TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: PFIR Statement on Adult Content Regulations and Broader Impacts

PFIR Statement on Adult Content Regulations and Broader Impacts

Monty Solomon (
Fri, 1 Jul 2005 20:47:17 -0400

PFIR Statement on Adult Content Regulations and Broader Impacts

July 1, 2005

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has promulgated and is about to
begin enforcing a set of regulations known as "18 U.S.C. 2257" which
relate to record-keeping requirements for a broad range of "adult
content" in virtually all media, including print, video, film, Web
sites, etc.

Summary, detail, and other data regarding these regulations are
viewable at: ("Technical" View)

and: ("Layman's" View)

While the ostensible intent of 2257 is the laudable goal of protecting
minors from abuse and exploitation, it appears that the regulations'
very wide scope will have a chilling effect on all U.S. entities who
deal in even peripherally-related materials that are viewed as
objectionable under "lowest-common-denominator" definitions.
Presumably this very wide impact is viewed as a positive attribute of
the regulations by their framers.

However, this is a matter that goes far beyond the limited confines of
adult entertainment. Regardless of how one feels about pornography or
adult-oriented content in general, the precedent set by these
regulations should set off alarm bells for everyone who "publishes"
*any* sort of materials -- however exotic or mundane they might be in
any form of media, including virtually all Web site operators.

The use of administrative regulatory frameworks in this manner to
"control" otherwise legal materials has set the stage for the
application of the same reasoning to entities who aren't such easy
targets as adult content producers. Will well-heeled copyright
interests now insist that regulations be drafted requiring that all
U.S. Web sites -- containing any form of content -- maintain detailed
records of permission to display *every* article, graphic, and photo,
to proactively ensure no possible violation of copyright or other
intellectual property rights?

If such rules work against adult content sites, the temptation to
apply similar reasoning and techniques much more comprehensively will
be very intense indeed. While such an approach might appear logical
from the standpoint of protecting intellectual property, the effects
would likely be devastating for the interchange of information and
legally-protected speech.

The presence of complex record-keeping requirements can easily
discourage the publication or display of completely legal and
non-infringing materials by many (especially smaller) entities, simply
because the burden of compliance will be too great and the risks of
error too onerous. Such a deleterious effect would dramatically skew
the balance toward what amounts to an assumption of wrongdoing, which
is essentially contrary to American traditions of free speech rights.

At the very least, such dramatic shifts should only be the result of
full, detailed, and open legislative processes, not the spawn of
regulatory fiat.

Today the regulations relate to adult content. But the pattern set by
18 U.S.C. 2257 could soon affect the speech rights of us all, even if
watching old reruns of "I Love Lucy" is the closest many of us
routinely get to adult entertainments.

Lauren Weinstein or or
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
- People For Internet Responsibility -
Co-Founder, EEPI
- Electronic Entertainment Policy Initiative -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog:

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