Porn on the Net: An Update

Some of the stories I reported on in July have come to a conclusion.

The charges were dismissed in the Jake Baker case. Federal Judge Avern Cohen, in a decision that is a combination of thoughtfulness and wit, demonstrated correctly that Baker's Usenet postings and email, though repellent, were First Amendment protected expression. He took a sideswipe at the CDA in passing, noting that the Senators who passed it seemed to have forgotten about the Bill of Rights.

The appeal of the Amateur Action case was argued in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals a few weeks ago. Attorneys Nolan and Causey did an able job of arguing the constitutional and cyberspace issues, with an assist from briefs filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU and other civil- and cyber-liberties groups. I seriously doubt that the Appeals Court will reverse the verdict, but if not, I hope the Thomases will appeal to the Supreme Court. Whether today or twenty years from now, the Supreme Court is going to over-rule its absurd Miller rule that permits local community standards to determine pornography. This rule, which made little sense when adopted in 1973, allowed Memphis, America's most conservative community, to apply its standards to all cyberspace.

June and July saw the Marty Rimm "Cyberporn" study come and go, like a disastrous but brief comet. The Internet, as I have said elsewhere, is like the Yukon: all the con men, all the hucksters and the hopefuls, turn up there, and Rimm was one of them. But the damage was done: Senators waved the study and the Time cover in Congress, and quoted its ridiculous statistics.

The biggest danger we are facing today is from Congress. A House-Senate conference committee is working out differences in the two bodies' versions of the Telecommunications Reform Act. The Senate version contains the Godforsaken CDA, but the House version quietly contains something just as bad--the manager's mark amendment which would make criminal any depiction or description of sexual or excretory organs or functions on the Internet. If this doesn't sound so bad, consider a few facts: This is the same language Congress passed a few years ago to define indecency on TV and radio, when it concluded that banning the "Seven Dirty Words" wasn't enough. The result if the conference committee adopts the House version: you won't be able to say anything on the Net you couldn't say on prime time TV. The words "Fuck the CDA", legal in a book or on a T-shirt, would earn me two years in prison under the Telcom act. Read The Great Decency Fakeout for details.