Seth Lubove, 06.23.05, 10:00 AM ET
NEW YORK - Is your Internet browser a little less polluted with porn today? Are you seeing fewer banner ads promoting hard-core sex? If so, thank U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Largely unnoticed in the mainstream world, his new porn record-keeping regulations went into effect today, causing fits of apoplexy among much of the porn world.
"The adult industry prepares for a legal battle that may determine whether it can survive against the onslaughts of the Bush Administration's anti-adult agenda," intones a recent story in AVN, the preeminent industry trade publication, amid ads for something called Naughty America and Hotmovies.com.
"This is an attack, we are back to the dark ages of witch hunts and instead of burning innocent people at the stake they are putting them in jail and ripping apart their businesses and families," wails the Web site of Lisa S. Lawless, whose company specializes in videos featuring female orgasms. Casualties so far, if anyone will miss them, include the aptly named Bound & Gagged, which describes itself as "The world's greatest male bondage magazine." At least it was: Its Web site shut down on Wednesday.
The new rules, which are updates to regulations that date back to 1992, require porn promoters and distributors to maintain records proving their models and actors are over the age of 18, instead of signed forms and other loose documentation. In an announcement last month, Gonzales said the new rules "are crucial to preventing children from being exploited by the production of pornography." Although seemingly innocuous and for a good cause, the rules have suddenly forced the freewheeling trade to either find and organize legal documents for every performer engaging in sex, remove the pictures, or face jail time of up to five years for the first offense and up to ten years for additional offenses.
Easier said than done. The only acceptable identification is government-issued "picture identification" cards or documents, copies of which must be available on demand from the feds, according to a guidebook circulated among big porn clients by Paul Cambria Jr., one of the trade's top lawyers. Oh, that includes any photos or movies shot within the past ten years. Good luck tracking down all those once-naked people, many of whom are foreigners or use bogus names.
And the industry only had 30 days to get the records together from the time the regulations were announced.
The new regulations "will likely drive law-abiding adult businesses out of the industry not because they ignored the minimum-age requirements, but because they simply cannot afford to maintain the extensive records required under the new rules," Cambria tells his clients.
While compiling such records is hard enough for the actual producers of porn, they constitute the minority of much of what is distributed over the Internet. Most Internet porn sites are run by small-time independents who agree to distribute porn made by photographers and film producers, in exchange for a cut of as much as $70 for every purchase directed back to the originating sites. These so-called "secondary producers" now must also keep age documents for every performer, a near-impossible task that is being hotly disputed by the industry.
The Free Speech Coalition, a front group for the porn trade, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on Monday in Denver federal court, in which it argued that the extension of the rules to the secondary producers contradicts a 1998 federal court ruling (in the same court district) that porn distributors can't be held responsible for porn produced by someone else. A hearing scheduled for today was canceled pending a resolution of a complaint filed in the same case. In the meantime, the plaintiffs in the case (including members of the Free Speech Coalition) won't be subject to records inspections, although the new rules will be enforced for everyone else.
In theory, that means the record-keeping rules could also affect cable companies such as Comcast (nasdaq: CMCSA - news - people ) and Time Warner (nyse: TWX - news - people ), which provide porn via pay-per-view, or even Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) and Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ), whose image search engines provide porn photos and links to the originating sites (see: "Sex Sells").
Private Media Group (nasdaq: PRVT - news - people ), a porn producer and distributor, told its U.S. Web site distributors on Wednesday to remove the company's hard-core content, despite the fact that the company is based in Barcelona, Spain, outside the reach of the U.S. Department of Justice. The company says it doesn't want to jeopardize the "privacy and safety of its models" by distributing their personal information and records to outside Internet distributors.
In the separate complaint filed last week against the attorney general in the same Denver court, the Free Speech Coalition and two co-plaintiffs who produce porn argue that the rules violate their First Amendment right to have sex on camera. They also claim the attorney general's contention that this is all for the benefit of protecting children is dubious at best, since performers older than 60 must now also provide proof of age.
That may likely explain the motivation for at least one of the co-plaintiffs, David Conners of San Diego. Under the stage name "Dave Cummings," the gray-haired and balding 65-year-old touts himself as "the oldest active male porn star in the business," with a repertoire that includes Sugar Daddy (volumes 1 through 23) and Grandpa Dave's Bedtime Tales.