Media & Communications law

Feds Pursue Obscene in Sea of Porn

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Created in response to pressure from conservative groups, a little-known federal task force is trying to hold the line on obscenity.

It is targeting for prosecution a small number of fringe film producers in the nation’s booming pornography industry, focusing on movies that, although otherwise legal, may fall within the difficult-to-apply definition of obscenity. Under a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court test, obscene materials “must appeal to prurient interests, be patently offensive by community standards and have no literary, scientific, political or artistic value,” explains the Los Angeles Times.

Ira Isaacs, 56, an “obscure niche producer” of porn films featuring bestiality and defecation, found out about the crackdown in January, when the feds raided his Los Angeles office, the newspaper recounts. In the first task force obscenity case in Southern California, he was indicted in July on six felony counts of transporting obscene material.

At a time when explicit depictions of sexual activity are commonplace in venues ranging from hotel pay-per-view movies to art galleries, observers say it may not be easy to prove that even extreme pornography catering to unusual interests many consider distasteful is obscene. Plus, they wonder whether it’s worthwhile to attempt to do so.

“What does this accomplish? That is the question. These cases take a lot of prosecutorial resources,” says Laurie Levenson. A former federal prosecutor, she now teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Says Isaacs: “This is the only crime you don’t know you did until the jury tells you you did it. It’s not like I’m selling illegal products. It’s perfectly legal to own this stuff, share it.”

Meanwhile, anti-porn groups are pressuring the Bush administration to do more, the Times writes. “Our preference is prosecuting porn purveyors who are making a bigger impact on the culture,” says Cathy Ruse, senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council.

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