The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has promulgated and is about to
begin enforcing a set of regulations known as "18 U.S.C. 2257" which
relate to record-keeping requirements for a broad range of
"adult content" in virtually all media, including print, video, film,
Web sites, etc.
Summary, detail, and other data regarding these regulations are viewable at:
http://my.execpc.com/~xxxlaw/2257Tables5.24.05.htm ("Technical" View)
http://www.openmindmedia.com/records/ ("Layman's" View)
While the ostensible intent of 2257 is the laudable goal of protecting minors from abuse and exploitation, it appears that the regulations' very wide scope will have a chilling effect on all U.S. entities who deal in even peripherally-related materials that are viewed as objectionable under "lowest-common-denominator" definitions. Presumably this very wide impact is viewed as a positive attribute of the regulations by their framers.
However, this is a matter that goes far beyond the limited confines of adult entertainment. Regardless of how one feels about pornography or adult-oriented content in general, the precedent set by these regulations should set off alarm bells for everyone who "publishes" any sort of materials -- however exotic or mundane they might be in any form of media, including virtually all Web site operators.
The use of administrative regulatory frameworks in this manner to "control" otherwise legal materials has set the stage for the application of the same reasoning to entities who aren't such easy targets as adult content producers. Will well-heeled copyright interests now insist that regulations be drafted requiring that all U.S. Web sites -- containing any form of content -- maintain detailed records of permission to display every article, graphic, and photo, to proactively ensure no possible violation of copyright or other intellectual property rights?
If such rules work against adult content sites, the temptation to apply similar reasoning and techniques much more comprehensively will be very intense indeed. While such an approach might appear logical from the standpoint of protecting intellectual property, the effects would likely be devastating for the interchange of information and legally-protected speech.
The presence of complex record-keeping requirements can easily discourage the publication or display of completely legal and non-infringing materials by many (especially smaller) entities, simply because the burden of compliance will be too great and the risks of error too onerous. Such a deleterious effect would dramatically skew the balance toward what amounts to an assumption of wrongdoing, which is essentially contrary to American traditions of free speech rights.
At the very least, such dramatic shifts should only be the result of full, detailed, and open legislative processes, not the spawn of regulatory fiat.
Today the regulations relate to adult content. But the pattern set by 18 U.S.C. 2257 could soon affect the speech rights of us all, even if watching old reruns of I Love Lucy is the closest many of us routinely get to adult entertainments.
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