The Seven Circles of Internet Hell

J.D. Obenberger

Attorney J. D. Obenberger spoke at InterNext on the "Seven Circles of Internet Hell" about dangerous or illegal website content. There are a few important things he just could not say in ten minutes. The constantly hot topic of Section 2257 is one of those things. Here's a few points that shouldn't be missed:

I can't begin to stress enough how much trouble you can get into for violating the criminal statutes I mentioned. Each violation of some of the laws I mentioned carries a fifteen year penalty for each image. Mr. Thomas Reedy, down in Dallas-Fort Worth was just recently sentenced to over 1,000 years in prison under these circumstances. He'll be in the federal Bureau of Prisons for the rest of his life. His young wife will spend the rest of her youth behind bars, too. Even a technical violation of Section 2257 carries with it a two year prison maximum sentence. No red flag will pop up and no buzzer will go off when you upload illegal material via ftp to your server. But the deed will be done, and there may be much opportunity for regret for a long time thereafter. And if you don't understand the laws, you'll never be sure that you're not breaking them. Nobody looks good in an orange jumpsuit.

I've been with families on the night when the agents came and broke down the door. I've seen the spouses and the children of the webmaster and the looks on their faces. It is a mood that is impossible to describe, but it's not very nice. I've seen the utter chaos and destructive mess that a search warrant posse leaves behind after pulling apart all of your possessions under the warrant looking for evidence of your misconduct. I've been there when my client has started to pick up the pieces of this mess, and the pieces of his life. For real. I've gotten the calls from the wife after the arrest, and from the small town newspapers, too. I've heard what the other kids tell the webmaster's kids in school.

And that's why the time is now to get things in order. We have a new Attorney General, a new head of the federal office that co-ordinates the prosecution of obscenity and child pornography, it is a new day, and, to quote Credence Clearwater Revival, I See a Bad Moon A-risin'. This is the time to clean up the operation, to review the content for legality, and to protect yourself. The videotape industry has existed long enough to remember the prosecutions under Reagan-Bush in the eighties and early nineties and they've taken all of those hard-learned lessons to heart; The Webmaster community has evolved during the Clinton-Reno years (which seemed to have more important issues on its plate), and as a result, it has never seen heavy hand nor felt the boot of government agents and prosecutors except in the most extreme cases. To paraphrase the New Testament, behold, they will come like a thief in the night.

I am delighted to try any case, especially to a jury, but in all honesty the most successful defense of a criminal case is to make sure that no crime is committed in the first place. That solution, in the end, is also least expensive and most anxiety free method of avoiding a criminal prosecution. All of these documents are copyrighted and available nowhere on the web. I provide them in Acrobat format to each client who retains me annually.

Questions about how to comply with 18 USC 2257 kept percolating and resurrecting all though the seminars, until one speaker got up Monday and asked why no one was talking about what the webmasters and content providers should know. I didn't have a chance to get into all of that, and ten minutes discussing 2257 would barely start the conversation, but you should be aware of a few resources to give you the help necessary to stay out of trouble. First, there is a very long and fairly detailed article about 2257 compliance on my site,, which you'll reach by clicking on the "Section 2257 Materials" box in the red table. You will find a page with links to my Article, and to all of the federal statutes and administrative regulations which my Article explains.

Second, There are a handful of lawyers in the United States who concentrate in these content areas. I am one of them. I regularly look at websites, including some whose names you would immediately recognize, and I look closely at the images and the text and I advise my clients on the dangers they are encountering and I frankly tell them what the risk factor is. I advise them as to how to minimize it. I have prepared, and provide to my clients very detailed 2257 compliance checklists with full and complete instructions on how to insure compliance with the criminal laws, a very detailed 2257 data acquisition form designed to bring the operation into legal compliance, and a model release which I wrote, not only to maximize 2257 protection, but to guarantee all rights internationally and permanently into the future. All of these documents are copyrighted and available nowhere on the web. I provide them in Acrobat format to each client who retains me annually, custom adapted and written for the needs of each.

My office stands ready, willing, and able to serve all of your adult internet legal needs, from content review, 2257 compliance, contracts with or for photographers, publication, distribution, and display rights, registration and enforcement of copyrights, to the defense of criminal obscenity cases. That's what we do, and that's why we exist. Visit or contact me in the office during afternoon and evening in Chicago at 312.558.6420, or by text message through the link on my website. Clients who have retained my office annually will be provided 24-hour pager and cellular phone telephone numbers.

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