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Communications Decency Act

Communications Decency Act

      PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION   PRELIMINARY STATEMENT   Plaintiffs Barbara Nitke ("Nitke"), the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Foundation (collectively, "NCSF") respectfully submit this memorandum is support of their motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the obscenity prong of the Communications Decency Act, Section 502 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (codified at 47 U.S.C. §223(a)(1)(B)) (the CDA), and in opposition to the motion of defendants John Ashcroft ("Ashcroft"), Attorney General of the United States and the United States of America (collectively, the "Government") to dismiss the complaint herein.   Plaintiffs have filed this civil action pursuant to Section 561 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Act of Feb. 8, 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-104, Title V, Subtitle C §561, 110 Stat. 56), and have requested, pursuant to that section, that a three judge district court be empaneled as set out in 28 U.S.C. §2284. On April 1, 2002, by order of the Hon. John M. Walker, Jr., Chief Circuit Judge, plaintiffs' request was granted, and a three-judge court, comprised of the Hon. Robert D. Sack, C.J., the Hon. Richard M. Berman, D.J., and the Hon. Gerard E. Lynch, D.J., was convened to hear and determine this action.   Plaintiffs now move for the issuance of a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the CDA, asserting its facial unconstitutionality, while the Government conversely moves to dismiss on the grounds that the statute is plainly constitutional. An examination of the governing caselaw establishes beyond cavil that the Government's motion must be denied, and the plaintiffs' motion should be granted.   It is well established that the regulation of expressive content in each medium must be assessed for First Amendment purposes by standards tailored to that medium. Despite this long standing position, the Government argues for a mechanistic, cookie-cutter application of obscenity precedents arising in physically-sited media, well situated for a geographic community analysis, to a medium which is equally sited in and accessible from every jurisdiction, whether metropolis or hamlet. Absent the harms which the geographic interpretation of "local community standards" was created to address, the Government nonetheless asserts that the standard should be applied in a manner that concededly will transform the local community standards from a shield into a sword. This result has been characterized by the Supreme Court as creating a content-based restriction of speech of unprecedented breadth.  …
Net Obscenity Provisions Revocation Sought NEWSBYTES By David McGuire http://www.NEWSBYTES.com December 19, 2001, Washington, DC -- A small civil liberties group has asked a federal judge in New York to revoke what remains of an Internet pornography law that was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. In a complaint filed in a New York City Federal Court [http://www.USCourts.gov ] last week, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom [https://ncsfreedom.org ] argued that the court should overturn the provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) that prohibit Web sites from displaying obscene material online. "Many people are unaware that one of the most powerful censorship provisions of the Communications Decency Act [http://EPIC.org/cda] is still in place. Even fewer realize the dangerous effect it could have in the hands of an overzealous administration and attorney general,"NCSF spokesperson Susan Wright said in a prepared statement. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the CDA drew a barrage of criticism from industry groups, publishers and civil-liberties advocates. In addition to prohibiting online obscenity -- which was already illegal in physical form -- the law called for Web site operators to be held criminally responsible if they allowed children to view constitutionally protected "indecent" material online. Only the most graphic pornography and sexually explicit material meets the legal standard for obscenity. Milder sexually explicit material -- nude photos, erotic stories and the like -- may be considered indecent. But such material is protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A broad coalition of public interest groups -- including the American Library Association [http://www.ALA.org], the American Civil Liberties Union [ http://ACLU.org ] and the Center for Democracy and Technology [http://CDT.org ] challenged the indecency provisions of CDA, on grounds that it could crimp the rights of adults to view constitutionally protected speech online. The groups convinced a lower court to freeze those provisions; that decision eventually was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the NCSF, which promotes sexual freedom and counts as members many operators of sexually explicit Web sites, maintains that the remaining online obscenity ban in CDA has a chilling effect on Web site operators who want to post sexually explicit materials. The NCSF specifically argues that the "community standards" test in federal obscenity law is meaningless in global world of the Internet. The obscenity ban in CDA is based on a decades-old obscenity…
Techsploitation By Annalee Newitz San Francisco Bay Guardian, January 14, 2002   HERE'S YET ANOTHER wacky fact you probably didn't know about the Communications Decency Act ole Bill Clinton signed into law way back in 1996: the good citizens of some small town in Arizona or southern California might have the power to send you to jail if they think the contents of your Web site are "obscene." The CDA contains a section that makes it illegal for people to make or post on the Internet "any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication which is obscene, knowing that the recipient of the communication is under 18 years of age, regardless of whether the maker of such communication ... initiated the communication."   There are two major problems with this part of the CDA. First, it assumes that people on the Internet can control who sees what they post on a Web site or in newsgroups. Right now it's just not technically possible to screen Web surfers by age or anything else. Second, and more disturbingly, the CDA doesn't define what "obscene" might be. The only definitions offered refer to "local community standards," a phrase drawn from previous Supreme Court decisions that relied on the values of particular geographic regions to define "local community standards." Obviously, this definition is meaningless on the Internet, where Skippy from Massachusetts might post a picture of himself humping his kitchen appliances on a Web server operated out of Florida, which would then be downloaded by an eager Betty Crocker fetishist in Idaho.   Translated into a real-life scenario, the CDA language in question here means that somebody like New York artist Barbara Nitke (www.barbaranitke.com), whose Web site displays her erotic art, could be sent to jail if somebody under 18 happens to visit her Web site. This is precisely the scenario members of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in Washington, DC, fear most. To prevent the Ashcroft court from setting repressive precedents with this little-known section of the CDA, the NCSF and Nitke have gone on the offensive: in mid December they filed a legal complaint with the 1st U.S. District Court in southern New York that argues that the language about "obscenity" in the CDA is unconstitutionally vague and will have a chilling effect on free speech.   As NCSF executive director Judy Guerin told me last week, this case is just…
Communications Decency Act A Lingering Coup de Grace? By Tim Kingston   January 23, 2002   You may dimly recall the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which unsuccessfully attempted to define and proscribe "indecency" on the Internet. That law's legal core--its indecency provision--was immediately challenged and rapidly struck down as unconstitutional by free- and electronic-speech advocates. But, what many may not know is that another portion of the law, prohibiting "obscene" materials on the Internet as defined by the Supreme Court, remains standing.   That is something that the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) and Barbara Nitke, a New York artist whose sexually charged photographs could be subject to the law, intend to change. Judy Guerin, the group's executive director, hopes this is a final coup de grace to that law. On Jan. 29, a federal court in New York City will be hearing preliminary arguments in a case that is likely to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court--due to the fact that appellants have an automatic and expedited right of appeal. "Obscenity is tied to community standards," asserted Guerin. "We feel that community standards are not defined and what has been previously thought of as community standards in a geographic area is not applicable to the Internet. It could mean that the most restrictive community standards in the country could apply."   The problem that Guerin cites was equally problematic with the original attempt to outlaw "indecency" on the Internet. Essentially, Guerin and other civil-liberties proponents worry that the federal government could go "venue shopping" until they found a community with standards restrictive enough to guarantee a conviction. As she pointed out, Utah has a "porn czarina" who thinks that the women's magazines Redbook and Vogue are "obscene." Given that definition, it would not be outrageous to say that every queer publication on the Internet is at risk.   Guerin, whose group is a coalition of 22 different organizations representing some 10,000 members, added, "This is an important issue for all, from [those concerned about] sex education, to anyone who talks about any kind of sexual issue on the Internet. It is certainly something the LGBT movement should be very concerned about, become very proactive about and [be] aggressive against [U.S. Attorney General John] Ashcroft."   "We feel [the law] has a chilling effect because people do not know what is and what is not allowed on…
Can David Beat Goliath in the Battle of Obscenity? Part 2   By Judd Handler   Ynot News, January 2, 2002   Last week's editorial featured an interview with John Wirenius, lead counsel for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and Barbara Nitke, an adult content photographer. Wirenius, on behalf of the NCSF and Nitke, filed a lawsuit on December 11 against Attorney General John Ashcroft seeking to overturn Internet obscenity laws as they relate to the Communications Decency Act (CDA), a statute, which is littered with extremely vague and archaic obscenity provisions.   For this week's editorial, I spoke with Susan Wright, spokeswoman for the NCSF, and Nitke, who began her professional adult photography work on the sets of hardcore films in New York City during the 1980s. When exploring the members of the NCSF's individual websites as well as Nitke's, it seems that most of the content is less risque© than most other hardcore porn sites. I spoke with Wright and Nitke to see why they decided to legally challenge the federal government and why they view the CDA as a threat to the online adult industry.   The NCSF is a Washington, DC-based political advocacy-lobbying group, comprised of educational and social organizations. Established in 1997, this cohesive group consists mostly of S&M and fetish groups. Mainstream online adult webmasters could learn how to effectively form a lobbying group like the NCSF has done. While it may not seem necessary to some webmasters to become politically cohesive, for the NCSF members, it is a matter of life or ... a life that might as well be a dead, meaningless one. Many live in fear because of the moral minority's attacks on alternative lifestyles, and the lack of vocal and political support from those that approve of or actually engage in alternative sexual expression.   According to Wright, the Kinsey Institute in 1990 conducted a study, which concluded that five to ten percent of adults (up to 25 million people!) engage in alternative sexual expression such as bondage, cross-dressing, S&M and other fetishes. "That's a lot of people," says Wright. "Millions of adults in the U.S. engage in fetishes ... They are your teachers, bus drivers, doctors, professionals and blue collar workers." Adds Wright, "These people don't talk about what they do and they don't come out about it; yet they're everywhere."   Because of the lack of support,…
Can David Beat Goliath in the Battle of Obscenity? By Judd Handler   Ynot News, December 20, 2001   One would think it would take the giants of the industry to force the government to rethink existing, not-applicable-to-the-Internet obscenity laws. On the contrary, the little players may be the ones who are successful in getting the federal government and the Supreme Court to throw out irrelevant local community standards when applied to the Internet. As a result, new guidelines better suited for the cyber community may be formulated.   The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and one if its members, an adult content photographer named Barbara Nitke are an example of those little players who aren't afraid to challenge the government. NCSF is a Washington, DC-based organization committed to protecting freedom of expression among consenting adults. A large portion of NCSF's members practices "an alternative sexual lifestyle," namely S&M, bondage and other fetishes. NCSF, according to its website, "mobilizes diverse grassroots communities to help change antiquated and unfair sex laws, and to protect free speech and advance privacy rights."   NCSF indeed does just that. On December 11, the NSCF and Nitke filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Internet obscenity laws. The defendant in the case: John Ashcroft and the Federal Government.   Why would an organization such as NCSF and a relatively unknown photographer (outside the S&M community) try to battle a behemoth such as the Federal Government and what do they hope to accomplish?   I spoke with John Wirenius, the plaintiffs' lawyer (of the firm Leeds, Morelli & Brown, www.lmblaw.com), Susan Wright, the spokesperson for the NCSF and Nitke. This week, I will focus on my conversation with Wirenius. Next week, I will provide the insights of Wright and Nitke.   "The Supreme Court meant what it said in 1997, [that] they are drawing a distinction between indecency and obscenity, and that should put all adult webmasters on guard," said Wirenius. "Unless they can prove their work has literary, artistic, social, and political merit, they are at risk for prosecution."   Wirenius discussed with Susan Wright how to advance the NCSF's legal agenda and what was the best approach to raise the issues concerning free expression. Hence, the lawsuit. "One of the biggest concerns the NCSF's constituency had was the right to communicate with each other," said Wirenius, who mentioned the problem with censorship is that how…
New Suit Targets Obscenity Law By Julia Scheeres Wired, December 12, 2001    A national organization that promotes sexual tolerance and an artist who photographs pictures of couples engaged in sadomasochism filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to overturn Internet obscenity laws. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and photographer Barbara Nitke argue that the obscenity provision of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) is so broad that it violates free speech. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, names as plaintiffs Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. government, and aims to blot out the remaining censorship provisions of the CDA, a measure passed to protect minors from online pornography. Violators of the act face fines of up to $250,000 and two years in prison. The CDA was first attacked in the 1997 case Reno v. ACLU, when the Supreme Court struck down provisions related to indecency, ruling that the law harmed constitutionally protected free speech. The act's obscenity provisions are targeted by the new challenge. The murky semantics of the terms "obscenity" and "indecency" have long been the bane of First Amendment lawyers. (For the ACLU's take on the debate, click here). The CDA defined indecent material as "any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs." The Supreme Court ruled in the Reno v. ACLU case that this broad definition unfairly criminalized speech about a variety of benign topics related to sexual health, such as contraception. The Supreme Court ruled that obscene speech -- which is not protected by the First Amendment -- must meet the following three criteria: 1) it must be prurient in nature, 2) it must be completely devoid of scientific, political, educational or social value, and 3) it must violate local community standards. The lawsuit filed Tuesday claims that the obscenity provision outlined in Section 502 of the CDA is so vague and arbitrary that it could violate speech that should be protected. The sticky words here are the so-called "local community standards," said John F. Wirenius, the plaintiffs' legal counsel and an attorney for civil rights firm Leeds, Morelli & Brown. "Obscenity is unprotected speech, but not all material is obscene from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," said Wirenius. "Material may be considered obscene in Utah,…
STANDING UP TO BE COUNTED: BARBARA NITKE CHALLENGES JOHN ASHCROFT ON S/M AND INTERNET OBSCENITY By David Steinberg Spectator Magazine, January 11, 2002 "No matter how we're wired to express love, freedom is having the courage to be who we are." - Photographer/plaintiff Barbara Nitke On December 11, Barbara Nitke and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom brought suit in New York City's Federal District Court, seeking to have the last remaining censorship provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act declared overbroad, vague, and therefore unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The suit, which will be heard this spring by a three-judge panel headed by Judge Richard Berman, is a sequel to the 1997 action by the American Civil Liberties Union, Reno v. ACLU, that resulted in the Supreme Court unanimously striking down the provision of CDA that criminalized indecent, "patently offensive" material broadcast over the Internet. The aim of Nitke v. Ashcroft is to have the ruling extended to CDA's criminalization of obscene material as well. The Communications Decency Ac was the first Federal statute attempting to regulate sexual material broadcast over the Internet. CDA makes it a Federal crime to transmit any obscene or indecent "comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication" over the Internet, if such material can be viewed by people under 18. The question of what is obscenity or indecency has always been a complex one. The current Federal definition of obscenity, the Miller test, stems from a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miller v. California. Under the Miller test, material is legally obscene only if it is sexually explicit, patently offensive according to "local community standards," and lacks any "serious literary, artistic, social, educational, or scientific value. "Sexually explicit material that does have serious social value, but is still offensive according to local community standards, falls into the legal category of indecency, even though it is not obscene. As a result, it can legally be subjected to some degree of government regulation. The supreme Court has ruled, for example, that the times when indecent material can be broadcast on television can be limited to certain late night hours, when it is presumably less likely to be seen by children. The community standards provision of the Miller ruling allowed the Supreme Court to acknowledge that material considered obscene or indecent in a small town in rural Kansas may nonetheless be quite…
What's Obscene in Podunk By John Strausbaugh New York Press, August 28, 2002   Barbara Nitke is a well-known and much-seen photographer in her field. She's president of the New York Camera Club and teaches a course in darkroom technique at SVA. A nice, neat, sweet individual, she's the very very last person in New York City you'd suspect of being a pornographer. Which she's not, not exactly. She's more an arty photo-documentarian of porn -she shot an enormous number of stills on the sets of porn shoots in the 80s and 90s-and of the activities of people of "alternative sexuality" (read: s/m).   You can see a sampling of her work at barbaranitke.com. Some portion of the erotic photography you encounter elsewhere on the Internet is also her work. And that, plus the fact that she's the very antithesis of the sleazy, trashy, drug-damaged porn professional, makes her the perfect person to front a legal challenge to current obscenity law.   Which she's doing in a case with the simple yet grandiose name Nitke v. Ashcroft. Nitke knows about obscenity prosecutions from close personal observation. Her ex-husband Herb produced porn in the 70s, including, she says, an uncredited role in financing The Devil in Miss Jones. During the movie's several obscenity trials, "He was always the guy on trial," she recalls. "So my free-speech thing goes way back."   It was when she was putting together her website, a gallery of selected photos culled from 20 years on porn sets and in s/m dungeons, that Nitke began to worry about her possible legal exposure.   "I was really proud of getting my website up, but also really concerned," she says. "There were some very scary laws that got on the books when Clinton was in power, but they never got enforced. With Ashcroft coming in, these laws were about to be enforced, I thought. A person like me, if I get hit with an obscenity suit, it's an immediate go into bankruptcy, plead guilty. There's no way I'd have the resources to fight it... I started calling around to lawyers and anybody who'd have any legal advice for me."   One lawyer she spoke with was John Wirenius, a partner at Leeds, Morelli and Brown, on Long Island (they used to have an office in the WTC as well), a firm that specializes in civil rights and civil liberties.…
New York judges refuse to say Internet obscenity law is unconstitutional By LARRY NEUMEISTER Associated Press Writer, July 25, 2005, 7:58 PM EDT  NEW YORK -- A special three-judge federal panel on Monday refused to find unconstitutional a law making it a crime to send obscenity over the Internet to children. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 had been challenged by Barbara Nitke, a photographer who specializes in pictures of sadomasochistic sexual behavior, and by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a Baltimore-based advocacy organization. They contended in a December 2001 lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that the law was so broad and vague in its scope that it violated the First Amendment, making it impossible for them to publish to the Internet because they cannot control the forum. A judge from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and two district judges heard the facts of the case and issued a written decision saying the plaintiffs had provided insufficient evidence to prove the law was unconstitutional. The panel noted that evidence was offered to indicate there are at least 1.4 million Web sites that mention bondage, discipline and sadomasochism but that evidence was insufficient to decide how many sites might be considered obscene. The judges said the evidence also was insufficient for them to determine how much the standards for obscenity differ in communities across the United States. The court said it was necessary to know how much the standards vary to decide if those creating Web sites would be graded for obscenity unfairly when compared with those who market traditional pornography and can control how they distribute the material. As the law stands, a communication is obscene if according to each community's standards it appeals to the prurient interest, depicts or describes sexual conduct in an offensive way and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. The law requires that those sending the communications take reasonable actions to restrict or prevent access by children to obscenity, sometimes by using a verified credit card, debit account or adult access code as proof of age. Nitke, who has exhibited her work for more than 20 years, said she will appeal the ruling. "I'm appalled," she said. "I think it's vitally important to keep the Internet free for education, the arts and open discussion on sexual targets." The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom also was disappointed with the…
Fotog vs. Feds in Obscenity Law: Files suit to keep photos on Web by Veronica Vera New York Daily News, July 15, 2002 Photographer Barbara Nitke is used to being behind the lens, but if legal matters heat up, she may soon find the government focusing on her. Nitke is ready to step into the foreground as the chief plantiff in Barbara Nitke and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom vs. John Ashcroft and the US Government in a challenge to the Communications Decency Act, which governs obscenity on the Internet. The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 11 in Manhattan Federal Court of New York; the government moved to dismiss, and the plaintiffs have moved for an injunction. The case continues to make its way through the courts. Nitke, whose photo show "20 Years" opened on Friday at the Art at Large Studio in Manhattan, began her career in 1982 as a still photographer on movie sets. But since 1994, her emphasis has been on chronicling the intimate lives of couples. She has gained a considerable reputation as a fine-art photographer and is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts. Photojournalist Mark Peterson, who attended the packed opening, commented, "There is a beauty and ethereal quality to her work that forces people to look at it in a different way than they might have when they walked into the room." He compared her work with that of Robert Mapplethorpe, who stirred controversy with his erotic photos. Nitke's involvement in the civil liberties lawsuit began when she decided to create a website on which to show and sell her work. Aware that her photographs are highly provocative, she consulted several lawyers regarding obscenity laws, only to discover that under the Communications Decency Act, obscenity is a gray area determined by community standards. A 1997 Supreme Court ruling struck down half of the act, the "indecency" section, when it determined that if a work is indecent but still can be found to have redeeming social value, it can be displayed in public. But the "obscenity" portion of the act still stands. Among the lawyers Nitke consulted was John Wirenius, legal counsel for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. The members of the coalition, "a national organization committed to protecting freedom of expression among consenting adults," were also concerned about obscenity statutes and decided to pursue a proactive stance and challenge…
Nerve December 11, 2001 Photographer Barbara Nitke and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) filed a lawsuit today, claiming the Internet censorship provision of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) violates the First Amendment right to free speech. The provision stipulates that "local community standards" will judge whether or not something is indecent. Yet attorney John Wirenius argues that "By allowing the most restrictive jurisdiction to define what speech can be banned as obscene from the Internet, the CDA allows one community to limit what the entire nation is allowed to discuss, to read or to view. The First Amendment does not allow any one locality to impose its morality on the nation." Artists like Barbara Nitke fear that their artwork could be targeted by John Ashcroft, who has promised to enforce obscenity laws.
Lawsuit targets last scraps of Net-obscenity law By Sam Costello (IDG News) CNN, December 20, 2001 The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) and artist Barbara Nitke have filed a lawsuit challenging the remaining provisions of the Communications Decency Act, much of which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. The act, or CDA, was passed in 1996 and was the first U.S. law designed to allow the regulation of Internet content. The remaining provision of the law bars the publication of material online that is deemed obscene under "contemporary community standards." The lawsuit, filed last week in Federal District Court in New York, challenges that aspect of the law saying it is so broad and vague that it violates the First Amendment freedom of speech protection and could prohibit frank sexual discussion among adults on the Internet. Under the law, obscenity is determined using local community standards. But applying that standard to the Internet means asking the question whether the local community is the one where the Web site is hosted or the one where it is viewed, said Susan Wright, spokesperson for the NCSF. This existing CDA provision balances on the narrow difference in the legal definitions of the terms "obscenity" and "indecency." In its CDA ruling, the Supreme Court allowed that the government could investigate and prosecute obscene speech, that is, speech with no redeeming merit.  Those obscenity provisions are too broad and vague in the view of the NCSF. "What is the local community standard," Wright asked. "Is it where you live? Where the Web site is? Is it the most restrictive community in America? The least?" The rest of the CDA should be overturned, she said, as it isn't right for members of a small, rural town to be able to determine the community standards of cities like New York or San Francisco. The NCSF filed the suit because "the CDA could have a dangerous effect on the Internet in the hands of an overzealous administration and this attorney general," Wright said. Attorney General John Ashcroft indicated a willingness to pursue CDA prosecutions when he met with a number of conservative groups earlier this year, Wright said, noting that the NCSF had obtained copies of information those groups had sent to their members after the meetings. Ashcroft has come under fire from some groups for his expansion of government surveillance powers after…
NCSF Tackles "Community Standards" For The Web By Mark Kernes Adult Video News, February Issue Washington, DC The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom may not be a household name, even in the adult entertainment industry, but if their recently-filed lawsuit succeeds, they may go down in history as the first group to secure Americans' core constitutional speech rights.  NCSF is based in the nation's capital [~] in fact, only a few blocks northwest of the Capitol itself [~] and their objective is to protect freedom of expression among consenting adults, which for them includes a large number of citizens who practice "alternative sexual lifestyles." The group, and one of its members, Barbara Nitke, filed suit on December 10 to challenge one portion of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA) that the ACLU never got around to [~] some would say, "didn't have the balls to consider" [~] challenging when they filed their suit in 1997, which suit resulted in the term "indecent" being struck from the law as an unconstitutional restriction on Internet free speech. But the CDA also criminalized Internet "obscenity," and that taboo remains in the law. And as far as plaintiffs' attorney John F. Wirenius is concerned, that's equally unconstitutional. "Obscenity is unprotected speech, but not all material is obscene from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," Wirenius told Wired News. "Material may be considered obscene in Utah, for example, but not in New York. Whose standards are supposed to be applied to the Internet?" The problem is the Supreme Court's Miller test for obscenity, which may or may not be implicated in the Child Pornography Prevention Act (COPA) case which was argued by the ACLU before the high court in late November. In order for a work to be obscene, it must appeal to the prurient interest of the average citizen; be completely devoid of any literary, artistic, political or scientific value; and must offend the standards of the community in which the work is being prosecuted, which for most jurisdictions is the state in which the charges are brought. The trouble with the test is, the Internet has no "community" [~] or, to put it another way, it is its own worldwide community, a "problem" faced by every country whose government finds offensive some material on some Website based abroad and out of that government's control. For instance, it is universally agreed among adult webmasters that no matter…
Love or Obscenity? S/M Photographer Challenges Internet Decency Standards By Dean Schabner ABCnews.com, July 29, 2002 When Barbara Nitke wanted to put her photographs of loving couples on the Internet, she thought she should check into the laws first. That's because Nitke's recent photographs have been focused on how some couples express their love through sado-masochism. What Nitke found after reading up on Internet law and talking to lawyers was that the remnants of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, much of which was declared unconstitutional in 1997, could conceivably put her in hot water if her work was considered obscene in some communities. She feared she could be charged with a crime and be forced to take the work down. So Nitke, along with the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a group described on its Web site as "committed to protecting freedom of expression among consenting adults", filed suit against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. government, challenging the CDA's use of "local community standards" to define what can be considered obscene on the Internet. To respond to this article, write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
October 20, 2005 - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has announced that his office will specifically target "bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior" in pursuing new obscenity prosecutions. The Department of Justice began recruiting in late July for a new anti-obscenity squad to pursue obscenity prosecutions, and the FBI announced in September that it was forming an anti-obscenity task force to crack down on pornography. Any website that has content containing "bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior" should be forewarned that prosecution is possible. Additionally, Federal sentencing guidelines state that any obscenity- related punishment should be "enhanced for sadomasochistic material." Forty people and businesses have been convicted of obscenity since 2001, and 20 additional indictments are pending according to Andrew Oosterbaan, chief of the Justice Department's child exploitation and obscenity section. There were only four obscenity prosecutions during the eight years of the Clinton administration. Though adult content is, in theory, protected by the First Amendment, only a jury can determine if a work is obscene or not under the subjective set of standards that vary from one community to the next established in the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. California. Text is not inherently more protected than images when it comes to obscenity charges. The erotic fiction website Red Rose Stories is facing obscenity charges after federal agents raided the owner's home on October 3rd, taking computer equipment and diskettes that contained all of their files and site information. The Department of Justice is clearly hoping that websites will self-censor or remove their content entirely. Midori, a fetish model and SM educator who teaches classes on bondage, has removed her website, BeautyBound.com, citing fear of obscenity prosecution. The owner of three SM websites, known as GrandPa DeSade, removed his websites from the Internet. SuicideGirls.com also announced they are self-censoring their materials over concerns about a possible obscenity crackdown. Recent prosecutions of obscenity on websites include: A former police officer in Lakeland, Florida, was arrested on October 7th on over 300 obscenity-related charges for the sexual content posted on his website. The same day, webmaster Chris Wilson, owner of amateur website NowThatsFuckedUp.com, was raided on charges of obscenity by a local Sheriff's office. "I think it's crucial for us to stand up for consensual sadomasochism and other alternative sexual practices," says Barbara Nitke, fetish photographer. "This is a battle worth fighting, and…
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Why You Should Care

Because your sexual expression...
  • Can result in discrimination, prosecution, and even violence against you
  • Can cause you to lose your children
  • Can cause you to lose your job or your income
  • Can lead you into a maze of antiquated laws and regulations you never even knew existed
  • Is arbitrarily criminalized by state and local authorities
  • Is used by the radical right to marginalize minority groups
  • Can result in the invasion of your privacy by the government, both within your own home or in educational, social and group environments 

How You Can Help

    • Work to change antiquated laws
    • Work to change the social climate about sexual issues
    • Promote acceptance of safe, sane, and consensual alternative sexual practices among consenting adults
    • Oppose censorship of consensual sexual expression
    • Fight for freedom of academic expression about sexual issues
    • Help communities and individuals facing the threat of prosecution or legal action
    • Support the right of adults to express their sexuality, gender identity and orientation freely and openly without fear
    • Learn more about NCSF

Why You Should Care

Because your sexual expression...
  • Can result in discrimination, prosecution, and even violence against you
  • Can cause you to lose your children
  • Can cause you to lose your job or your income
  • Can lead you into a maze of antiquated laws and regulations you never even knew existed
  • Is arbitrarily criminalized by state and local authorities
  • Is used by the radical right to marginalize minority groups
  • Can result in the invasion of your privacy by the government, both within your own home or in educational, social and group environments