Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US pornography industry braces itself for clampdown


America's booming adult entertainment industry is bracing itself for a "summer of censorship" as the government clamps down on pornography.

For nearly 10 years, the resources of the Department of Justice's anti-obscenity division have been allocated almost exclusively to the war on child pornography, leaving those involved in the US$10 billion-a-year adult market to their own devices.

But with producers of adult porn becoming increasingly lawless, according to Andrew Oosterbaan, head of the agency's anti-obscenity department, it is time to "send ripples" through the industry and prosecute those producing and distributing obscene material.

"Nothing will be off-limits as far as content goes," he said. "We'll do everything we can to deter this conduct."

Oosterbaan's department has its work cut out. More than 11,000 adult films are released annually in the US and there are 800 million DVD and video rentals of adult movies each year, according to the trade association Adult Video News.

Porn on the Internet is at record levels. Websense, an Internet software management company, announced earlier this month that it has more than 1.6 million adult Web pages on its database, 18 times more than in 2000, and a recent Nielsen/Net Ratings study said one in four Internet surfers in the US, about 34 million people, uses the Web to visit adult sites.

Obscenity laws have been unchanged since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled that for material to be considered obscene, an average person applying "contemporary standards" must find it offensive and without artistic value.

The recent reappointment of high-profile anti-porn lawyer Bruce Taylor to the Justice Department is one clear indication of President George W. Bush's get-tough policy.

The move has drawn criticism from free-speech advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and those involved in the adult entertainment industry say it is no coincidence that the policy shift comes just months ahead of November's presidential election.

"This agenda is to attract votes," said lawyer Paul Cambria, who has defended many adult business owners, including the notorious Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, against obscenity charges.

"It's censorship. It's an effort by the Department of Justice to interfere with adults' rights to adult materials. We deal in plain old vanilla sex, nothing really outrageous," Cambria said.

The clampdown on the adult entertainment industry mirrors a lower-tolerance approach being shown by federal government towards other areas of the media. The House of Representatives approved tougher penalties for indecency on the airwaves and called the heads of the major broadcast networks together for warnings.

Their ire was stoked by an incident at January's Super Bowl in which singer Janet Jackson's breast was exposed to millions of viewers on live television.

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