In the aftermath of the charges filed in the Evil Angel obscenity case, which among other claims, contend that the defendants allowed children under 18 years of age to access adult content on the company's website, I thought it would be a good time to go over some of the basic steps that online adult operators can take — regardless of their size — to minimize the number of minors entering their sites and to help provide a proactive defense should such charges come your way.
It's important to note that this article isn't intended to be legal advice and that you should discuss your own situation — and my recommended remedies – with your own qualified legal counsel. Having said that, here are four ways in which you can help keep kids out of your adult website:
One of the most basic steps that all adult website operators should take is to make use of a 'warning' page — a legal requirement in many jurisdictions and a good idea everywhere.
In its most basic form, a warning page is simply your website's main landing or home page, free of sexually-explicit images (including banners or other graphic advertisements) and containing a written notice that adult content is ahead.
The key here is "free of sexually-explicit images" — and that includes simple nudity, nipple shots, and even overly suggestive clothed shots that could be seen as a lascivious exhibition of the genitals. It's not just about cutting out the hardcore on your front page.
Remember, the point of a warning page is to provide a warning that adult content will be found on a particular website; both in order to avoid unwanted surprises for adult surfers that are not interested in adult content – and in order to let minor's know that they are not allowed to enter. If you think of a warning page as a 'virtual brown-paper wrapper' for your website, then you'll be on the right track.
The next free and easy step that operators can take to help keep kids out of their websites and help protect themselves legally is to use a recognized labeling scheme such as the adult industry backed RTA ("Restricted To Adults") label.
While some inexperienced website owners may believe that an RTA "label" is the small graphic that promotes these services and that is often found on websites that use this technologies, the label itself is a small snippet of HTML code that is placed within thesection of a webpage. The purpose of this code is to let website filtering software, such as that which is built in to Windows Internet Explorer or third-party applications which might be installed by parents and school districts, easily identify that the site in question contains adult material and to block its availability if the filtering software is set to do so.
Joan Irvine, CEO of the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) addressed parents' concerns that children are viewing age inappropriate content online.
"The best way that the industry can help is to do a few simple things: add a warning/entry page with no images and require some form of age verification such as Larry Walter's BirthDate Verifier; and add the RTA meta-data code to your websites," Irvine said. "This is important for many reasons, including the fact that the industry does not want children to view its content and if sites are labeled with RTA, it gives control to parents to determine what content they want their children to view by using a parental control system such as The Parental Control Bar."
The Parental Control Bar (www.parentalcontrolbar.com) is free browser software add-on developed by the WRAAC that helps concerned parents control what their children may access on the Internet, including adult-oriented websites.
"Last but not least, if the industry does not self-label, the government will either make it mandatory or start to look at other solutions such as the .XXX TLD," Irvine added, referring to the Congressional mandate that the industry clean up its act "or else."
Taking a more active approach towards preventing a child's access to potentially harmful materials is the patented BirthDateVerifier developed by noted adult entertainment and free speech attorney Lawrence G. Walters as a means of assisting his clients in dealing with the difficult problem of online age verification.
"The expectation by the government, and prosecutors, is that adult websites are responsible for making sure minors do not access adult websites. Unfortunately, current technological solutions to achieve that result are limited," Walters said. "Ultimately, the issue will be resolved by bio-tech solutions like fingerprint or retina scans. But for now, the best solution seems to be to put the burden back on the user, to ensure that some consequence is attached to accessing a site that is restricted in some way."
These consequences include committing perjury and violating felony anti-hacking laws.
"We developed a way to use two different federal laws as a means to generate an electronic affidavit of age, rendering the user liable for perjury if a misstatement of age is presented," Walters said. "Such access would also make the user potentially liable as a 'hacker' or trespasser when appropriate terms and conditions are tied to the BirthDateVerifier form."
According to Walters, the BirthDateVerifier allows a website to impose legal restrictions on access by underage users, and relies on federal law for some 'teeth' to the prohibitions.
"It would be difficult for the government to find an underage witness who could competently testify that he or she gained access to content protected by the BirthDateVerifier, since that witness would have committed perjury, and already demonstrated a propensity for false statements under oath," Walters added.
Terms & Conditions
While the BirthDateVerifier adds an additional, 'physical' layer to the age verification process, a properly crafted set of terms and conditions that outline the extent to which a website allows visitors access to its intellectual property may include many of the same fundamental legal principals that prohibit a minor from accessing it.
This is the point at which having qualified legal counsel makes a tremendous difference as your attorney can help you develop terms that suit your specific needs and provide the maximum amount of protection for you as an operator.
While adding a warning page and website labels is a simple enough do-it-yourself task, establishing terms and policies that may affect your liability for legal and civil actions is something that really should be left up to a qualified attorney — and preferably one that has extensive experience in online adult.
Regardless of the tools and methods you use, however, the responsibility for keeping kids out of and away from your website falls squarely on your own shoulders. While none of these methods will stop a determined teenager that is at the mercy of his or her hormones from accessing your website, they demonstrate a proactive good-faith effort on your part to keep these kids out — but if done right — puts the responsibility for violations on them.
Do the right thing — keep the kids out!