Internet

Prosecutors To Delay Enforcement of Anti-Porn Site Law

Federal rules crafted to curtail “adult entertainment” sites will not be enforced against sites involved in litigation against the government until after Labor Day, according to a temporary agreement reached by the U.S. Department of Justice and Web site producers.

The proposed regulations, amendments to the 18 US Code 2257, are being stayed until Sept. 7, though they were supposed to go into effect in late June, said Tom Hymes, a spokesman for a group of adult entertainment site producers calling itself the “Free Speech Coalition.”

Stopping Perpetrators

The U.S. District Court in Denver will hold a hearing on the case this month.

Meanwhile, a number of sites had already shut down, ceasing operations in anticipation of new rules that had been scheduled to take effect on June 27, including sites like Rotten.com, Fleshbot.com, and others which portrayed nude celebrities. Homosexual sites, like PlanetOut.com, and Gay.com, removed photos from the personal ads on their sites.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issued a statement, indicating that child pornography was proliferating on the Internet and that the government needed a way to conduct “administrative inspections of pornography producers’ records to ensure that children are not being used as performers in sexually explicit depictions.”

Agreed Order

The agreed order not to prosecute sites which do not keep explicit records demonstrating that the performers and models they employ are aged 18 and over does not cover producers who were not part of a lawsuit filed by the Free Speech Coalition. That’s because the judge did not have the power to prohibit federal prosecutors from pursuing charges against other, independent Web sites.

The law, designed to stop child pornography, requires that porn Webmasters archive every explicit image they publish, along with documentation about the pictured performer.

A court filing made last month by the U.S. Attorney General’s office said that the new law does not violate privacy, as the Free Speech Coalition is arguing, and said that the record-keeping laws were not an undue burden for producers to comply with now.

The brief by the prosecutors said, “One plaintiff is an Internet pornography publisher who is capable of publishing tens of thousands of pornographic photos on more than 600 Web sites, but who somehow lacks the ‘computer programming ability’ to store age-verification records electronically.”

Per the agreement reached by prosecutors and the Free Speech Coalition, the coalition will submit to a special master — a judge appointed by the federal court — a confidential list of the members of the coalition. A list was submitted to the special master on June 29, and, according to the agreement, the official has a “specific obligation to maintain the confidentiality of the list.”

Anti-homosexual activists, like Rev. Lou Shelton, who heads the Traditional Values Coalition, a group of nearly 45,000 churches, has said that the new law is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to curb the sexual exploitation of individuals, and he notes that the government does not make the distinction between gay and heterosexual sites.

According to Web producers, the temporary agreed order to stay the enforcement of the law against members of the Free Speech Coalition will keep them in business for at least the next few months.

Long History

“We bent over backwards to defend your right to view or share photos of guys bending over,” said a statement on Gay.com. “Adult videos and chat are on our site once again for public viewing by consenting adults — thanks to an agreement that stops the Department of Justice from expanding restrictions on online content.”

The law has a long history of development, stemming from a 1988 case involving porn star Traci Lords, who apparently used forged documents and appeared, at the age of 15, in adult films. This was just a few years before the commercial development of the Internet. The law covers producers of original content and secondary distributors on the Web, experts said.

According to the Family Research Council, Internet pornography is a $12 billion a year, virtual “red light district.”

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