A new censorship law in Washington state was first proposed on February 2, fast-tracked through the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Christine Gregoire on March 29,
Senate Bill 6251 makes it a crime if a person (or company) knowingly publishes, disseminates, or displays, or causes directly or indirectly, to be published, disseminated, or displayed, any advertisement for a commercial sex act, which is to take place in the state of Washington and that includes the depiction of a minor.
Not much of a problem, right? But the devil here is in the details. Section 2 of the new law reads:
In a prosecution under this statute, it is not a defense that the defendant did not know the age of the
minor depicted in the advertisement. It is a defense, which the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant made a reasonable bona fide attempt to ascertain the true age of the minor depicted in the advertisement by
requiring, prior to publication, dissemination, or display of the advertisement, production of a driver's license, marriage license, birth certificate, or other governmental or educational identification card or paper of the minor depicted in the
advertisement and did not rely solely on oral or written representations of the minor's age, or the apparent age of the minor as depicted. In order to invoke the defense, the defendant must produce for inspection by law enforcement a record of the
identification used to verify the age of the person depicted in the advertisement.
One might be tempted to think of this section as a requirement for a sort of 2257 recordkeeping for people who advertise themselves or others as
escorts, but in reality, it's a real Catch-22. Prostitution is still a crime in Washington state, so any person who'd like to engage in that profession and place ads online or in one of the local tabloids will have to reveal---and provide proof
of---his/her true identity to the company placing the ad online or in print, thus risking having the police subpoena such material from the publication/website owner... or simply seize it in a raid ostensibly looking for evidence of underage sex
A federal judge has sided with Backpage.com against a Washington state law targeting small ads that would require online publishers to verify the age of those shown in the ads.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez granted a temporary restraining
order to put a halt to the statute, ruling that he'd hear arguments over it at a preliminary injunction hearing June 15.
SB 6251 would force websites to censor user content on the grounds that it would be unviable to actually check the ages of
pictures featuring in adverts. The bill threatens five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine per violation should publishers be caught out by an underage picture.
Backpage explained in the law suit:
expressly states that it is not a defense that the defendant did not know that the image was of a minor, Instead, to avoid prosecution, the defendant must obtain governmental or educational identification for the person depicted in the post.
This means that every service provider, no matter where headquartered or operated, must review each and every piece of third-party content posted on or through its service to determine whether it is an 'implicit' ad for a commercial
sex act in Washington, and whether it includes a depiction of a person, and, if so, must obtain and maintain a record of the person's ID.
Backpage said that SB 6251 contravenes Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which
prohibits Internet service providers from being treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by a third party.
Backpage counsel noted that other states are poised to follow Washington's lead. A similar law will soon take effect
in Tennessee, and the legislatures in New York and New Jersey are considering analogous bills.
A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of a new Washington state law that would require classified advertising companies to verify the ages of people in sex-related advertisements.
Gov. Chris Gregoire claimed the
law this year to cut down on child sex trafficking. The law received unanimous approval from the Legislature and had been scheduled to take effect in June, but courts have put its implementation on hold.
The Washington law would allow for the
criminal prosecution of anyone who knowingly publishes or causes the publication of sex-related ads depicting children, unless they can show they made a good-faith effort to confirm that the person advertised was not a juvenile.
The decision U.S.
District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez stops the law from taking effect until the lawsuit challenging it can be heard in court.
The website Backpage.com and the Internet Archive, a popular archive of Internet sites, asked for the preliminary
Backpage and Internet Archive argue the new law violates the Communications Decency Act of 1996, as well as the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Backpage.com argues that
SB6251 would force websites to become the government's censors of users' content and would place an incredible burden on the company to review every bit of third-party content, as well as obtain and maintain records of individuals' ID.
These obligations would bring the practice of hosting third-party content to a grinding halt,
according to Backpage.com's legal suit.
In his ruling, Martinez found merit in some of their arguments that the state law would conflict with existing federal law. He also drew a distinction between the idea of the law and the reality of its
Universal Studios has completed a settlement with the makers of Fifty Shades of Grey: A XXX Adaptation .
According to a court filing, Smash Pictures will make a payment of a confidential sum to payoff the lawsuit and will also consent
to a permanent injunction that will prohibit the distribution of the XXX Adaptation.
Smash Pictures and James Lane (aka Jim Powers) thought the story was a natural adult movie, so they made one. Smash exec Stuart Wall told a newspaper, Since
they are going to make a mainstream [film] of the books too, dabbling in the adult world, we're choosing to go with a XXX adaption which will stay very true to the book and its S&M-themed romance.
Slapping a parody tag onto the
title wasn't enough to keep Universal from protecting its rights. Along with Fifty Shades Ltd., the copyright owner of the original material, a lawsuit was filed in November that called the XXX Adaptation a willful attempt to capitalize on the
reputation of the book.
Backpage.com, one of the world's largest classified ad websites and a frequent target in the political battle against sex work, closed its adult ads section Monday in the United States after becoming the victim of a government witch hunt.
came shortly after the release of a U.S. Senate report that accused Backpage of hiding criminal activity by deleting terms from ads that indicated prostitution.
The abrupt closure came on the eve of the scheduled testimony of Backpage's founders,
Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and the site's CEO, Carl Ferrer, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' subcommittee on investigations.
To keep problematic ads online, the company edited them. One moderator said
he removed material that was obviously indicative of prostitution but the post remained published. According to the Senate report, the moderator testified under oath: [M]y responsibility was to make the ads OK to run live on the site, because having
to get rid of the ad altogether was bad for business.
By late Monday, visitors to Backpage saw censored tags in red font under the adult section's menu of escorts, body rubs and strippers. Other sections remained operative, including
for cars, real estate and childcare. Backpage said:
Like the decision by Craigslist to remove its adult category in 2010, this announcement is the culmination of years of effort by government at various levels to exert
pressure on Backpage.com and to make it too costly to continue.