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April 16, 2003 12:12pm
New Dangers Running Home-Based Adult Website
Source: FirstAmendment.com
by: Lawrence G. Walters

A disturbing indictment has recently been filed against a husband and wife involved in a home-based adult Website business, along with their webmasters. Mike and Sharon Corbett face federal obscenity charges as a result of the alleged production, and distribution via the United States Mail, of adult video content featuring scatological activities.

While the initiation of federal obscenity charges, after many years of peace at the federal level, is itself disconcerting, it is critical that home-based Webmasters be aware of the forfeiture argument that the Government is asserting in this case.

The Indictment filed against these individuals seeks forfeiture of certain property based on conspiracy to commit obscenity violations, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. � 2461(c), 18 U.S.C. � 981(a)(1)(C) and Rules 7(c)(2) and 32.2(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Government seeks to forfeit "any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is delivered from proceeds traceable to such [obscenity] offense, including, but not limited to" cash proceeds derived from the conspiracy and the couples' residence in West Virginia. The Government's theory is that the home was used to facilitate the alleged offenses, so it is therefore subject to forfeiture. In the event that this property cannot be located or has been transferred, substantially diminished or commingled, the government seeks to forfeit "any other property of said defendants up to the value of said property listed above as being subject to forfeiture."

Prior to the proliferation of adult Websites, adult content production facilities were usually located in a commercial space, and not operated out of a house. However, technological advances have allowed adult Internet businesses to be efficiently run from a residence, thereby alleviating the additional expense and overhead associated with commercial facilities. What has been overlooked by many webmasters in establishing a home-based adult Internet business is the potential for forfeiture of any assets traceable to criminal law violations. An adult webmaster's home is not safe if the operation is run from the residence. This concern is complicated by the fact that webmasters are required by Title 18, U.S.C. � 2257 to conspicuously post the name of a records custodian on their Website, and an address where age records can be found. Many Webmasters have no other option but to list their home address as the records location. This provides the government with key information regarding the location utilized to potentially commit obscenity offenses.

It is critical to evaluate the implications of running a home-based adult content production facility or adult Website. While commercial space may be costly, operating an adult facility from a residence may subject your home to potential forfeiture, in the event of a successful obscenity prosecution. If you have any questions or comments regarding the issues raised in this article, please contact your personal attorney.

Lawrence G. Walters, Esq., is a partner with the law firm of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt, which maintains offices in Orlando, Los Angeles and San Diego. Mr. Walters represents clients involved in all aspects of adult media. The firm handles First Amendment cases nationwide, and has been involved in significant Free Speech litigation before the United States Supreme Court. All statements made in the above article are matters of opinion only, and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult your own attorney on specific legal matters.

You can reach Lawrence Walters at Larry@LawrenceWalters.com, FirstAmendment.com or AOL Screen Name: "Webattorney."

Lawrence G. Walters
Weston, Garrou & DeWitt
FirstAmendment.com

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