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May 10, 2002 02:00am
Nude Celebrity Sites to be Shut Down
Source: Wired News
by: Randy Dotinga

A federal court judge is sending shockwaves through the cyberporn industry by suggesting the companies that limit access to dirty pictures on the Internet could be held liable for illegal content on the websites they protect.

Adult Check, which bills itself as the world's largest "adult verification system," (Avs) followed an order by U.S. Federal Court Judge Lourdes Baird on Monday and dropped support for thousands of nude celebrity websites. Other Avs companies are expected to follow in the wake of a lawsuit that puts Adult Check on the defensive against a high-toned porn magazine and its unlikely ally, Britney Spears.

"This is about law and order finally coming to the Wild West of the adult community on the Internet," said J.D. Obenberger, a First Amendment lawyer in Chicago who specializes in defending people who provide X-rated entertainment.

No one knows how many porn sites are on the Internet, but Adult Check claims to protect hundreds of thousands of them against access by children. Avs companies sprung up after the Communications Decency Act of 1996 allowed X-rated websites to offer access to people who could prove they were adults by using credit cards.

For $19.95, Web users who sign up with Adult Check get a password that lasts three months and unlocks protected sites, and webmasters get a cut of the proceeds. Dozens of other Avs services with names such as CyberAge, MANcheck and Adult Sights offer the same service at a variety of prices.

Many of the linked sites boast pilfered pictures. "If the adult website community had a flag, it would be the Jolly Roger," Obenberger said. "They're all a bunch of pirates, in the main. They steal images from each other left and right."

To make matters more dicey, untold thousands of linked websites feature galleries of nude pictures -- real, fake or somewhere in between -- of celebrities ranging from Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow to Sarah Ferguson and Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld."

The lawsuit that stopped Adult Check wasn't filed by a celebrity, however.

Instead, it came from the porn magazine Perfect 10 which claims a monthly circulation of more than 90,000 and boasts of implant-free "natural women." Perfect 10 alleges that Adult Check affiliates posted its copyrighted photos and violated the "publicity rights" of celebrities.

In the past, courts have ruled that websites cannot be held responsible for simply linking to material that violates the law. However, Judge Baird refused to let Adult Check off the hook, saying it may have an actual partnership with the websites it protects.

In one ruling -- which mentions cases involving Nintendo [ http://Nintendo.com ], Toys 'R Us [ http://ToysRUs.com ], Abercrombie & Fitch [ http://Abercrombie.com ] and Playboy [ http://Playboy.com ] -- the judge also said that there may be a case against Adult Check for linking to websites that don't show what they promise.

If a link promises nude pictures of actress Jennifer Love Hewitt [ http://Jennifer-Love.com ], the judge said, "one could reasonably expect to find Jennifer Love Hewitt nude images on a site with that label."

According to the judge, Britney Spears and her manager filed documents in the case supporting Perfect 10's claim that Adult Check is linking to non-existent nude photos. Perfect 10, which has a website of its own, says Adult Check is thereby violating laws against unfair competition.

On April 24, Judge Baird issued a preliminary injunction ordering Adult Check to block access to some kinds of sites. On Monday, after warning its affiliated webmasters, Adult Check cut off its protection of websites in its "Models and Celebrities" section and removed the listings from its master website.

[For the rest of the story follow the link in the box to the right]

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