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Porn Webmasters Bush-Whacked?

SAN DIEGO — Obscenity prosecutions are taking a toll on the porn industry as publishers embrace an every-man-for-himself approach under relentless Bush administration attacks.

The annual Cybernet Expo last Sunday was overshadowed by a big question: Whether to stand united with producers of “extreme” material bearing the brunt of the assault in order to preempt attacks on milder content, or get some distance and hope to avoid being targeted?

Tara, webmaster of freepornstarpix.com (NSFW), prefers the latter approach. “It would be better to sacrifice some people … so everybody else can get on with it,” said Tara, who declined to give her last name because her family doesn’t know about her job. Extreme content producers, she said, “need to cool it, pull back a little bit” instead of “asking for it” during a right-wing administration.

A lightning rod in the debate is the 2003 obscenity prosecution (.pdf) of production company Extreme Associates (NSFW) for videos that feature urination, adults portrayed as children and simulated rape. The case, which has been bouncing around the court system for three years, is expected to go to trial in Pittsburgh next year.

Extreme Associates owner Rob Black blasted the porn industry this weekend for breaking ranks, rather than standing united.

“You hear all this solidarity. Bullshit,” he said. “This industry except for about five people has hung me out to dry. Everybody wants to make a fucking compromise.”

Pressure against the industry increased last month with a landmark lawsuit that appears to target a somewhat milder grade of porn. The Justice Department issued an obscenity indictment against JM Productions and Five Star Video over four porn DVDs, one featuring bukkake (NSFW) and another that reportedly simulates torturous oral sex to satirize the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The defendants face a maximum sentence of five years for each of several obscenity counts.

In the new prosecution, the government is “getting closer to the center” and moving away from the most extreme content, said Connor Young, president of the porn webmaster resource site YNOT.com. He thinks all porn should be allowed except material that features children or involuntary violence.

Porn industry attorney Greg Piccionelli believes in the solidarity approach. “If we don’t defend the people they start with, sooner or later they’ll work their way down,” he told the webmasters.

The Extreme Associates case could set a precedent that tiny clips of video or even individual photos could be declared obscene even if they’re part of a larger piece of work. “It is absolutely critical that (the defendants) prevail, that the work be taken as a whole,” Piccionelli said.

The court cases will also determine if “regressive fiefdoms of conservatism” can apply their own local standards about obscenity to the internet, he said.

What’s next? As the extreme content cases are heading to trial, there’s no resolution yet over proposed federal rules that threaten to shut down some porn sites.

Piccionelli acknowledged that industry attorneys have developed a reputation as “Chicken Littles” who always say the sky is falling.

Even so, he predicted that if another Republican enters the White House, “the whole industry will be in the same position as Extreme Associates four years from now.”

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