Any obscenity conviction brings with it the concern that the industry must prepare for an onslaught of federal prosecutions that will bring adult to its knees, and when Hardcore, aka Paul F. Little, was found guilty on 10 counts of distributing obscene materials, the industry did the usual hand-wringing.
“This is a terribly disappointing decision,” Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Diane Duke told XBIZ. “At a time when our country is in crisis on so may other fronts, the fact that our federal government would spend any resources on an issue that has no victims is unconscionable.
“The Bush administration and the Department of Justice continue to push the agenda of fundamental extremists with misplaced priorities that are out of touch with Americans.”
First Amendment attorney Larry Walters told XBIZ not to get too worried.
“The government might feel more emboldened [by this conviction], but the fat lady has not yet sung,” said Walters of the firm Weston, Garrou, Walters and Mooney.
He added that the Hardcore trial will rightly spur industry professionals to look at their businesses and take stock of how prosecutable they are.
But Walters also said that the industry shouldn’t get too worried because of the extreme, fringe nature of Hardcore’s movies.
“If a Vivid, a Hustler, a Wicked — you know, vanilla porn, a feature with a storyline and characters was convicted, then we’d have something to worry about,” he said.
One of Hardcore’s own attorneys, Jeffrey J. Douglas, agreed that Hardcore’s conviction does not represent a beachhead from where the government can launch a full-scale assault on the industry.
“There were so many anomalous things about this case that [the conviction] means very little,” he told XBIZ, adding that Bush’s administration’s vaunted pledge to win more obscenity prosecutions hasn’t gone as planned.
Formed in 2005, Bush’s task force drew scorn from within the ranks of the FBI, many of whom felt that the force was a waste of resources.
"I guess this means we've won the war on terror," one anonymous FBI agent told the Washington Post at the time.
Douglas echoed that sentiment.
“Oh, it’s been a catastrophe,” he said, referring to Bush’s anti-obscenity task force. To wit, Douglas called the Department of Justice’s failure to win a conviction against Extreme Associates a "huge failure." Douglas also argued that the Ira Isaacs obscenity trial, even if it were to end in conviction, wouldn't be a death knell for the adult industry because the case "doesn't involve commercial material."
The Isaacs trial was suspended yesterday because the judge in the case revealed that he maintained a publicly-accessible website that included sexually explicit photos.
So what does the future hold? More prosecutions, more convictions and more cases thrown out.
"You win some, you lose some," Walters said. "That's the nature of the vague obscenity test we have now. The jury [in the Hardcore case] didn't know what to do. They didn't even know what half the words meant."
Walter was of course referring to the "Miller" test, the current standard for obscenity that was laid down in the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Miller vs. California.
Walters also recommended that businesses shore up their legal protections. Although he stopped short of giving any actual legal advice, he did indirectly offer a few tips:
• Get a good lawyer.
• Don’t make your business an attractive target. Look at the practices of companies that get prosecuted and do the opposite.
• Don’t challenge the government, or they’ll take you up on it.
"Run a good business," Walters said. "That way, no one will have a reason to bring you to court."