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Hey Sexters, Here’s a Very Good Reason to Care About Porn Laws

Time to stop seeing pornographers as some discrete, pervy part of the population.

Lux Alptraum

Lux Alptraum

Image: Shutterstock

Most of us tend to think of pornographers, and porn law, as being about one very specific set of people: namely, those who make a living recording people fucking and selling or freely distributing the resulting photos and video. But in the eyes of the law, it's not quite that simple.

As technology has made it easier for anyone to create and distribute dirty pictures and videos, it's become harder to see where the pornographers end and the rest of us pervs begin—and that could mean that the aggressive laws designed to crack down on "evil" pornographers could potentially spill over into the lives of ordinary citizens.

Take, for instance, 18 U.S.C. § 2257 and § 2257A, the federal statutes that govern adult industry record keeping and reporting. Ostensibly designed to prevent the distribution of child porn, these regulations—which are much more about maintaining proper paperwork than they are about not exploiting minors—aren't just for people who actually create porn. They also outline strict regulations for anyone who distributes sexual media to the masses, no matter how far that person is from the actual creation of the original media.

Image: Luke Skywalker/Flickr

If you've ever tweeted a dirty photo, or posted a porn photo on Reddit, or curated your very own XXX Tumblr, or even published a celebrity's sex tape on your news blog, you could potentially be considered a "secondary producer." And as a secondary producer, you're legally required to not just maintain extensive records, but have links to information about those records, formatted in a very specific way, on your site.

As the laws are written, it doesn't matter if you didn't create the images, or if you don't even know their original source: if you're publishing XXX pictures, not having your 2257 records publicly listed in exactly the right way could, technically, lead to jail time, even if everyone in the content you've distributed is above the age of eighteen. Yet that's something few of the people bringing adult content to Tumblr actually seem to be aware of.

And as more porn regulation laws get proposed, the disconnect between legal regulations and actual life threatens to get even wider. This November, Californians will vote on Proposition 60, a ballot initiative that requires producers to provide condoms to their performers, and threatens severe consequences for producers who create condom-free content in California. But Proposition 60 isn't just about powerful producers pressuring talent into unprotected sex: as the law is written, a California-based married couple that gets off on recording their sex life and uploading it to a site like MakeLoveNotPorn.tv could face dire consequences if they don't use condoms.

And if this all seems like so much paranoia, consider that some states have slapped consensually sexting teens with child porn charges. The more digital and documented our sex lives become, the more "ordinary" sex begins to look like commercial porn–particularly as more and more of that porn for profit gets distributed online for free.

Stop seeing pornographers as some discrete, pervy part of the population

But if porn laws can be so broadly applied, why don't we hear more stories of people winding up in jail over sexy social media posts or unprotected sexts? Well, for starters, there's a difference between laws being on the books and laws being enforced, and most of the agencies responsible for enforcing the laws around porn don't actually have the time, or the budgets, to prosecute anyone for noncompliance. The FBI is far more interested in keeping tabs on ISIS and preventing acts of terrorism than taking down bloggers who can't be bothered to learn the minutiae of porn law before posting a bunch of hot sex pix.

Even in Los Angeles, where both making porn and pushing for aggressive laws to regulate it are popular pursuits, no one has much interest in devoting resources or time to keeping tabs on porn. According to adult entertainment lawyer Michael Fattorosi, even the porn companies who actively try to be compliant with Measure B have difficulty getting the public health department to actually issue them the necessary permits.

But just because the laws aren't currently being enforced, that doesn't mean they never will be. Escort site Rentboy.com was in operation (and not very secret about it) for almost two decades before the feds came calling. With the Republican platform increasingly divorced from reality, it's not unimaginable that a Trump administration—or even some future, slightly saner Republican president—could start seriously cracking down on the adult industry, as well as all the mainstream companies like Reddit, Tumblr, and Twitter that, despite their SFW face, still manage to profit off of porn.

So what are we to do? Well, for starters, stop seeing pornographers as some discrete, pervy part of the population and recognize that, in many ways, the internet has made smut purveyors of us all. And then start advocating for more sensible, enforceable adult industry regulations that take into consideration the realities of what porn and adult entertainment look like today.

And for the love of all things holy, if you're registered to vote in California, please vote no on Prop 60 this November.