the adult industry is behind the challenge. Other potential claims remain available to be litigated, but it is uncertain whether they will ever be raised, and who would raise them. Naturally, funding is always an issue, and constitutional litigation against the federal government is nothing if not costly.

For the foreseeable future, the industry needs to take a second look at its records keeping and labeling compliance status. This includes so-called user generated content sites which have taken liberal advantage of the 2257 exemptions, even in some cases where the content is not truly user-generated, or does not fall into the recognized exemptions. It’s time to dot the I’s and cross the T’s with your 2257 records, because the writing may be on the wall, for those who choose to see. But for the time being, the only true constant for 2257 is the phrase, ‘to be continued…’

20
Apr
11

Back to the Future -Hatch Calls for More Obscenity Prosecutions Just in Time for the Presidential Bids

Gas up the DeLorean, because Orrin Hatch is taking us back to 1984. “As the toxic waste of obscenity continues to spread and harm everyone it touches, it appears the Obama administration is giving up without a fight.” The previous sentence is part of a statement issued by Senator Orrin Hatch last week in the wake of his very public, very brazen call to the Department of Justice to increase obscenity prosecutions.
Hatch, the Republican Senator representing Utah, along with House Representatives Mike McIntyre (D-NC) and Randy Forbes (R-VA), sponsored the letters to the DOJ, effectually calling out the Obama Administration’s lack of “vigorous enforcement” of obscenity laws; one to his legislative colleagues and one to Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter to Holder, signed by dozens of Senate members, demands that the Department of Justice and the FBI step-up their efforts in prosecuting producers and distributors of “hardcore adult pornography.”
The letter urges General Holder to examine the evidence gathered by sources like www.pornographyharms.com, in order to fully comprehend the “crisis” caused by adult obscenity and “urgent need” for action by the government. Incidentally, the website referenced in Hatch’s letter is operated by anti-porn crusader, Patrick Trueman, CEO of Morality in Media and Director of the War on Illegal Pornography Coalition. If you still think there’s a glimmer of possible impartiality located within the “evidence” (let’s use that term loosely, shall we) provided via www.pornographyharms.com, take a look at Trueman’s press release on Hatch’s letter where he references the “grave social costs documented by a plethora of researchers at http://www.pornographyharms.com and at a groundbreaking conference held by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton University entitled, ‘The Social Costs of Pornography’.” The Witherspoon Institute? The same Witherspoon Institute that brought us such neutral and fair-minded studies and literary masterpieces like, ‘Politics & the Devil’, ‘Medieval Wisdom for Modern Universities’, ‘Where in the Constitution is the Separation of Church & State?’ and who can forget ‘Did Pius XII Lie to Save the Jews?’.

But as much as we’d like to pretend that this is yet another divine alliance between the consistently overlapping groups of Republicans and religious conservatives, it is most definitely not. Several democrats, including the unexpected addition of Dianne Feinstein of California, signed on in support of Hatch’s demands. Feinstein’s backing of the letter comes as a surprise given the fact that the adult industry companies the letter is targeting are the very same businesses comprising her southern California constituency. When asked to comment on Feinstein’s involvement in this new resurgence against obscenity, a spokesperson for the Senator pointed to her support of “several measures targeting child pornography in recent years” – which of course provides a crystal clear explanation for jumping on the witch-hunt bandwagon targeting completely lawful speech engaged in by adults.

Even more disturbing might be Hatch’s extremist allegations that “experts warn” pornography is related to sexual harassment, violence against women and sex trafficking. As if the Orwellian undertones of the letter aren’t enough, Hatch is channeling us back to the 80s with over-broad, feminist far-left propaganda, reminiscent of the Dworkin-MacKinnon Era anti-porn crusade. Note: unsuccessful anti-porn crusade.

An Assistant Attorney General has responded to the allegations of being “soft on porn” with a letter of reply, stating that the DOJ has made the realistic decision to focus its “limited investigative and prosecutorial resources on the most egregious cases, particularly those that facilitate child exploitation…” Given the DOJ’s unsuccessful attempt at its last high profile obscenity trial against Evil Angel owner, John Stagliano, it’s really no wonder that the DOJ decided to turn its attention to prosecuting media involving children as opposed to consenting adults. Stagliano’s obscenity trial last July, which resulted in a judgment of acquittal on all counts, was likely the final nail in the coffin for the now-defunct Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. The Task Force was a special Justice Department unit set up during the first Bush administration as a result of conservatives reacting to the abundance of allegedly obscene material available on the Internet. This recent disbanding of the DOJ’s ‘Porn Police’ may have been exactly what Orrin Hatch was waiting for to drop his bomb on Capitol Hill. Between Hatch’s demands for action on the DOJ and the fact that the 2012 presidential bids are being tossed around; is it possible the next year or so could provide the perfect storm for a resurgence of the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force?

Given the vagueness of the Obama Administration’s stance on obscenity prosecution, the possibility of a Republican taking over in 2012 leads to thoughts of a Reagan-era anti-pornography agenda renaissance. How likely is it that the incumbent will be able to stave off the Republicans for another four years; obviously everyone in every industry has their own prediction, but we all know it’s too soon to tell. However, with Obama’s approval rating plummeting daily and the GOP’s recent accusations that the democrats aren’t taking the budget crisis seriously enough, it’s not so far-fetched to see Obama throwing the conservatives a bone by entertaining Hatch’s demands in the near future. What would Trump do?

Notably, as this blog post goes to print, reports of adult filmmaker, Ira Isaacs, having been indicted on five new obscenity charges are hitting the newswire. These latest indictments join Isaacs’s three previous obscenity charges originating in 2006. Originally slated to go to trial in 2008, the case was postponed due to the controversial recusal of Judge Alex Kozinski. The trial, now set for May of this year, could commence within days of Isaacs’s arraignment on the new obscenity counts, unless his defense attorney can push off the trial again, in light of the new charges. Is this latest news pure coincidence or a knee-jerk reaction by Obama’s DOJ to the news of the day? Let’s sincerely hope that it’s the former because it’s a little disconcerting that the Attorney General might find it more damaging to be considered “soft on porn” than proceeding with a baseless fishing expedition against an easy target for the sole purpose of flexing his judicial muscles in some inter-branch, alpha-politician contest with Orrin Hatch.

So how does all this ambiguity ultimately affect the adult industry? This industry has traditionally been used as a tool in political agendas, unfortunately resulting in the First Amendment as the inevitable loser all too often. As referenced earlier in this post, Republican administrations going as far back as Reagan, have displayed blatant aggressiveness against the adult industry, citing the same ‘moral decay of society’-type rationale currently demonstrated by Senator Hatch and his supporters. On the other hand, the Democratic Party has traditionally been more receptive to the adult industry in general, but if recent years have shown anything, it’s that ‘liberal’ does not necessarily mean ‘libertarian.’ And now, especially with Capitol Hill reeling from some of the most volatile bipartisan infighting this country has seen in decades, one can’t help but wonder if adult entertainment is going to be a scapegoat yet again. So batten down the “Hatch’s” and get ready for another round.

*Note: This article was drafted with the purpose of addressing all political agendas affecting the adult entertainment industry and in no way was intended to act as a political endorsement of any candidate. It should also be noted that the author is not associated with any election campaigns or a member of any political party.

20
Dec
10

Polk County Goes Too Far With Obscenity Bust

Once again, Sheriff Grady Judd, from Polk County, Florida, is trying to grab some headlines by arresting Philip Greaves, for distributing his “last copy” of the book he authored entitled: “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure.” See:

http://www.theledger.com/article/20101220/NEWS/101229953/1410?Title=Polk-Sheriff-s-Detectives-Arrest-Author-of-The-Pedofile-s-Guide-Book&tc=ar




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