Guilt By Association

Stephen Yagielowicz

Touted as the first federal obscenity case directly dealing with the World Wide Web, the United States vs. Extreme Associates is poised to be a precedent setting, landmark case. For many adult Webmasters, “choosing sides” is a simple enough task – after all, it’s ‘us against them’ – isn’t it?

I’ve been a Webmaster since 1994, and an adult Webmaster since ‘96. Over the years, I’ve heard many folks comment on a wide variety of industry-related issues, some of which have resulted in cries of ‘we must band together’ in order to thwart a common foe. Other times, I’ve heard rousing cries of support for one party or another, as they faced ‘the persecution of an evil government out to rob us of our rights.’

While the adult industry has many friends, we have more enemies, and so the ‘strength in numbers’ sentiment seems to be quite understandable – but what do we do when one of us is the enemy?

At this juncture, I need to tell you that I am not condemning anyone or any company, since that is what the courts are for – but I have a serious point to make here, and the current prosecutorial campaign involving the United States vs. Extreme Associates, will help me make it…

A Little Background
The Justice Department has filed a 10-count federal grand jury indictment against adult video wholesaler Extreme Associates, and principals, Robert Zicari (a.k.a. Rob Black) and Janet Romano (a.k.a. Lizzie Borden). The penalties upon conviction could include up to 50 years imprisonment and a $2.5 million fine for each, with a further $5 million fine levied against the company itself.

The first in a promised (and long anticipated) series of criminal prosecutions against pornographers, under federal obscenity laws as well as other charges, Extreme Associates was apparently not targeted at random. The indictment was handed down following an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service which found that the defendants mailed allegedly obscene videos and DVDs to customers who purchased them through the Internet.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, commenting on the case, said “Today's indictment marks an important step in the Department of Justice's strategy for attacking the proliferation of adult obscenity,” adding that they will “continue to focus our efforts on targeted obscenity prosecutions that will deter others from producing and distributing obscene material.”

According to U.S. Atty. Mary Beth Buchanan, “If a company is wanting to take advantage of the Internet for marketing and distribution purposes, it’s their responsibility to make sure they’re not violating local laws… If their conduct is not legal, it’s up to them to take a firm stance not to operate there.”

The Real Problem
While being a relatively small player in the adult business, Extreme Associates main claim to fame is being, well, ‘extreme’ – offering titles which depict the violent rape and murder of women, among other extremely controversial subjects. And that is the reason they in particular were targeted – not because the government is evil and wants to indiscriminately squash the rights of law-abiding citizens…

And this is the point that I’m trying to make: by pandering to the fringes of the market, certain players in the industry make tempting targets of themselves, and they are simply wrong for doing so; sacrificing what is “right” (as well as profitable over the long term), for short term gains. While the most liberal of free speech advocates will denounce my opinion, claiming that “anything goes,” I insist that this attitude is ultimately responsible for nearly all of the woes facing our industry – from John Ashcroft to VISA, the message is loud and clear: shape up or we’ll have your ass!

In the end, there is a difference between right and wrong, and although there will always be a legitimate disagreement on where the line should be drawn, extremists on either end of the spectrum will find that things run much more smoothly with a little moderation. Pornographers who do not cater to the worst depravity of mankind will stay in business longer, while mitigating the industry’s more ‘harmful’ impact on society, while the DOJ could better use its resources elsewhere if they didn’t have to protect society form the bottom feeders and their “fuck it” attitudes.

The bottom line is that if we as an industry do not clean up our own act, then the government (as well as private sector concerns such as VISA) will do it for us. Rather than ‘coming together as an industry to protect our own’ we should be focused on ‘coming together as an industry to protect our long term interests’ – and if that means not supporting those who provide the worst we have to offer, then so be it. ~ Stephen

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