In 1969, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on the case of Stanley v Georgia, unanimously concluding that a person has the right to watch pornography in the privacy of his or her own home. In the decision, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote:
Whatever may be the justifications for other statutes regulating obscenity, we do not think they reach into the privacy of one’s own home. If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.
With this in mind, the news that federal prosecutors in Washington D.C. are attempting to force a company to turn over records that divulge the names and addresses of people who purchased “obscene” materials is puzzling at best and frightening at worst.
A company named only as Company X has been served with three Grand Jury subpoenas requesting business records and 2257 documentation – not uncommon or unreasonable in a prosecution of this type. But the fourth subpoena demands “a copy of records that show the identity of all movies sold or distributed, including the date of each transaction, payment received, and method and date of each of each shipment, from customer purchases” from the company’s website that occurred during 15-day windows in December 2007 and April 2008.
The company offered invoices with customer names and addresses blacked out, but the Dept of Justice demanded the originals that included personal information for everyone who purchased adult videos from this company in those time periods. While the judge presiding over the Grand Jury had the good sense to reject the prosecutors’ insistence that the documents show personal customer information, the motives of the Justice Department are open to speculation.
Could the DoJ be planning to go after consumers of adult materials in the future? It’s hard to say, but important to note that while possessing obscene materials is not a crime, receiving them is. I’m not sure how a person comes to possess anything without first receiving it, but the bottom line is that the feds may be considering stepping over a boundary that would put porn consumers in jeopardy.
Even though VideoBox has content standards and a business model that make it an extremely unlikely target for government witch hunts, I felt it was important that we all, as consumers of adult entertainment, know what’s happening elsewhere in the world of porn. The Grand Jury hasn’t made any indictments yet, so let’s hope that rationality prevails and Company X (whoever they are) doesn’t end up like Rob Zicari, Janet Romano or Max Hardcore.