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Groups decry screen-sex amendment

WASHINGTON – A wide range of organizations representing the political gamut from copyright holders to anti-tax groups are urging lawmakers to reject legislation that would bring some legitimate film and TV productions under the same federal reporting requirements as X-rated films.

In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the 30 groups — including the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the Recording Industry Assn. of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform — say the new requirement is a bad idea for legitimate business and could actually undo the current adult-film industry reporting requirements.

“The breadth and scope of the proposed amendments are such that they will not only have serious, adverse economic and practical implications for legitimate industries but could very likely place (the current reporting law) into a questionable constitutional stature which would threaten to undermine our shared goal of protecting children from exploitation,” the groups wrote in a letter sent last week to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

A provision inserted in the Children’s Safety Act of 2005 would require any film, TV show or digital image that contains a sex scene to come under the same government filing requirements that adult films have to meet today.

Under the record-keeping requirement known as Section 2257 — named for its citation in federal law — any filmed sexual activity requires an affidavit that lists the names and ages of the actors who engage in the act. The film is required to have a video label that claims compliance with the law and lists where the custodian of the records can be found. Violators could spend five years in jail.

Under the provision inserted into the Children’s Safety Act, the definition of sexual activity is expanded to include simulated sex acts like those that appear in many movies and TV shows.

Including the legitimate industry in the reporting requirement risks having the entire statute fail because it would expand the reach of the law beyond child protection.

“The proposed amendments would significantly expand the types and categories of conduct that would trigger the record-keeping and labeling requirements of (Section) 2257,” the groups wrote. “In so doing, the breadth of 2257 would be unprecedented and, for the first time, reach a significant amount of legitimate, mainstream conduct that is wholly unrelated to child exploitation.”

The groups, which also include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Library Assn., questioned the provision’s scope, saying it could apply to anyone involved in making, renting or selling motion pictures or TV shows that include steamy love scenes.

“The language which passed the House on September 14, 2005, and is currently under consideration for possible introduction in the Senate, removes this limitation, which was also added by Congress in 1990 to cure constitutional defects in the original statute,” the groups wrote. “Elimination of this language would require persons far removed from the underlying conduct to comply with the record-keeping requirements or face incarceration even though the vast majority of them had no actual contact or relationship with the performers in question.”

The provision, written by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., could have ramifications beyond simply requiring someone to ensure that the names and ages of actors who partake in pretend lovemaking as compliance with Section 2257 in effect defines a movie or TV show as a pornographic work under federal law. Industry sources say the provision was included in the bill at the behest of the Justice Department.

It is unclear why Justice wants 2257 to be expanded; calls to the department have gone unreturned. According to a copy of the department’s 2004 report to Congress, 2257 is little used by the department. According to the report, the department prosecuted five 2257 violations from 1993-2004. The prosecutions were not directly attributable to inspections of 2257 forms but from other means, mostly search warrants executed by the FBI.

While the provision was included in the House version of the Children’s Safety Act approved September 14, it was not included in the version of the bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 17.

Pence has said he is willing to modify the provision, and entertainment industry executives have said they are willing to compromise, but it is unclear how that would come about.

The proposal still could be added to the Senate version when it comes up for the full Senate’s consideration. Since it is in the House version, it will have to be disposed of one way or the another when lawmakers from both sides meet to iron out their differences.

 

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