Freedom With Responsibility

Stephen Yagielowicz
What the introduction of camcorders and home video equipment did for production, the Internet did for the distribution of adult entertainment. The democratization of porn on these two vital fronts dramatically lowered the bar-to-entry and spawned a loose-knit industry comprised of a relative handful of major corporations — along with literally tens of thousands of independent "mom and pop" and "one-man band" operations — all vying for their slice of the porn pie.

With so many mouths to feed, it's no surprise that some folks will be hungrier than others and as a result take shortcuts or otherwise engage in fraudulent practices. Others still will be careless or ignorant of the full scope of issues facing them, and as such, they will become legally vulnerable due to their pursuit of profits. Since none of this happens in a vacuum, everyone will share the negative repercussions.

While several notable attempts have been made at organized industry participation in one program or another, these attempts have met with varying degrees of success for a variety of reasons. While I encourage webmasters to support formal industry trade groups, there are a number of actions that individuals can take to improve their own position, and as a result, the position of the industry as a whole.

Here then, as a start, is my Three Step Program of best practices for webmasters to adopt:

Label Your Website
By far the single most important thing that adult entertainment website operators can do today to protect themselves and their ongoing ability to operate, is to incorporate ICRA ( rating tags on their websites.

The Internet Content Rating Association provides a standardized methodology for characterizing a website's content. Webmasters answer a series of detailed questions about the material they are presenting, and a custom code is generated for your website, allowing browsers to accurately filter out users who are not permitted to, or who do not wish to, see your content. Formerly a META tag, the "tag" is now an external RDF file.

While some webmasters seek to make their sites "filter friendly" by incorporating custom META or comment tags, these steps are neither "standardized" nor part of an existing, recognized, self-regulatory framework. Who cares? In a public arena where perception is everything (such as the media — or a courtroom), the ability to truthfully say, "I made a good-faith effort to keep the kids out, using the leading solutions available," could be worth its weight in gold. Besides, ICRA works and it's the right thing to do.

If we all went through this easy, free process, the industry would have a much better response to our critics' concerns about what we're doing to keep kids away from adult material, rather than simply saying: "Screw you, we have the 1st Amendment!"

Add a Warning Page
Another important thing to do is add a warning page to your website. This is an easy, positive step in the right direction, which in and of itself won't keep all of the kids off your site, or you out of trouble, but it really helps — especially if your site features hardcore material.

A warning page, lacking any explicit imagery and providing a suitable legal disclaimer and/or age-verification mechanism, can serve as a virtual "brown paper wrapper" for your website, helping to block access to underage users while cautioning "sensitive" users that potentially objectionable material lies ahead. This helps prevent anyone from accidentally stumbling upon your adult material, further illustrating your good-faith efforts to prevent exposure of your content to an unintended audience.

Warning pages get a bad rap because their dubious value as a child protection tool lies in stark contrast to their demonstrable ability to turn away a substantial amount of visitors. In other words, nobody wants to take a 60 percent traffic hit in exchange for a measure that some 15-year-old will laugh at while clicking on the "18+ Only Enter Here" button.

Chances are, anyone stopped by a warning page will not likely become a paying customer. If they won't bother to click the "enter" link, they won't bother to whip out their credit card. Eliminating these visitors at the outset not only saves you the expense of the bandwidth they would have consumed, but it speeds up your website's performance, improving the user experience for your legitimate users.

Warning pages also make great locations for non-explicit reciprocal link exchanges for abundant search engine-optimized text, a 2257 link, as well as myriad other uses. Given their many benefits, it's surprising that warning pages are not more commonplace.

Moderate Your Marketing
The third important step to take is to be moderate in the way that you market your site. Don't advertise porn to people who are not legally able to view it or are uninterested in viewing it.

Topping the list of objectionable practices is spam. If you use email-marketing techniques, ensure that they are Can-Spam compliant. While marketing to an in-house, opt-in email list that you developed from members and other visitors is perfectly acceptable and can be quite profitable; most email marketing practices are not so benign.

While it's fashionable in some sectors to believe that the many calls for regulation of adult entertainment — especially in the online arena — come from religious fanatics, there is nothing so vocal as an outraged mom, furious over seeing explicit "barnyard fun" spam in her child's inbox. If we could eliminate porn spam, we'd eliminate one of the biggest sources of heat facing the online adult entertainment industry.

Pop-ups, while not as common due to the ease with which most current browsers block them, are still problematic when overused. As a surfer, I don't object to one or two well-targeted pop-ups being displayed when I visit a site. Pop a ton of new windows on me, however, and the last thing that I'm going to do is pull out my credit card or ever return. Beyond this diminishing effectiveness, most folks hate them.

And that's the bottom line. When you're doing things that most folks hate, like spamming them and putting them through console hell, they hate you for doing it, and through you, they come to hate everyone you represent — and that means our industry as a whole.

Perception is everything in politics. Politics influence the law. "Hate" should not be the perception that we foster among those who we'd like to sell our products to or receive regulatory forbearance from.

While none of this is new or earth shattering, during this time of immigration debates, the ongoing culture war and questions about what it means to be an "American," I want to remind people of the bottom line: "Freedom" is what it means to be an American.

Freedom itself isn't free, however. It comes with a hefty price tag called "responsibility."

As we celebrate America's independence over the July 4th holiday, let's all remember that with freedom comes the responsibility to protect it. No mere rhetoric, this is a stone-cold truth for operators in the adult entertainment industry, as the freedom they need to protect is literally their own. Taking the responsibility for protecting your own freedom is the smart thing to do, and my Three Step Program will help show you the way. Take care and do the responsible thing.