US News

 2006: Jan-March



28th September   Playing Homage to the BBFC

Based on an article from Gamasutra

ESRB logoThe US Senate has proposed new legislation that would place tougher requirements on the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), including mandatory hands-on time with rated games, and put the body under the watch of the Government Accountability Office.

According to Brownback's press release, the new bill, known as Truth in Video Game Rating Act (S.3935), was proposed by Senator Sam Brownback, a long-standing critic of the ESRB.

Were the Truth in Video Game Rating Act to pass, it would require the ESRB to have access to the full content of and hands-on time with the games it was to rate, rather than simply relying on the video demonstrations submitted by developers and publishers as it currently. The hands-on system might be more akin to the UK's BBFC ratings board's approach, which requires a team of testers to spend at least a day playing through a game, as previously reported. It would also "prohibit video game producers and distributors from withholding or hiding playable content from a ratings organization."

On top of the new requirement, Brownback's bill would also require the Federal Trade Commission to specifically define parameters for describing game content and what would count as a mischaracterization of a game’s content.

Furthermore, the Truth act would place the ESRB under the watch of the Government Accountability Office to rate the performance of the group and look into alternative systems of game ratings, including the possibility of a new universal media ratings system encompassing games, movies, and television.

The current video game ratings system needs improvement because reviewers do not see the full content of games and don’t even play the games they are supposed to rate, said Brownback.
For video game ratings to be meaningful and worthy of a parent’s trust, the game ratings must be more objective and accurate.

 

26th September   A Baptism of Obscenity

Based on an article from X Biz

A group of religious nutter activists have joined together to urge President Bush and the Department of Justice to step up obscenity prosecutions.

Southern Baptists public policy specialist Richard Land, President of the Ethics & Religion Liberty Commission, joined Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson and more than 80 other nutter activists in sending a letter to Bush requesting a meeting to discuss expansion of the campaign against what they called “illegal pornography.”

The letter called Bush’s help essential because pornographers and sexual predators are increasingly targeting America’s most vulnerable citizens: our children. The letter also asked the President to speak out publicly about obscenity.

While praising the administration’s efforts to date, the signers asked the President to add prosecutors and resources to the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force at the Department of Justice.

A White House spokesman said Bush could not meet with the group until after the November election because of a tight schedule.

 

27th March
Updated 29th March
  Diaries of FCC Intimidation

From the BBC

Director Barry Levinson has criticised the US broadcast regulator for "intimidating" a US TV network into censoring his new series.

The Bedford Diaries, on the WB network, was due to air with girls kissing and a female character opening her jeans.

But Levinson, who is producing the show, said some scenes had been cut for fear of being fined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): The network is very fearful of what the FCC has been doing. They're intimidating the networks and levying these fines, so the networks are not sure of what they can or can't do.

In the series, a group of students in a human behaviour class are given the assignment of keeping diaries of their sexual experiences. The network is streaming an unedited version of the pilot episode on its website.

We have always been mindful of the FCC's indecency rules, said the network in a statement:
Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to make some additional changes.

 

29th March Update: Diaries of Cuts

From the Advocate

The Bedford Diaries is all about sexy undergrads—some straight, some experimenting, some possibly gay—taking it off and turning each other on. If it sounds too hot for US network TV, it is. Two scenes of the premiere episode set to air Wednesday night have been cut, one being a lusty kiss between two young women. The other sliced scene showed a girl shoving her hand down her pants.

The WB Network brass say the cuts are due to the FCC's recent close monitoring of “explicit” and “indecent” content.

 

26th March  Cinemas Hit by Alcohol Ban for Nude Entertainemnet

From MT Express

The age-old practice of having a glass of wine or beer at the movies is in doubt following the failure of a legislative bill that would have given cities authority to determine for themselves whether the practice is acceptable.

The bill, labeled H777aa, introduced by Representative Wendy Jaquet would have allowed cities to pass an ordinance permitting the sale of beer and wine to movie theater patrons over the age of 21. It was voted down by the House of Representatives in a vote of 30 to 38.

Idaho State Police's Alcohol Beverage Control division began an inquiry last year into the selling of beer and wine to movie theater patrons. Local theaters have been given a stay to serve alcohol while the issue is resolved.

The issue arose as part of a Idaho law that prohibits serving alcohol while showing of films depicting nudity or simulated sex—a provision that Jaquet said was intended for pornography, not R-rated movies.

It is important to realize that if the Idaho State Police allows prohibited acts to occur in your establishments, we may all have inadvertently opened a door to licensees or businesses far less reputable than yours who would seek to exploit and capitalize on any opportunity to expand or modify their business practices, the letter says.

 

26th March   Texas Sex Shop Harrassment

From AVN

Police in this Forth Worth suburb raided an adult store, confiscating various sex toys and pornography, forcing it to shut down.

Police officers acting on a search warrant at the Log Cabin Books and Movies, searched the business and confiscated sex toys and pornography deemed obscene by a judge.

Scott Raven, public safety chief, said the 10:30 a.m. operation lasted six to eight hours mostly due to the confiscation and cataloguing of nearly all of the shop’s materials which he said “filled a police van two times.”

The police action came after District Judge James Wilson examined material purchased from the store by undercover officers and deemed them to be obscene.

Under Texas law, obscenity is material which “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex.”

 

24th March   Signposts to Intolerance

From Kansas.com

The Kansas House gave tentative approval today to a bill restricting signs that advertise sexually oriented businesses. The sign restrictions were added to a bill updating the state's highway advertising laws.

Billboards advertising adult video stores, strip clubs and other sex-related businesses would be banned within a mile of highways. A business within a mile of such roadways could post no more than two signs - one no more than 40 square feet with the name, address, phone number and operating hours, and another noting the premises are off-limits to minors.

Republican Virginia Beamer, proposed the amendment, which is identical to a bill that is pending in the Senate. It is one of several measures sex-shop opponents are employing at the state level and in communities across the state.

The bill, 253, advanced to a final vote in the House.

 

23rd March   Oklahoma Games

From GameSpot

While a piece of Utah legislation seeking to have video games with "inappropriate violence" classified under the same statute that applies to pornography fell into legislative limbo earlier this month, a similar Oklahoma bill has passed the House without a single opposing vote.

Last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved HB3004 unanimously, with 97 Representatives voting for it, none against it, and four excused from the voting.

The Oklahoma bill makes it illegal for stores to sell or allow minors to view any game with inappropriate violence. If passed, retailers would not even be able to display the games for sale unless the bottom two-thirds of their covers were obscured by "blinder racks" in the same way that adult magazines are.

While the bill's formatting on the matter is a little different, the text bears a striking resemblance to that of Utah's piece of legislation when it comes to defining inappropriate violence. According to the law, that term would be defined as any depiction in a game that, when taken as a whole, has the following characteristics:

a. the average person eighteen (18) years of age or older applying contemporary community standards would find that the interactive video game or computer software is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors, and
b. the interactive video game or computer software lacks serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors based on, but not limited to, the following criteria:
(1) is glamorized or gratuitous,
(2) is graphic violence used to shock or stimulate,
(3) is graphic violence that is not contextually relevant to the material,
(4) is so pervasive that it serves as the thread holding the plot of the material together,
(5) trivializes the serious nature of realistic violence,
(6) does not demonstrate the consequences or effects of realistic violence,
(7) uses brutal weapons designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain and damage,
(8) endorses or glorifies torture or excessive weaponry, or
(9) depicts lead characters who resort to violence freely

The bill's definition of inappropriate violence specifically mentions games, so similar depictions in books, movies, or music would not be covered. If passed, store owners caught selling such games to minors would be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $500 on a first or second offense and $1,000 on future offenses.

Having passed the House, the bill has now moved to the Oklahoma Senate.

 

21st March   Supreme Art

From AVN

The Supreme Court turned back (refused?) an appeal today from a photographer who claimed a federal decency law violated her free-speech rights to post pictures of sadomasochistic sexual behavior on the Web.

Justices affirmed a decision last year by a special three-judge federal panel upholding the 1996 law which makes it a crime to send obscenity over the Internet to children.

The Supreme Court appeal was brought by photographer Barbara Nitke, whose work is featured in the book Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism, and by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

Material that is obscene is not protected by the First Amendment, but Nitke's lawyer contends her work is art that is not obscene.

The conclusion is that the law requires that those sending obscene communications on the Internet take reasonable actions to keep it away from children, like requiring a credit card, debit account or adult access code as proof of age.

 

16th March   Common Sense Malfunction

From Gamespot

The Federal Communications Commission today reached decisions in many of the backlogged indecency complaints it has received over the past three years. In two noteworthy cases, the Commission levied fines against CBS for the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" in the 2004 Super Bowl, and for a scene depicting a teen orgy in the series Without A Trace. They also cite Nicole Richie and The Surreal Life 2 as being "indecent and profane."

CBS was walloped with the most fines, totaling $3.6 million. The Commission upheld a $550,000 fine against the network for the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime incident involving Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson's pierced breast. An episode of the crime drama Without A Trace depicting teenagers engaged in sexual activities was also found to be indecent. The fines for Trace totaled $2 million, with 72 affiliates being fined $32,500 each.

In its statement, the Commission said, [We] hold that CBS consciously and willfully failed to take actions to prevent the broadcast of the material, and that CBS is responsible for the halftime show. The Commission also finds episodes of Without A Trace and The Surreal Life 2, which contained numerous graphic, sexual images, to be impermissible under the Commission's indecency standard.

VH1 was fined for an episode of The Surreal Life 2 where Ron Jeremy and Andy Dick attend a nude pool party. Although the nudity was "pixelated," the Commission concluded that despite the obscured nature of the nudity, it is unmistakable that partygoers are exposing and discussing sexual organs.

The Commission also singled out Fox Broadcasting for the network's 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards shows, wherein the "F" word was used by Cher and Nicole Richie, respectively. The FCC isn't fining Fox due to a previously established precedent that isolated use of expletives doesn't warrant a fine.

The number of complaints received by the commission has risen year after year, said FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican. I share the concerns of the public--and of parents, in particular--that are voiced in these complaints.

NBC, which is being nailed for several shows on the Spanish-language networks it owns, will take on the FCC in court, saying,
The FCC has no authority to censor a program based on its own taste.

 

12th March
updated 17th March
  Nutter Brain Rot Caught from Clothing

...and it pandemic in the US

Based on an article from WKYT

A proposal banning full nudity and seminude lap dancing at strip clubs is headed for the Kentucky State Senate.

The measure, which would make nudity and seminude lap dancing in an adult establishment as sexual misconduct, a Class A misdemeanor, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday by a 9-1 vote.

The proposal, Senate Bill 250, would allow employees of adult businesses to be "seminude" if they remain 6 feet away from patrons and stay on a stage at least 18 inches above the ground.

This is designed to protect women, claimed the bill's sponsor, Senator Julie Denton, Republican

Louisville, Lexington and other cities already have ordinances imposing similar restrictions on adult businesses. The state law would prohibit cities from enacting weaker ordinances.

This is, if you will, a bare minimum, said Kent Ostrander, executive-director of the nutter Family Foundation of Kentucky.

The proposal defines seminude as the showing of the female breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola and extending across the width of the breast at that point, or the showing of the male or female buttocks.

State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, Democrat, said a statewide law may not be necessary. Scorsone, the lone legislator to vote against the bill in committee, also took issue with Ostrander's contention that patrons are catching sexually transmitted diseases by placing a tip in the waistband of a stripper's attire.

State Sen. Perry Clark, Democrat, said adult businesses wouldn't thrive if so many people didn't patronize them.
I was told recently by the minister of a large church that if his members would stop going to these places, we wouldn't have to deal with this issue.

 

17th March   Update: Brain Rot Spreads Through Kentucky Legislators

From WCPO

A bill seeking to outlaw lap dancing at Kentucky strip clubs won easy approval today in the Senate.

If the bill becomes law, someone appearing nude in an adult establishment or offering semi-nude lap dances would be guilty of sexual misconduct. The penalty would be up to a year in jail.

The measure now goes to the House.

The bill would allow semi-nudity among employees of sexually-oriented businesses if they remain at least six feet away from patrons on a stage at least 18 inches above the floor.

 

11th March   Dickheads in the Michigan Supreme Court

From AVN

The Michigan Supreme Court have refused to review lower court decision against Timothy Bruce Huffman, who was arrested after a three minute segment aired on a public access channel showing a joke-telling penis with a face painted on it. The lower court had ruled that nudity on a public access cable program was illegal.

Huffman’s lawyer Steven Savickas said a Washington D.C. law firm may to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court pro-bono.

But Steve Shapiro, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said he was unsure whether the high court would hear the case, saying that there needs to be evidence that a television indecency problem is widespread and not just in Michigan.

Last May, a Michigan court of appeals found that Michigan’s indecency statute also applies to television, and is thus applicable to Huffman’s talking penis on cable access. That court concluded that such nudity on television “can be more offensive than more traditional public exposure.”

 

9th March   Appeal for a Merry Christmas

From Movie City News

The MPAA Appeals Board overturned the "R" rating for Sony Pictures Classics Film, Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas). The film, inspired by true events, takes place in the trenches of the World War I battlefield on Christmas Eve in 1914. The Classification and Ratings Administration originally rated the film R for some war violence and brief nudity. Sony Pictures Classics, along with director Christian Carion, appealed the Rating Board¹s decision and prevailed with a 2/3 majority, obtaining a PG-13 rating (for war violence and a brief scene of sexuality/nudity).

 

8th March   Anti-Anonimization

From Online Casinos

A New Jersey Assemblyman has launched a Bill to control anonymity of posts

Late last year there was news of a federal US attempt to control discourtesy and abuse on the Internet and this year we have seen Rep. Bob Goodlatte launch his latest attempt to ban online gambling that includes proposals to censor at ISP level.

Readers might be forgiven for assuming that American politicians seem to have developed an (unhealthy) interest in reducing the freedom of the Internet, and the latest attack is not reassuring.

New Jersey Assemblyman Peter J. Biondi has submitted a Bill that would make certain operators of interactive computer services and Internet Service Providers liable to persons injured by false or defamatory messages posted on public forum websites, and have an adverse effect on the choice of anonymity by posters.

In what could become a privacy and database nightmare for internet operators, the bill proposes to force websites to police their users and real time messages.

Here's an example from the New Jersey politician's proposal: The operator of any interactive computer service or an Internet service provider shall establish, maintain and enforce a policy to require any information content provider who posts written messages on a public forum website either to be identified by a legal name and address, or to register a legal name and address with the operator of the interactive computer service or the Internet service provider through which the information content provider gains access to the interactive computer service or Internet, as appropriate.

An operator of an interactive computer service or an Internet service provider shall establish and maintain reasonable procedures to enable any person to request and obtain disclosure of the legal name and address of an information content provider who posts false or defamatory information about the person on a public forum website.


Readers can find full details on this further attempt to tamper with the Internet at
www.njleg.state.nj.us/2006/Bills/A1500/1327_I1.HTM

 

6th March   Censorship by Bulldozer

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Military bulldozerA New York theatre company has put off plans to stage a play about an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza because of the current "political climate" - a decision the play's British director, Alan Rickman, denounced as "censorship".

James Nicola, the artistic director of the New York Theatre Workshop, said it had never formally said it would be staging the play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, but it had been considering putting it on in March: In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy situation. We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict, that we didn't want to take. He said he had suggested a postponement until next year.

Rickman, best known for his acting roles in Love, Actually and the Harry Potter series and who directed the play at London's Royal Court Theatre, denounced the decision: I can only guess at the pressures of funding an independent theatre company in New York, but calling this production 'postponed' does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled.

Corrie was a 23-year-old activist from Washington state. She was crushed in March 2003 when she put herself between an Israeli Army bulldozer and a Palestinian home it was about to demolish in Rafah, on the Egyptian border.

 

2nd March   Booth Bother

From AVN

A recent story noted that changes in the Scottsdale’s Sexually Oriented Business Ordinance is having an impact. Zorba’s adult video store may have to undergo a complete overhaul in order to comply with the ordinance.

The new rules, said the report, require adult store managers to have unobstructed views of the entire building, except for bathrooms, with the space illuminated by at least a 40-watt light bulb. No “doors, curtains, walls, merchandise, display racks or other materials” can obscure any part of the business under the rules.

The East Valley Tribune reported that Mayor Mary Manross said the video store rules are necessary to prevent sexual activity at Zorba’s: There are many known, documented secondary impacts of those kinds of businesses, especially when you have them configured with private booths.

The new ordinance also targets exotic dance clubs. Changes would ban nude dancing and restrict dancers from coming within four feet of patrons. However, the owners and employees of the city’s two dance clubs, Babe’s - which has been purchased by adult star and AVN Hall of Famer, Jenna Jameson and will be renamed Club Jenna after remodeling - and Skin Cabaret, led a referendum drive that gathered more than 8,000 voter signatures, putting the issue on the September ballot.

The report concluded by saying that if passed, the ballot measure would repeal the nudity and distance rules for the clubs, which will enjoy a reprieve from the ordinance until the public vote. Video store provisions in the ordinance, however, were left off the referendum.

 

1st March   Handcuffed to Restricted Freedom

From AVN & the Sacrameto Bee

A Sacramento Superior Court Judge has ruled that a Folsom, California ordinance restricting the sale of sex toys does not violate a business owner's First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

The challenge to the ordinance was brought by Sam and Misty Dufour, owners of Ms. Teaz, a lingerie shop in Folsom’s Historic District.

A November, 2004, emergency ordinance was passed by the city shortly before Ms. Teaz opened its doors, transparently targeting the store. The ordinance, which prohibited the sale of explicit items such as bondage paraphernalia, as well as requiring blinders on displays of adult magazines, was made permanent in January 2005.

Dufour's attorney, Greg Garrison, argued that the city's ordinance was vague and contradictory. For example, said Garrison, the ordinance prohibits devices with non-sex-related utility being marketed ... in a manner promoting sexual or sadomasochistic uses. Garrison said that language unfairly allows Target or Wal-Mart, for instance, to sell toy handcuffs, while similar handcuffs could not be sold at Ms. Teaz, because, in that context, they would be marketed for their "sexual utility."

However, Judge Connelly rejected that line of reasoning, said the report. A marketing restriction can't be "bootstrapped" into a free-speech issue:
If you follow that to its logical conclusion, then every product would fall under the First Amendment.

 

26th February
Updated 3rd March
  Distinctly Family Unfriendly Law

From the Salt Lake Tribune

The Utah House voted overwhelmingly  to yank violent video games out of the hands of minors and punish as felons adults, including parents, who provide such entertainment to children.

Republican David Hogue implied such games played a serious role in school shootings such as Columbine:
Would these same kids have done this anyway without watching violent videos? Maybe not.

Bill HB257 would add extremely violent "interactive video or electronic" games to the state's statute protecting minors from harmful material; the statute is commonly used to prosecute those who provide pornography to children.

Hogue mentioned such games as Resident Evil 4 and Grand Theft Auto. But to violate the terms of the legislation, a violent video game would have to be "patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community" and lack any serious "literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors."

Republican Scott Wyatt said such a tough standard means only the most depraved video games would fall under this bill.

A few lawmakers, including Orem Republican Margaret Dayton and Salt Lake City Democrat Ross Romero, questioned HB257's constitutionality. Dayton said the bill was "frustrating." She dislikes such video games but said violence has certain constitutional protections that pornography does not have: That's why we can have pictures in the Bible, battle scenes or war movies.

Romero also didn't like the fact the bill could land a parent in jail for two weeks, if they buy an extremely violent video game for their child.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

 

28th Feb   Update: Bully Plays the Blame Game

From Games Industry.biz

Utah representative David Hogue's controversial violent videogames bill, which tags videogames onto existing obscenity laws relating to pornography, has sailed through the House of Representatives by a vote of 56-8.

Hogue remains confident that his bill will withstand a court challenge, in spite of various similar legislative proposals being rejected on the grounds of constitutionality, First Amendment legal experts having already weighed in on the Utah bill, stating that it likely violates the First Amendment protection of free expression.

Representative Hogue's proposal, which will make it a felony to promote or sell 'inappropriately violent' videogames to minors, failed its initial vote at the House Committee in January. It was finally approved by a vote of 7-2 a little over a month later.

The Republican has rekindled thoughts of various school shooting incidents, including Columbine, suggesting that violent videogames played a significant role and stating his objections to Rockstar's much publicised Bully game for the PS2.

Would these same kids have done this anyway without watching violent videos? Maybe not, Hogue stated in the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The bill is not law yet however, and the next step will be to advance to the State Senate. The Entertainment Software Association, which has successfully halted various similar proposals in other US States, largely on the grounds of vague definitions and unconstitutional breaches of First Amendment freedom of expression laws, has already voiced its objection to the Utah bill, and is highly likely to officially contest its implementation into law.

 

3rd March   Update: Winning the End Game

From joystiq

Utah state representative David Hogue took an interesting approach to his anti-game legislation: his bill, HB257, would have amended the current law regarding the distribution of material harmful to minors. The primary concern of the existing law was pornography--hence, the "games as porn" connection.

The law, despite First Amendment concerns, passed the Utah House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority (56-8). However, the bill never made it to the floor of the Senate in time to meet the midnight deadline, effectively killing the bill.

 

25th February   Appealing for Intolerance

It seems a world truism that wherever one finds intolerance of sexual trivia, then thuggery, torture, bombs, violence and intimidation are never far away.

From Contact Music

Pop star Janet Jackson's notorious "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl will cost US TV bosses $550,000 (GBP315,000) in censorship fines, after they lost an appeal to overturn the fine.

Authorities have picked on CBS for broadcasting the blunder and upheld the previously-imposed punishment.

Jackson inadvertently exposed her breast while on stage with Justin Timberlake at the half-time show.

 

23rd February   Utah Backtracking on Adult Site Database

From BYU News Net

A Utah House bill that repeals parts of Utah's controversial anti-pornography law hints at the inherent problems with governmental regulation of Internet pornography.

While government has a responsibility to protect its citizens and enforce laws against obscene material, BYU law professor John Fee said state regulation of the Internet is problematic: The Supreme Court has been extremely protective of pornographic material to the point that it makes it very difficult for Congress or the states to meaningfully control pornography on the Internet. It doesn't mean there are no means left, but it makes it difficult, and it remains unclear what will be done in the future.

Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, was the sponsor of an anti-pornography bill that was passed last year (2005), and is now sponsoring HB187, which amends and repeals portions of his previous bill.

The law requires Utah's attorney general to maintain a database of Internet sites that display content that could be harmful to minors and requires Internet service providers to filter content for households who request it. Dougall's bill removes the database requirement, and allows Internet service providers to charge for providing the filter.

When Dougall's bill was made law last year, it received extensive criticism from attorneys who said parts of the law were highly likely to be found unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union and 13 other plaintiffs sued, and that litigation is still in progress. ACLU would not comment on the lawsuit, but said Dougall's latest bill is in response to the lawsuit.

Other anti-pornography bills are passing through the U.S. Congress right now, HB3479 would require Internet sites that sell pornography to use age-verification software to prevent access by minors, much like the software online tobacco and alcohol sales sites use. The bill also proposes a 25% tax on all Internet pornography sites. Both the age verification and the tax would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

Fee said that although obscenity (usually interpreted as deliberately offensive, hard-core pornography) is not free speech protected under the First Amendment, it is extremely difficult for state and local governments to regulate because the sites offering such material may not be within the state: That creates additional problems because it affects interstate commerce. So our state law would affect people in another state.

He said a national law, such as Matheson's, could possibly be approved to regulate Internet pornography, but two attempts to create such laws have already been struck down by the Supreme Court.

 

22nd February   Frothing at the Mouth over Hot Coffee

  Predictably ludicrous response over an innocuous add on to a game.

From Reuters

Take Two, the publisher of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, is facing more legal action over the game.
Separately, two law firms have filed class-action lawsuits on behalf of shareholders who they say lost money due to the controversy about the game.

Take Two faced widespread criticism in late 2005 when hidden (innocuous non-explicit) sex scenes were found in the game. The discovery prompted the release of a cleaned-up version of the game and led some stores to stop selling it.

Now New York law firms Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman and Stull, Stull and Brody are filing class action lawsuits for people who owned stock in Take Two between the day when the game was released and the announcement of the LA lawsuit. Take Two stock fell sharply on the day the LA lawsuit was announced.

 

18th February
Updated 19th March
  U.S. Justice Department Google Search 'did not match any documents'.

From Reuters

Google have formally rejected the U.S. Justice Department's subpoena of logs of Web searches, arguing the demand violated the privacy of users' Web searches and its own trade secrets.

Responding to a motion by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Google also said in a filing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California the government demand to disclose Web search data was impractical.

The Bush administration is seeking to compel Google to hand over Web search data as part of a bid by the Justice Department to appeal a 2004 Supreme Court injunction of a law to penalize Web site operators who allow children to view pornography.

Google is going it alone in opposing the U.S. government request. Rivals Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. are among the companies that have complied with the Justice Department demand for data to be used to make its case.

Google's lawyers said the company shares the government's concern with materials harmful to minors but argued that the request for its data was irrelevant. They offered a series of technical arguments why this data was not useful.

The Mountain View, California-based company said that complying with the U.S. government's request for "untold millions of search queries" would put an undue burden on the company, including a "week of engineer time to complete."

Complying with the Justice Department request would also force Google to reveal how its Web search technology works -- something it jealously guards as a trade secret, the company argued. It refuses to disclose even the total number of searches conducted each day.

Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google search box ... that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent a compelling reason, attorneys for Google said in the filing.

The legal spat also comes amid heightened sensitivity to privacy issues by the company as it recently began offering a new version of its Google Desktop service that vacuums up data stored on user PCs and makes it accessible on the users' other computers. For customers who consent to the service, copies of their data are stored on Google's central computers.

 

19th March   Update: Searching for Privacy

From CBS47

A federal judge has ordered Google to give the Bush administration a peek inside its Internet-leading search engine. But the company will not have to turn over a list of people's search requests -- potentially sensitive information that it has fought to protect.

U-S District Judge James Ware issued a 21-page ruling today telling Google to provide the Justice Department with the addresses of 50-thousand randomly selected Web sites indexed by its search engines. The company has until April third to turn over that information.

Ware, however, decided Google won't have to disclose what people have been looking for on its widely used search engine.

The government plans to use the data for a study that the Bush administration hopes will help revive a law meant to shield children from online pornography.

 

9th February   Basic Instinct is to Censor & Hype

Based on an article from Dark Horizons

Sharon Stone's latest movie is too sexy for an R rating. Censors in the US have had to cut a steamy orgy scene out of Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction so that teenagers can watch it reports Bang Showbiz.

Britain's Daily Star newspaper quotes a spokesman for the studio as saying: It is a hard 'R' rated movie which means it includes strong sexuality, nudity, violence, language and some drug content. Censors threatened to give it the dreaded NC-17 rating which would mean that no-one under 18 could watch it.

Although they found the orgy scene too much, the MPAA did allow a sequence where Sharon's character is pleasured by a man as she drives a sports car through the streets on London at high speed. Sharon reportedly refused to use a body double for the sex scenes.

From The Can Mgazine

We were recently alerted that the MPAA has finally dropped the rating for the remake of The Hills Have Eyes down from an NC-17 to a hard-R. Though this is great news for Fox Searchlight Pictures, what possibly cool scenes had to be cut to get the downgrade in rating?

From what we have heard, nothing was cut to get excited over. According to the latest, not only is the film just as dirty but it is still in the running to be one of the most fucked up films you see this year.

 

9th February   Obscene Lack of Freedom

From Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake City police raided a sex shop Thursday and seized about 700 DVDs they suspect of violating state obscenity laws. Police arrived about 7 p.m. Thursday at Dr. John's Lingerie, 677 S. 200 West, with a warrant to confiscate the store's DVD inventory and invoices and other paperwork related to the disks, said Josh Henson, the store's manager.

Salt Lake City police confirmed the raid on the store but declined to discuss it further, saying it was an ongoing investigation. Henson said no criminal charges have been filed against the store, its owners or managers. The warrant and the officers who served it indicated they believed the DVDs violated obscenity laws, Henson said. Under Utah statutes, it's a third-degree felony to distribute pornographic

material and minimum punishments include a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail. Henson said the DVDs are similar to ones sold at a Dr. John's store in the Weber County town of Roy. The confiscated DVDs included about 70 titles, each selling for between $20 and $70, Henson said:
I wouldn't say it's hard-core. If you want to look at it this way, it's the classiest stuff you can get.

 

8th February   Cock Up at the Super Bowl

Based on an article from The Telegraph

Four decades after CBS in New York forced the Rolling Stones to change the lyrics of Let's Spend The Night Together to "Let's spend some time together", censors at the Walt Disney-owned ABC network stepped in during a half-time performance by the band to remove vaguely explicit lyrics.

The Super Bowl game is America's top-rated broadcast event but it has been the subject of controversy since 2004, when there was an outcry about indecency after Janet Jackson bared her breast in what was described as a "wardrobe malfunction". The Rolling Stones delivered their usual slick performance with Mick Jagger stalking the stage, grinding his hips and pouting like a man half his age.

But during Start Me Up, the line "you make a dead man come" was cut short and Once upon a time "[I was your little rooster]. But am I just one of your cocks" in the new song Rough Justice also disappeared.

The Rolling Stones were aware of our plan, which was to simply lower the volume on his microphone at those two appropriate moments," said Brian McCarthy, a National Football League spokesman. We agreed to that plan earlier in the week. The Stones were aware of it and they were fine with it.

Just to be sure, ABC, beaming the match to 90 million Americans, and millions more across the world, kept a five-second tape delay in the broadcast.

Curiously, the lyrics have been played countless times on American radio and in Microsoft advertisements, without complaint.

From the New Zealand Herald

The Rolling Stones considered the decision to censor two of their songs during the Super Bowl halftime show as "ridiculous" and unnecessary, a representative for the band said today.

Stones spokeswoman Fran Curtis took issue with a comment by a National Football League spokesman yesterday that the band was not only aware of the plan to lower the volume on Mick Jagger's microphone for two lines but also "fine with it."

The Stone's representative said the members of the band were far from happy with the decision to cut the lines on the broadcast which was carried by ABC.

 

28th January   Grand Sue Auto

From KTRE

The Los Angeles city attorney is alleging the makers of the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game hid pornography inside it. The lawsuit also accuses Rockstar Games and parent company Take-Two Interactive of making misleading statements and engaging in unfair competition.

The video game includes a secret "mini game" in which characters can engage in explicit sex. City attorney Rocky Delgadillo says the industry board that rates video games gave it a mature rating but would have given it an adults-only rating if it knew of the explicit content. The game's rating was later changed and some big retailers pulled it from shelves.

The game makers haven't commented yet on the lawsuit

 

20th January   Rate It Or Else

From CNET News

US senators on Thursday blasted what they called an "explosion" in Internet pornography and threatened to enact new laws aimed at targeting sexually explicit Web sites.

At an afternoon hearing convened here by the Senate Commerce Committee, Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, lashed out at an adult entertainment industry representative, saying that the industry needs to take swift moves to devise a rating system and to clearly mark all its material as "adult only.": My advice is you tell your clients they better do it soon, because we'll mandate it if they don't, Stevens said.

Though it wasn't mentioned at the hearing, Web browsers have long supported the Internet standard called PICS, or Platform for Internet Content Selection. Internet Explorer, for instance, permits parents to disable access to Web sites rated as violent or sexually explicit.

In addition, mandatory rating systems have frequently been struck down by courts as an affront to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression. Judges have ruled it unconstitutional for governments to enforce the Motion Picture Association of America's movie-rating system. The Supreme Court has said that the right to speak freely encompasses the right not to speak--including the right not to be forced to self-label.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, talked up her bill that she and a handful of Democrats announced last year. It proposes a 25 percent excise tax on revenue from most adult-oriented sites and a requirement that all such sites use an age-verification system:
Too few adult Web sites are taking the extra step to create another obstacle, another barrier, that can keep youngsters from accessing or stumbling on pornography.

 

20th January   Searching for "Government Abuse"

From CNET News

Federal prosecutors preparing to defend a controversial Internet pornography law in court have asked Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and America Online to hand over millions of search records--a request that Google is adamantly denying.

In court documents filed Wednesday, the Bush administration asked a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., to force Google to comply with a subpoena for the information, which would reveal the search terms of a broad swath of the search engine's visitors.

Prosecutors are requesting a "random sampling" of 1 million Internet addresses accessible through Google's popular search engine, and a random sampling of 1 million search queries submitted to Google over a one-week period.

Google said in a statement sent to CNET News.com on Thursday that it will resist the request "vigorously."

The Bush administration's request, first reported by The San Jose Mercury News, is part of its attempts to defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which is being challenged in court in Philadelphia by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU says Web sites cannot realistically comply with COPA and that the law violates the right to freedom of speech mandated by the First Amendment.

An attorney for the ACLU said Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL received identical subpoenas and chose to comply with them rather than fight the request in court.

Yahoo acknowledged on Thursday that it complied with the Justice Department's request but said no personally identifiable information was handed over. We are vigorous defenders of our users' privacy, said Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako. We did not provide any personal information in response to the Justice Department's subpoena. In our opinion this is not a privacy issue.

Osako declined to provide details, but court documents in the Google case show that the government has been demanding "the text of each search string entered" by users over a time period of between one week and two months, plus a listing of Web sites taken from the search engine's index.

Our understanding is that MSN and AOL have complied with the government's request, that Yahoo has provided some information in response, but that information wasn't completely satisfactory (according to) the government, ACLU staff attorney Aden Fine said.

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein confirmed that the company received a subpoena from the DOJ but said the information from the ACLU was not accurate. We did not and would not comply with such a subpoena. We gave (the DOJ) a generic list of aggregate and anonymous search terms, and not results, from a roughly one day period. There were absolutely no privacy implications, Weinstein said. There was no way to tie those search terms to individuals or to search results. He declined to elaborate.

In a statement, Microsoft said it was, in fact, contacted by the DOJ. We did comply with their request for data in regards to helping protect children, in a way that ensured we also protected the privacy of our customers, the company said. We were able to share aggregated query data (not search results) that did not include any personally identifiable information, at their request.

Court documents reveal that the Justice Department has been pressuring Google for excerpts from its search logs for half a year. Prosecutors hope to use the excerpts to show that filtering software can't protect children online.

In a motion filed Wednesday, prosecutors say that compliance is necessary to prove that the 1998 law is more effective than filtering software in protecting minors from exposure to harmful materials on the Internet. Records from search logs would help to understand the behavior of Web users and estimate how frequently they encounter pornography, the motion says. For instance, Internet addresses obtained from the search engines could be tested against filtering programs to evaluate their effectiveness.

A subpoena dated August 2005 requests a complete list of all Internet addresses that can "be located" through Google's popular search engine, and "all queries that have been entered" over a two-month period beginning on June 1, 2005. Later, prosecutors offered to narrow the request to random samples of indexed sites and search strings. It's unclear what version of the request AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo complied with.

To analyze the logs, the Justice Department has hired Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley. Stark said in a statement that analyzing information from Google would let him "estimate the prevalence of harmful-to-minors" and the "effectiveness of content filters" in blocking it.

 

20th January

Updated 26th January

  Seattle censors lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

From The Observer

A late-night porn show, which has survived for more than 300 episodes, will probably disappear this month from Seattle's public-access television channel.

Tonight, the Seattle Community Access Network's board is scheduled to approve a definition of obscenity, months in the making, that targets the program's showcasing of porn-video clips. The new definition forbids showing sex acts that lack "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

Station management has tried to remove or tone down the show, Mike Hunt TV, but decided not to revoke producer Mike Aivaz's access to airtime until clear rules could be written. Ann Suter, the station's executive director, says she didn't want to risk a free-speech lawsuit that would take up money and time.

Suter says the station has researched obscenity rules in other cities and believes the new definition can withstand legal challenges. Also, she said, the board's new rule is part of a broader rewriting of policy covering copyright protection, fair distribution of time slots, and content: Our contract with the city says you can't broadcast obscene material.

Aivaz said he should be allowed to show sex acts for a number of reasons: The program is unlikely to be seen by children in its 1 a.m. Thursday time slot; the same footage is sold at video stores, so he believes it doesn't violate community standards; and it is less offensive than violent acts the commercial networks show routinely.

Anthony Riddle, executive director of the national Alliance for Community Media, said many communities argue over obscenity, but Seattle is the only city he's aware of where genital contact routinely appears on a community-access channel.

 

26th January   Update: Seattle Moves to the Bible Belt

The Seattle Post reported that the Seattle Community Access Network's board voted Wednesday night to enact stricter standards for obscenity in an effort to shut down a late-night sex show that appears on Seattle's public-access cable television station.

The report claimed that in a raucous meeting at the SCAN headquarters, the show's creator and about 30 of his fans said the board's action was censorship.

If you want freedom of speech to look like the Bible Belt, move to the Bible Belt, Mike Aivaz, creator of the show Mike Hunt TV, told board members shortly before they voted 7-1 to approve the new policies. After the vote, the report said that he and his supporters chanted "shame."

Shows can be taken off the air if they are deemed obscene by the network's content review board. Wednesday's vote specified several things that will be considered violations of that standard, including depictions of intercourse and masturbation.

The story claimed that Suter said she will begin enforcing the new rules immediately and said that Aivaz's program will be pulled off the air if he violates the revised policy.

Aivaz's attorney, Gilbert Levy, called the new standard too restrictive, noting that the community accepts sex scenes on cable movies and in adult videos.

The report concluded with Aivaz saying that he likely will challenge the policies in court.

 

19th January   Sundance Selection

From The Observer

British artist Sam Taylor-Wood has made a porn film. It's quite rude. A man is walking in a desert. After a while, he stops. First, he takes off his T-shirt. Then he puts his hand inside his pants. Basically, he masturbates for eight minutes.

When Taylor-Wood was asked to take part in this project (other directors in the Destricted series include Larry Clark of Kids fame and the American performance artist Matthew Barney), her instinct was to turn it down but she rose to the challenge.

If people watch my film wanting to get excited, I think they'll be disappointed, says Taylor-Wood. I want you to feel the loneliness of it, this vast, empty landscape. What's going on in this man's head that has made him stop in the desert?  Does she think her film is erotic?
Not at all.

The film is one of a series of new arty porn shorts that will open the Sundance film festival on Thursday

From AVN

Explicit sex scenes in Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas' latest film, Battle in Heaven, proved too hot for Sundance Film Festival officials last week after they abruptly pulled its Jan. 20 screening.

The film, which features a cast of amateur actors will be rescheduled.

Battle in Heaven received some acclaim, but was also widely criticized for its graphic sex and nudity at last year’s Cannes film festival. The film takes place in Mexico City and follows the life of a middle-aged chauffeur who takes up with the prostitute daughter of a Mexican general. It’s scheduled for release nationally in March through Tartan Films.

 

15th January   Persecuted in Polk

From the Orlando Sentinel

The owner of an Internet site who was jailed on obscenity charges will turn over the Web domain name to the Polk County Sheriff's Office in a plea agreement that keeps him out of prison.

Christopher Wilson pleaded no contest to five misdemeanor counts of possession of obscene materials in Circuit Court on Friday and will be placed on five years of probation.

The prosecution dropped one felony charge and 295 other misdemeanor counts as part of the deal. Wilson was credited with time-served in the County Jail and will not be classified as a sex offender. Authorities wanted control of the Web address so that no one else could use it to distribute adult material.

It's the kind of case that's easy to resolve, said State Attorney Jerry Hill, adding that shutting the site down was the resolution he wanted. Wilson may continue running the site for up to 90 days, though, until official sentencing April 21. That bothers me, Hill said, but added that he agreed because it could take Wilson that much time to wrap up all the business details of the site, which has paying customers.

As part of his plea agreement, Wilson cannot have dealings with Internet businesses that relate to "adult" or nude content while on probation.

Letting his lawyer do most of the talking, Wilson explained in court Friday that he did not post the photos himself, but rather provided the format for others to communicate with each other via bulletin boards and post photos. Some were adult in nature, while others were not. His lawyers argued that he had a basic right to free speech and enjoyed the right of people to communicate with one another.

Polk County authorities, though, said what they viewed on the site was among the worst pornography they had ever seen and made no apologies about going after Wilson. The site also drew attention for gory war photos, although Polk authorities said those were not part of the obscenity charges. Soldiers who couldn't afford to pay to access the site could send in a photo to prove they were overseas and Wilson would give them free access.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd acknowledges he had contact with the Army before Wilson's arrest, but said those images were not related to the obscenity charges. Wilson's lawyers said they have had no contact with the Army about the case.

 

13th January   International Hatred Stays in Limbo

From Stuff

A US appeals court declined to intervene on Thursday on behalf of Yahoo Inc, the world's largest media company, saying US courts have no jurisdiction in a case pitting free speech protections against a French law barring the sale of Nazi memorabilia.

In a case that pitted US freedom of speech rights against European anti-hate group statutes, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that had rejected French plaintiffs attempts to enforce French laws against US companies in US courts.

In a mixed decision, an 11-judge en banc panel said that because Yahoo had voluntarily complied "in large measure" with the French court's orders and barred the the sale of Nazi memorabilia from its site in France, Yahoo's free speech petition has become a moot issue: Unless and until Yahoo changes its policy again, and thereby more clearly violates the French court's orders, it is unclear how much is now actually in dispute, the court's majority said.

The only precedent is that when foreign plaintiffs try to impose censorship on US-based Web sites, US courts have jurisdiction, said Mary Catherine Wirth, Yahoo's former senior international legal counsel, now director of data protection.

The lower US court previously had declared as unenforceable a French court action against Yahoo by two French anti-Nazi groups, La Ligue Contre Le Racisme et L'Antisemitisme (LICRA) and L'Union des Etuidiants Juifs de France (UEJF). A US district court initially sided with Yahoo in arguing that the French court's decision to require Yahoo to restrict access to hate group Web pages on Yahoo's global auctions site violated US free speech principles.

In the latest ruling, the 9th Circuit said that because Yahoo had largely complied with the French court's order by limiting the sale of some hate-group memorabilia on its auction site, "It is extremely unlikely that any penalty, if assessed, could ever be enforced against Yahoo! in the United States.

Susan Crawford, a law professor who teaches a course on cyberlaw at Cardozo School of Law in New York, labelled the decision a "missed opportunity" to decide whether "
it is appropriate for one country to assert extraterritorial jurisdiction over (Web) servers located in another country.The facts in this case allowed the court to avoid the difficult diplomatic issues raised by the dispute.

 

2nd January   Flaming Nutters

From ZD Net

Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime.

It's no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

In other words, it's OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.

This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.

The use of the word 'annoy' is particularly problematic, says Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. What's annoying to one person may not be annoying to someone else.

Here's the relevant language:
Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

 

2nd January

  Zones of Repression

From First Amendment

A sex shop at the center of a six-year zoning dispute that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court has shut down after the owner and city officials agreed to settle hundreds of citations.

Christal's, which opened in 1999 near a church and a child-care center, had sued suburban Littleton after Denver officials tried to enforce a licensing ordinance for adult businesses. The store's owner argued Christal's wasn't subject to the ordinance because less than half the store was devoted to sexually explicit videos, novelties and other items.

Over the years, hundreds of zoning, sales tax and licensing violations were dismissed in city, state and federal courts, according to Michael Gross, an attorney who represented the store. At least 1,000 charges, each carrying a fine up to $1,000 and possible jail time, remained before the settlement.

The city made up its mind that the store had to go and they weren't going to spare any expense, Gross said yesterday.

The store's owner, Golden, Colo.-based Z.J. Gifts, operates 12 stores in Colorado, Iowa, Texas and Tennessee. In similar cases from Colorado and Utah, Gross argued that local governments were infringing on First Amendment free-speech rights.

Littleton City Attorney Larry Berkowitz said he was seeking jail time and substantial fines against Christal's in a trial that had been scheduled to begin Jan. 9 and in trials after that in Littleton Municipal Court. Under the settlement, Z.J. Gifts will pay a $50,000 fine, plead guilty to certain charges, accept deferred judgments on others and agree to be subject to penalties in any future violations, Berkowitz said.

Z.J. Gifts had previously paid at least $82,000 in fines, Berkowitz said.