Tribe.net started implementing their version of adhering to 2257 laws, and the Smart Girls’ Porn Club, among other tribes, is affected. My permanent link to the discussion group of over 450 women about porn, may not be a valid link for much longer. Women in the club lamented Tribe having the “2257 brick thrown at them”, but I have a different story to tell. My Smart Girls’ Porn Club post is below:
This might get me kicked off Tribe, so I’ll reproduce the text on my blog :)
Tribe has not been hit with the 2257 brick. Tribe is *voluntarily* applying the 2257 laws to itself — its members, the tribes and the very architecture of Tribe itself.
Two weeks ago Tribe asked me for a phone meeting; I didn’t know what it was about but I figured it had something to do with Tribe’s mature content. They explained to me in a half-hour conference call that they were gearing up to change Tribe’s architecture (entry pages, etc) to conform to updated 2257 laws, which are record keeping requirements. The federal law now requires website owners to keep *physical* records documenting, among other things, that “a book, magazine, periodical, film, videotape, digitally- or computer-manipulated image, digital image, picture, or other matter that contains a visual depiction of an actual human being engaged in actual sexually explicit conduct” is over the age of 18. Visual depictions *after* 1990, mind you.
“Sexually explicit conduct” and “obscene” are the key words bandied about by means of definition of what falls into the law. Keeping records, according to this law, means that for each image the webmaster must have copies of the person in the images’ Social Security info and legal photo ID, and all names they have ever used in a physical location somewhere; a business that is open at least 20 hours a week.
When the Tribe guys told me what they were doing, I first lamented that I’d just finished wirting a great book about our porn club due out next year (full of awesome quotes from y’all). Then I asked just how they were going to try and define images depicting “sexually explicit conduct” and “obscenity”. I explained to them that the definitions in the law are shadowy and subjective at best, and here’s why:
Over at adult site Eros Zine, my friend (the editor) had to go through all of their images and try to define the difference between a photo that was sexually explicit vs. not. It made him insane; “Is her butt red from a sunburn or a spanking?! Is she holding her breasts in a sexually explicit way, or just posing!?” Then there’s the matter of images that fall into the freedom of speech category — 2257 would prohibit *everyone* in the US from seeing images such as the prison photos from Abu Ghraib. The law is so broad, it can include bloggers, publishers, television and Hollywood. A political or human rights tribe would be wiped off the Tribe map for failing to conform to the laws, by including an Abu prison photo in their photo album.
I then explained that they were putting themselves in the tricky position of defining obscenity — that by considering Tribe a porn producer and conforming it to 2257, the law would put them in that position. I explained to them how obscenity is defined in the American court system.
I told them that the state of the law in the United States about sexually explicit material revolves around keeping pornographers and adult retailers on their toes, never knowing for what, or when, they might be prosecuted for offending “community standards.” The law in the U.S. states that something is considered “obscene,” and therefore illegal to create or distribute, if a court *somewhere* says it is. You might hear people in and out of the adult industry say things like, “Showing urination is illegal,” or “Showing S/M with sex is illegal,” or “Portraying Bill O’Reilly as a journalist is illegal” (and if isn’t, it should be) — and all these cautious statements are incorrect. In fact, there’s only a single test, which is when a court in any of the 50 states decides that a particular thing (DVD, book, picture, fake journalist, whatever) is, by the “standards of the community,” obscene.
No one making porn knows if what they are doing is illegal or not. This situation, I explained, is reminiscent of organized crime tactics, and is not an oversight; the U.S. Supreme Court is quite aware that the only way that retailers and pornographers can really be sure they won’t be prosecuted for “obscene” material is for them to avoid portraying activities that might possibly be interpreted as obscene (and now, sexually explicit) — anywhere. In a court case for obscenity, the accused is held to whatever the local community’s standards are for obscenity, as determined by a jury.
Okay, I probably left out the part about Bill O’Reilly, but I was on my toes enough to rake them across the coals a bit to try and let them know what they were about to step into. They told me flat out that they felt that the definitions in 2257 in regards to sexually explicit conduct were absolutely clear — I even asked them to repeat the statement. I asked them to think about the fact that they were going to enter an arena of applying community standards to tribes all over the United States, and what is not obscene here in SF, like a picture of a leatherman in assless chaps, would most certainly be considered obscene to someone in a Kansas tribe.
Their reply to all this was that they were going to rely on users to “flag” images and tribes as obscene. And that they were going to rely on the architecture of Tribe to force people to join in order to even look at a URL. Of course, I was instantly upset about what this means — the links I have put on Fleshbot, and on my site to the Smart Girls’ Porn Club are essentially dead links that lead through a multiple page signup process requiring personal informaiton. No one, I told them, would click through that. Linking to Tribe would be pointless. We’d lose the women who are just curious and maybe a little nervous about porn and exploring their own sexuality — many of which are in this 450+ member tribe.
I think they are making a huge mistake, based on a law that is unenforcable. The law violates privacy — I was sent the 2257 information for the porn performers I featured in my last podcast. I now have enough information to steal the actual identity, and stalk, every performer in that film. They performers don’t even know I have that information, or who else might have it as a legal requirement, and nothing makes me more uncomfortable than having that information in my posession.
The law is meant for primary and secondary producers of porn, not online communities. The law violates our federal right to freedom of speech. The law is obstensibly created “to protect children from being exploited as [porn] performers”, not healthy adult enjoyment of human sexuality. In truth, 2257 laws are less about protecting children from porn exploitation, but instead about regulating porn businesses, free speech and healthy adult sexual expression into unfesability.
My boyfriend sent me a link this morning, “check out this dude’s Tribe profile!” I clicked the link and went to a signup page, with no login. I signed in, and tried to go to the URL, and went to the same signup page. I can’t get to the link. And what will happen to our RSS feeds!? This tribe is now frozen in Tribe time.
Update: a dear friend (who has a big famous site and wants to remain anonymous) writes me:
“Very powerful post you put up this morning (yesterday?) about Tribe eating itself. I’ve never been to their sites except once following your links to the porn club; now I clearly never will. They have just commited suicide in response to vague-but-real dangers, like a man jumping off an urban bridge because he hears approaching sirens.
A suggestion, though, if I might — please don’t confuse obscenity with “sexually explicit behavior.” I doubt you have, but your post could lead to confusion on that point — whether something is obscene has zero impact on whether 2257 applies to it, nor is 2257 content rescued by redeeming social value or a context of supportive community standards. That’s exactly why the Abu Graib torture photos are in no danger of being deemed obscene, but could still be prosecuted under 2257.”