Are Oscar Winners Susceptible to Child Porn Law?

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Are Oscar Winners Susceptible to Child Porn Law?

Thu Nov 01, 2007 @ 04:28PM PST

Posted by Matthew Heller

Amer_beautyIs the Supreme Court becoming less star-struck when it comes to enforcing anti-child porn laws?

Free-speech advocates invoked Oscar winners “Traffic” and “American Beauty” in successfully challenging the Child Pornography Prevention Act a few years ago. “Whether or not the films ... violate the CPPA, they explore themes within the wide sweep of the statute's prohibitions,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in finding the law unconstitutional. But four years after Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the Supremes do not appear quite so receptive to what could be called the “mainstream Hollywood” argument in a case dealing with a law that makes it illegal to promote material with the intent to cause others to believe the material is child porn.

“Traffic” features a scene in which a drug-addicted minor (played by Erika Christensen) trades sex for drugs, while in “American Beauty,” a teenage girl (Meena Suvari) yields to the lust of a middle-aged suburban husband. During oral arguments last week in U.S. v. Williams, Solicitor General Paul Clement told the Supremes that “if you're taking a movie like 'Traffic' or 'American Beauty,' which is not child pornography, and you're simply truthfully promoting it, you have nothing to worry about with this statute.” Even the more moderate justices appeared to be reassured, with Stephen Breyer saying, “I don't see under [Clement's] interpretation how anyone could conceivably be prosecuted” for promoting the two movies.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- who confessed to not having seen “Traffic” -- was more skeptical. What about “Lolita,” she asked, which “depicts a 12-year-old child having sexual relations with an old man?”

In the case of a mainstream movie, Clement replied, “the natural assumption ... is going to be, 'Oh, that's just actors, it's probably adult actors, or a body double or something.' I don't think that comes within the statute.”

An amicus brief submitted by free-speech groups also cited salacious promotional materials for “Hustle and Flow” and “Cruel Intentions” as threatened by the law. But those movies did not come up in the court's discussion.

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