opinion

Navigating the Minefield

Cheryl Cain
2257 regulations, proposed sin taxes, age verification and possible DOJ inspections: What have I gotten myself into?

If you are concerned about the mountain of new attacks on the industry, don't feel alone; there are many who are proceeding with uncertainty, unsure of the right direction, worried that the next step might take them into a legal nightmare. This is not just a newcomer concern; sometimes, even veteran webmasters drop their jaws to the carpet and exclaim, "What in the heck is this?"

Let's face it, we are on the fringe of the entertainment industry and, as such, we will always have our healthy share of enemies – that is just the nature of the beast. Despite our personal best intentions, we should be aware that there is an element of bottom-feeders among the industry operators that place profits above common sense. That element places us all at risk by fostering the ire of the public at large, motivating the opposition activists and helping to shine a huge spotlight on our activities in the political arena.

Probably most importantly, the Internet does not exist solely to support adult enterprise. The public at large is logging on every day and at an ever-expanding rate coming from virtually every walk of life. A certain segregation of interests is going to become increasingly necessary if these huge assortments of interests are going to be co-exiting in the same web space.

Those decidedly negative comments having been said, do not remove our right to exist. What it does mean, however, is that the smart and responsible webmaster is going to have to take some proactive steps to keep from wearing the proverbial bull's eye on his or her posterior. Keeping one's self out of hot water is essentially an exercise in common sense – not really rocket science, but nevertheless becoming increasingly necessary to keep the peace. The following is in no way intended to be legal advice, because I am not a lawyer, but it is what it is -- a very basic checklist that provides both the newcomers as well as veterans of the industry with guidelines to keep themselves off of the firing line.

Marketing
We need to recognize where our place is. With so many cultures and theologies at play on the same media, there are some methods that are simply outrageous and prone to ridicule. Blind mail lists, out of date mail lists, indiscriminate mass-marketing concepts and deceptive labeling in search engines are just some of the many ways to draw unwanted attention to yourself. The idea should be marketing to the like minded, not ad spots on the cartoon network. Aggressive and indiscriminate marketing campaigns are one of the primary ways we bring down the thunder on ourselves.

Public View
A hotly debated topic right now is how much to show a potential client. In theory, if they arrive at your front door, they should be there because they are actively seeking your product as well as legally qualified to be there. What no one wants to hear is that the less you show to the general (unqualified) public, the safer you are. At the very least, you need to sport a warning page with the appropriate META tag labels for software filters to key on.

Obscenity
Every webmaster that operates in the adult industry should know the Miller test specifications like the back of their hand. If you don't know, or don't wish to know what it is, then you should seriously consider another field of work.

Business Practices
Seedy practices like recurring billing with no apparent way out, no response to customer support, trapping people into pop-up hell just because you have them and their browser and crap products for a premium dollar are easy and quick ways to earn the label of a night crawler. The time has long since past to carry on as a true professional operation. Yes, I know that there are brick-and-mortar operations that equal some of the nasty tricks of the trade, but usually they don't last long. In our evolving industry we need to do it one step better than common practice. Cutting down complaints and chargebacks with sincere and professional customer care will go a long way to keeping you off of the watch lists.

Involvement
As with any special interest, we in this industry need to be involved in political maneuvering where it applies to our industry. As of late, it seems that almost every day brings another challenge, another news report, or another court case. Passiveness is a trait we can ill afford as it allows our opposition to whittle away at our rights. Trade organization members are fine, but they are no substitute for being aware of the current events that will affect your business tomorrow.

Legal Advice
The laws that impact our industry are a virtual minefield that very few of us are capable of understanding on our own. The issue of our endeavors being able to sustain a legal challenge is incredibly complex and cannot be boiled down to a single question of content. A huge array of factors are involved, not the least of which include content, presentation, geography and the legal winds of your locality, just to name a few. Find yourself a skilled lawyer that practices in the area of the Internet and adult law and get a consultation that includes review of your operation. There is simply no substitute for sound legal advice and having a skilled attorney already familiar with your particular situation will go a long way if you are ever called to task by the authorities.

The above six points constitute a good start to establishing your operation as part of the solution instead of part of the problem. They will afford you a certain peace of mind in the face of all the turmoil in the industry these days. While no solution is perfect and there are never any guarantees, it is far better to apply a measure of proactive defense than be dragged kicking and screaming into a court room later, completely unprepared...

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