At the January InterNext, noted Web attorney Larry Walters provided a summary of the most important steps that adult Webmasters should take to protect themselves, and to prosper. For those that missed his fabulous presentation, here’s a recap:
1. Educate Yourself. Too many beginning webmasters attempt to get into this industry without familiarizing themselves with the complicated regulatory scheme applicable to adult Website operations. Numerous resources exist to assist you in determining whether this is the right business for your personality and risk tolerance level. Resource sites, industry trade publications, legal resources and court opinions should all be consulted before the first dime is spent on purchasing content or marketing.
2. Develop a Business Plan. Many beginning webmasters have approached our firm for representation with nothing more than a good idea and a few bucks in their pocket. They start building their Website before performing any sort of commonplace market conditions evaluation or financial analysis. Pretty models or a unique web design are not enough to succeed in the adult Website business, at its current maturation level. Business plan forms can be found on the Internet. Entrepreneurs who have succeeded in the brick and mortar world can be the source of invaluable advice when it comes to the practical realties of operating an online business. Write your business plan and have it evaluated by your accountant, financial planner or attorney.
3. Raise Sufficient Capital. Gone are the days when a booming adult Website business could be created for under a thousand dollars. Given the “stiff” competition out there today, a significant budget is required for items such as:
- Marketing and promotion
- Legal evaluation
- Accounting services
- Computer equipment
- Content/model compensation
- Employee salaries
- Licenses, taxes and permit fees
Skimping on any of these items can sound a death knell for any startup adult webmaster.
4. Identify a Niche. The beautiful buxom blond porn star niche has been overdone, and may not provide the best return on investment. However, the interest in human sexuality is as varied as human beings themselves. Countless unique niches have yet to be discovered or exploited. Smaller webmasters can compete in a marketplace dominated by larger companies through niche marketing. Warning: Some niches can result in higher legal liability.
5. Form a Corporation. Even as the adult Website industry becomes more sophisticated, too many Webmasters are operating as sole proprietors without the benefits and protections of a corporate entity. Properly created and maintained, a corporation can provide a shield against liability for various debts, and is basically considered cheap insurance. In addition, a corporation allows a business to more easily take on investors and sell assets, should the need arise in the future. Finally, creating a corporation provides one with the air of professionalism that any startup Webmaster needs to assist in establishing his or her business reputation.
6. Network. What this author has found in representing adult webmasters since the industry started in around 1995 is that those who are successful are those who form relationships, trade traffic, and who simply network. Attending trade shows such as Internext is a great place to start. Many regional events also occur throughout the country and North America all year long. Bar meets, parties, online chat sessions and many other forms of networking activities are available to the beginning Webmaster who seeks them out. Networking can pay dividends!
7. Create a Set of Valid Terms & Conditions. As a Website owner, you can require that all users of the site agree to a set of restrictions and conditions in order to access and use the site. A third party billing company’s Terms & Conditions are no substitute for your own! A comprehensive set of T&Cs can save you in the event of a legal dispute with one of your customers.
8. Keep Minors Away from Adult Materials. The government loves to use this argument, so take it away from them. Either keep your free areas censored, or implement good faith efforts to keep minors out away from free material. There are various different ways to do this: We provide our clients access to a particular computer script and copyrighted age declarations to keep minors out, but you must try to do something to keep children away from adult content. Keep in mind, virtually every state has a law prohibiting anyone from making adult materials available to minors.
9. Strictly Comply with the Mandates of Section 2257. Title 18, U.S.C. §2257 imposes stringent requirements for (1) creating content, (2) maintaining records; and, (3) displaying content. Don’t try to guess which images require 2257 certification. Assume they all do. An attorney’s advice is critical at this juncture.
10. Copyright your Material. Maximum benefits are obtained under United States copyright law by filing an application for Copyright Registration with the United States Copyright Office within three (3) months of first publication of the images. Failure to register on time may render it economically impractical to pursue a copyright infringement case against others stealing your images. The Website, itself, can also be copyrighted. Make sure to include © information on each of your Web pages.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2...
Lawrence G. Walters, Esquire is a partner with the law firm of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt, with offices in Orlando, Los Angeles and San Diego. Mr. Walters represents clients involved in all aspects of adult media. The firm handles First Amendment cases nationwide, and has been involved in significant Free Speech litigation before the United States Supreme Court. All statements made in the above article are matters of opinion only, and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult your own attorney on specific legal matters. You can reach Lawrence Walters at Larry@LawrenceWalters.com, www.FirstAmendment.com or AOL Screen Name: “Webattorney.”