XBIZ 2017: Legal Panel Focuses on Trump's Impact on Adult

XBIZ 2017: Legal Panel Focuses on Trump's Impact on Adult
Rhett Pardon

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The incoming Trump administration’s impact on adult entertainment was on the minds of lawyers representing the industry in a panel discussion at XBIZ 2017.

Industry attorneys Jeffrey Douglas, Gregory Piccionelli, J.D. Obenberger, Lawrence Walters and Corey Silverstein spoke to attendees at the Thursday panel, held at the Andaz’s Panorama Ballroom and moderated by XBIZ’s Don Parret.  

The big elephant in the room, Parret noted, was the U.S. attorney general nominee — Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions — who went through a confirmation hearing earlier this week.

On Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general said that he would consider reconstituting a special Justice Department unit to prosecute "obscenity" laws.

“Jeff Sessions is potentially the most First Amendment-restrictive attorney general we will have in our lifetimes,” Douglas said. “It is impossible to see which direction the administration will go because of the unpredictability of the attention span of [Trump].

“I think it is not likely that we will see the magnitude of the ‘obscenity’ prosecutions of the Reagan administration and the Bush administrations where there were targeted prosecutions of 30 adult businesses at a time,” he said.

“The hostility, historically, of the vice president when he was in Congress, was my constant nightmare,” Douglas said. “I can’t even fantasize of impeachment or death because standing right behind [Trump] is [incoming vice president] Mike Pence.

“I don’t believe there will be any ‘obscenity’ prosecutions, with the exception to the ones like in [scat pornographer] Ira Isaacs case, so lives won’t be destroyed.”

(Isaacs was sentenced for four years on an obscenity counts after three trials, two of which ended in mistrials. He is scheduled to be released from federal prison in March.)

The real danger in power, Douglas said, is “choking the economic life” out of the industry by putting pressure on credit card companies, cable systems and satellite companies to dump erotic content.

Drawing sighs from the audience, Piccionelli emphasized that the Religious Right eventually will be connected to the Trump administration.

“They are interested in the cultural things,” Piccionelli said. “They want to get rid of Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, and the other cultural issue centered around porn and the sexualization of our culture.”

Piccionelli opined that the administration likely won’t touch abortion or gay marriage — but that adult entertainment certainly will be a target.

Obenberger, however, disagreed with the sky-is-falling notion that adult entertainment faces a choppy four years.

“This is not an era to be afraid,” Obenberger said. “I got down on my knees and thanked God when he won and Hillary lost, because Hillary would have destroyed the industry by the end of four years,” Obenberger said.

“We know where certain federal administrative agencies were going, and if you think that California was the only state where you had to worry about these Prop 60 issues, you are mistaken.”

Obenberger said that certain practices in production could be prime targets for prosecution, particularly those that involve multiple members inside a performer’s orifice, or those that involve urine and feces.

“It’s an era to be smart,” Obenberger said. “Don’t race to have the most extreme fetish just because it can be done.”

Walters said that the Justice Department has its own agenda, and that there is not likely going to be a massive assault against adult entertainment.

“It’s going to be difficult for attorney generals around the country to devote time and energy to ‘obscenity’ prosecutions,” Walters said. 

Instead, Walters noted, that the big threat looming is a nationwide group that is lobbying for identical “human trafficking prevention act” laws in all 50 states.

The HTPA is clear in its mission to create new legislation: It demands mandatory porn filters and payment of a “filter deactivation tax” for the consumption of porn.

“The ability to ram legislation like that through a Republican-held Congress is more concerning to me than ‘obscenity’ prosecutions,” Walters said.

Silverstein noted that when it comes to ‘obscenity’ prosecutions, the adult entertainment business has “had it good through the past eight years” during the Obama administration.

“Here’s what is important: The adult industry gets warning signs,” Silverstein said. “This is another opportunity for the business to get together and create dialogue over what we are doing and what goes too far.”

Silverstein said that adult businesses without serious reflection of their business models might go the route of Backpage.com, which this week shut down its adult advertising section after being accused of facilitating illegal sex trafficking.

“Do you guys really want to be like Backpage.com where you have to cut off a part of your business?” he asked.

In a comment from the audience, Eric Paul Leue, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, noted to each of the panelists that he was underwhelmed with their responses about the Trump administration’s potential impact on adult.

“I will admit that I’m under shock to hear the rhetoric of how we address the potential threats of the Trump administration that are being washed out of the room," Leue said. "A lot of people pretend and think, ‘Oh it’s going to be fine’ with Trump in office.

“We do have to remember that Trump signed a pledge to create a specific commission to evaluate the public health threat of pornography,” Leue said.

Leue went on to say that the adult entertainment industry should be glued to the policies and workings of the anti-porn group Enough Is Enough, which created the pledge Trump signed. Leue called Enough Is Enough a “huge threat” to porn.

In August, prior to the presidential election, Trump signed the pledge agreeing he would make prosecution of such laws a top priority for his hand-selected U.S. attorney general and appropriate necessary investigative resources to get probes up and running.

“We also seem to forget that Trump and this administration hates the very people that works for and with us: gay people, transgender people and people who are not white and conforming to general standards," Leue said.

“And if we are truly a community, we need to understand that this administration is a huge threat to women’s rights and reproductive rights. When we talk about Cal/OSHA [over new bloodborne pathogen rules for adult filmmaking], there’s an argument that women should be in charge of their own bodies. But the Trump administration says that women don’t have those rights.”

“We need to think further what this administration will do as a community,” Leue said. “I think it is important to look at the broad scope of this administration.”

The XBIZ 2017 legal panel discussed other topics as well, including the recent key victory for adult producers over warrantless searches involving federal record-keeping statute 18 U.S.C. § 2257, the current status of Measure B in Los Angeles and the new procedures for designating a DMCA agent with the U.S. Copyright Office.

XBIZ 2017, sponsored by Camgasm, includes numerous events as well as seminars, which are sponsored by NETbilling. 

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