Pulling the Tiger's Tail...
I was reading a few articles on the Web last night, following the listed hyperlinks, and doing a little research on the example sites, and thought processes behind these articles. This is one of the few times that I bother surfing anymore, flitting from site to site to take the "pulse" of what is currently available. Then I saw something that disturbed me:
I saw a large, odd-sized banner advertising a hardcore sex site (more on this later), and decided to click on it. I visited the site and was shocked at what I found. There is a problem with this one particular site, and they are not alone. Many Web sites have problems, but this one was easily avoidable. What bothered me about the site in question is not so much the fact that what they were doing was "stupid" on its face value, but that it was being done on a "flagship" site for a fairly large and well-established Webmaster affiliate program. So what was the problem?
This site was actively promoting itself as being "obscene" with the title tag of this site stating: "Interracial sex - big black dicks and little white girls in black on white Obscenity!" This site included META tags with phrases such as "animal sex," while the main tour page boasted "65,000+ Obscene Pix" and "The sickest content anywhere!" What are these people thinking? While such egregious pandering to the base desires of a certain market segment can no doubt increase profitability, at what cost is it obtained?
While the events of September 11th have no doubt galvanized the various agencies and focused the efforts of the US Department of Justice towards "The War on Terrorism" it has not done so to the disregard of all other initiatives - the prosecution of online porn operations among them.
A Numbers Game
While the chances of any one site out of the rampant cacophony that is today's online porn market being singled out are statistically remote, there are some things that make you more of a target for prosecution. High traffic, high profile sites are likely to incur additional scrutiny by virtue of their popularity, as are the raunchiest examples of outright perversion and debauchery, like "Baby Rape" and "A Bondage Bitch's Barnyard Frolics."
Remember, prosecutors have limited budgets, and prosecutorial decisions are often based on politics, and obtaining "the biggest bang for the buck." By going after a high-profile target, they can get the "clean up your act or else" message across to many more people (in this case, Webmasters), than they would be targeting "Joe's Porno Pay site."
A case in point is the recent episode between the Federal trade commission and RJB Telecom ("MaxCash"). You can't swing a dead cat by the tail without hitting a site that uses dialers or has "questionable" billing practices, and far more blatant examples of outright consumer fraud can certainly be found in this biz, but by going after one of the most visible players, a larger impact can be made on the industry as a whole.
Easy Targets of Opportunity
Who else is easily targeted? Besides the biggest players, the most blatant fools will be noticed, and eventually dealt with. The batting order will be determined by how "wrong" the offense is, with child pornography (rightfully so) being the main target. But keep in mind that the global nature of our industry means that our products are available almost everywhere, and in every jurisdiction - jurisdictions where the prosecutor has tremendous discretion in which cases should be brought eventually to trial.
Many States list sodomy as a crime. Could a prosecutor in one of those states have an issue with a site that displays (and arguably promotes — an inducement to commit a crime) anal sex — an illegal activity in that community? Lots of Southern States still have "Good 'ol Boys" running the show. How do you think they feel about "Helpless little white pussies stretched by big black cocks"? What about Utah's "Porn Czar" Paula Houston? Think she'll be a fan of a large banner (especially one that's shown in a non-age verified environment) that illustrates a panic-stricken white girl, gasping for air as huge gobs of cum from a couple of giant black dicks splash down on her open mouth and golden locks? How hard do you think that Paula will have to fight to prove that this material is legally obscene, when the advertisements themselves boldly proclaim that the site is indeed obscene? Obscenity, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder, but obscenity IS a prosecutable crime in the United States and elsewhere.
Obscenity, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder, but obscenity IS a prosecutable crime in the United States and elsewhere. The owner of a Web site that promotes itself as being "obscene" will have very little defense when being prosecuted for this crime. The typical "MY site ISN'T obscene because:" argument won't sway many juries when it's shown that you've gone out of your way to make a buck from those surfers who you have convinced that it is obscene: Stay safe, and don't pull the tiger's tail!