Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

An Online Artist Challenges Obscenity Law

Filed under
Web

In a landmark 1973 case, the United States Supreme Court defined obscenity in part as anything that "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" would find appealing only to prurient interests. But with the growth of the Internet, a difficult question has arisen: Which community's standards apply in cyberspace?

On Monday in a case brought against the government by a New York photographer, a panel of federal judges in Manhattan declined to answer that question, but the lawsuit could end up providing the Supreme Court with a chance to address the issue.

The case, filed in 2001 by Barbara Nitke, whose Web site includes pictures of sadomasochism and bondage, argues that the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which prohibits obscene material from being distributed on the Internet, is overly broad and violates the First Amendment. Ms. Nitke contends that the law has a chilling effect on artists, educators and alternative-sex advocates because the explicit material they present on the Web could be deemed obscene in parts of the country, even if it is acceptable under community standards in other parts.

"I've had to self-censor images from my Web site, which is very, very disappointing to me," Ms. Nitke said in an interview. "It's impossible to know who's going to find what obscene, so everybody just has to make a guess at where the lines are."

In the lawsuit she gave examples of more than 1,000 images and pieces of writing that had been kept off the Internet by visual artists, writers and others because they feared prosecution under the act.

The special three-judge panel, in Federal District Court in Manhattan, said Ms. Nitke, who has photographed the sexual lives of sadomasochists since 1994, proved that her own fears of being prosecuted under the law were "actual and well founded."

"She has submitted objective evidence to substantiate the claim that she has been deterred from exercising her free-speech rights," the judges wrote, and this fear is based on a reasonable interpretation of the law.

But they ruled that she had not provided enough evidence about varying community standards and harm to free speech to prove that the law itself was unconstitutional.

In 1996, in one of the few federal cases to address the issue of cyberspace and community standards, a California couple with a pre-Internet, adult-oriented computer-bulletin-board service was convicted on obscenity charges in Tennessee, where an undercover postal inspector downloaded the explicit material. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the conviction, determining that the materials were pornographic under Tennessee community standards, even though they would probably not be pornographic under such standards in California.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the couple's appeal, and they served sentences in federal prison.

Ms. Nitke's lawyer, John Wirenius, said he planned to appeal her case, which will probably proceed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan.

By RANDY KENNEDY
The New York Times

More in Tux Machines

COM and Pico-ITX dev kit run Linux on dual-core Cortex-A7

iWave has launched a rugged, SODIMM-style COM and Pico-ITX form factor carrier board that run Linux on the Renesas dual-core, Cortex-A7 RZ/G1E SoC. In January, iWave launched the iW-RainboW-G20M-Qseven computer-on-module, built around the dual-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A15 based Renesas RZ/G1M and RZ/G1N SoCs. Now the company has followed up with a 67.6 x 37mm, SODIMM form factor “iW-RainboW-G22M-SM” COM that runs Linux 3.10.31 on the dual-core Cortex-A7 based RZ/G1E SoC from the same RZ/G series SoCs. Read more

today's leftovers

today's leftovers

  • Why leading DevOps may get you a promotion
    Gene Kim, author of The Phoenix Project and leading DevOps proponent, seems to think so. In a recent interview with TechBeacon's Mike Perrow, Kim notes that of "the nearly 100 speakers at DevOps Enterprise Summits over the last two years, about one in three have been promoted."
  • Cloud Vendors, The Great Disruptors, Face Disruption From Blockchain
  • SWORDY, a local party brawler could come to Linux if Microsoft allow it
    SWORDY is a rather fun looking local party brawler that has just released on Steam in Early Access. It could see a Linux release too, if Microsoft allow it.
  • System Shock remake has blasted past the Linux stretch goal, officially coming to Linux
    The Linux stretch goal was $1.1 million and it's pleasing to see it hit the goal, so we won't miss out now. I am hoping they don't let anyone down, as they have shown they can do it already by providing the demo. There should be no reason to see a delay with Linux now.
  • GammaRay 2.5 release
    GammaRay 2.5 has been released, the biggest feature release yet of our Qt introspection tool. Besides support for Qt 5.7 and in particular the newly added Qt 3D module a slew of new features awaits you, such as access to QML context property chains and type information, object instance statistics, support for inspecting networking and SSL classes, and runtime switchable logging categories.
  • GammaRay 2.5 Released For Qt Introspection
    KDAB has announced the release of GammaRay 2.5, what they say is their "biggest feature release yet", the popular introspection tool for Qt developers.
  • The new Keyboard panel
    After implementing the new redesigned Shell of GNOME Control Center, it’s now time to move the panels to a bright new future. And the Keyboard panel just walked this step.
  • Debian on Seagate Personal Cloud and Seagate NAS
    The majority of NAS devices supported in Debian are based on Debian's Kirkwood platform. This platform is quite dated now and can only run Debian's armel port. Debian now supports the Seagate Personal Cloud and Seagate NAS devices. They are based on Marvell's Armada 370, a platform which can run Debian's armhf port. Unfortunately, even the Armada 370 is a bit dated now, so I would not recommend these devices for new purchases. If you have one already, however, you now have the option to run native Debian.