July 2002 Update


By: Lawrence G. Walters, Esq.


As reports begin to surface about the training session conducted for United States Attorneys to teach them how to prosecute adult Webmasters for obscenity violations, one is reminded of the metaphoric train wreck in slow motion. We know its coming, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Well – almost nothing. The federal obscenity law is the subject of an incomplete, but well-intentioned legal challenge pending in the Southern District of New York. Webmasters have finally organized a trade group, the Internet Freedom Association (“IFA”) to advocate for their interests in the political and legal processes. And many Webmasters have finally taken the hint and eliminated explicit material from their free tours while having their hardcore content reviewed by competent counsel. But none of these efforts are likely to stop the Department of Justice from initiating an all-out assault on the adult Website industry int eh United States. Attorney General John Ashcroft has motivated his soldiers by making outlandish claims about adult Webmasters’ ties to organized crime.1

Times like these separate the men from the boys (and the women from the girls). There’s more to being an adult industry participant than generating revenue, one would hope. The adult industry has produced a long line of freedom fighters dedicated to preserving the right to Free Expression and beating back government aggression at every turn. The easy times of the last ten years have produced much complacency, however the tough times ahead will produce many heroes. If the First Amendment could speak, it would reassure those many heroes about to be born, and let them know that she will offer solace and support during times of uncertainty and repression. Many in the adult Webmaster community will cash in their chips and seek to avoid any risk. Others will publicly challenge the government, offering to take the first hit. But most will continue their day-to-day operations, hoping to fly under radar and watch someone else take the heat. It is this latter group that is at greatest risk. Change is inevitable, and the change in the political lens must result in some retooling in the adult Internet industry. Legal compliance simply must become the number one concern – even more important than the bottom line. Business debts can be paid off, written off or discharged in bankruptcy. However criminal punishment must be avoided in the first instance. Take a moment to review a few practical tips for surviving in the Ashcroft era:

1. Clean up your free tours. Providing hardcore images to children in this political climate means you have a death wish.

2. Pay an attorney to review your site. Even if you retained counsel several years ago and have not made substantial changes since, the enforcement policy has changed and so has the law. Legal advice in this industry can quickly go stale. Ask your lawyer to take a second look at your content for compliance with applicable law.

3. Tighten up your §2257 compliance.

Lawrence G. Walters, Esquire is a partner with the law firm of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt, with offices in Orlando, Los Angeles and San Diego. Mr. Walters represents clients involved in all aspects of adult media. The firm handles First Amendment cases nationwide, and has been involved in significant Free Speech litigation before the United States Supreme Court. 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@LawrenceWalters.com, www.FreeSpeechLaw.com or AOL Screen Name: “Webattorney”.

1 Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft, Federal Prosecutors’ Symposium on Obscenity (June 6, 2002).