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Does Paul Cambria Speak for You? Attorney Misses Golden Opportunities in Senate Testimony
By: Connor Young (Courtesy of YNOT.com)
On a lazy Thursday afternoon I found myself watching C-SPAN with a mixture of frustration and disappointment as respected adult industry attorney Paul Cambria got up before a United States Senate committee and made a number of extremely unfortunate mistakes in response to questions from a panel of four senators – two Democrats, and two Republicans. Mr. Cambria, dressed in his Sunday best and trying very hard to project humble humanity, spoke on behalf of the adult entertainment industry on the issue of children’s access to “internet pornography” – but, in a matter of bitter irony, it is precisely the internet side of the adult business that Mr. Cambria knows the least about.
Now, before I get to those mistakes in detail, it would be unfair of me to criticize Mr. Cambria without first showing immense admiration and respect for his many impressive accomplishments. Paul Cambria has won a tremendous number of courtroom victories for adult entertainment companies, and he was defending clients from our industry back when many of us from the internet segment were still playing little league baseball. Mr. Cambria is one of Larry Flynt’s most potent weapons, and he recently has worked along with the Free Speech Coalition and another very accomplished industry attorney, H. Louis Sirkin, on the industry’s challenge to 2257 record-keeping laws. This isn’t just another industry attorney we’re talking about – this is one of our best, which is why he has been chosen by respected companies like Hustler, Vivid and AVN to represent and protect their interests.
So it is with a degree of sadness, and with a dash of disappointment, that I feel compelled to say that Paul Cambria didn’t do anyone from this industry any favors when he struggled with answers to what should have been easy questions from senators Stevens, Allen and Pryor.
Mr. Cambria opened his time in the spotlight with what was a decent-enough prepared statement that covered a lot of ground, including the willingness – and in fact, the eagerness – of the legitimate adult entertainment industry to work with government to find reasonable solutions to valid concerns, like children’s access to online pornography. Mr. Cambria rightly brought up the point that a .kids TLD would be a monumental step in the right direction for reconciling the government’s desire to empower parents with the country’s duty to protect the First Amendment rights of adults. He properly rejected any .xxx TLD proposal as incapable of shielding children from exposure to pornography, and pointed out that U.S.-based laws restricting online content would do nothing to address the nature of websites that originate from overseas. He also pointed out that past laws restricting non-obscene speech have been routinely shot down by the Supreme Court. Mr. Cambria should be commended for bringing up these very valid points. I admit that I cringed a little bit when Mr. Cambria brought up a possible industry ratings system, since I generally feel that labeling kid-appropriate content is the best approach, but I’m not entirely opposed to voluntary ratings if they are in fact voluntary, and many times I have advised webmasters to make use of ICRA’s existing voluntary labeling system. Why we would need a new rating system, however, I’m not entirely sure.
When the prepared speech was over, Mr. Cambria made a number of significant mistakes that did not help the position of the adult internet industry – starting with his botched answer to the very first question that he was asked.
Mr. Cambria’s first mistake was his terrible response to a valid, if misguided, question from Senator Stevens (R-AK) about website labeling. Senator Stevens wrongly asserted that nobody from the adult industry currently labels adult websites as “for adults only,” and asked Mr. Cambria why the people he represents had not taken it upon themselves to label. So here is Paul Cambria, one of our industry’s best attorneys, with a softball question and a golden opportunity to set the record straight – and to show that the industry is really misunderstood, and that most of us have indeed taken steps to assist responsible parents. What he should have explained to Senator Stevens is that most legitimate adult websites do in fact label their content, usually with the ICRA labeling system, and that if a parent makes use of existing browser controls in Internet Explorer, all of these labeled websites will be automatically blocked. Instead, and to my utter disbelief, Mr. Cambria told Senator Stevens that adult businesses do not label their websites, but that, gee whiz, perhaps they ought to start!
What?! Did I just hear Paul Cambria correctly? With an opportunity to finally give some voice to the adult industry, did he just let Senator Stevens walk away thinking that most of us, if not all of us, do not label our websites as containing “for adults only” content? Cambria’s inability to respond properly was a monumental missed opportunity for the industry; and I can’t help but wonder how many people who watched that hearing, and who believed that Mr. Cambria spoke for all of us, now also believe that no adult webmasters label their websites. (For the record, the biggest website of Mr. Cambria’s most famous client, meaning Hustler.com, does indeed employ an ICRA label.)
Shortly afterwards, Senator Pryor (D-AR) set Mr. Cambria up with another golden opportunity to shine – and again, our “representative” came up short. Senator Pryor, clearly not well informed on technology issues, is one of several senators contemplating the creation of a law mandating that adult websites use .xxx domain names and only .xxx domain names – meaning, if he has his way, kiss your .com domains goodbye. (Those of you who know my longstanding fight with industry advocates of the supposedly “voluntary” .xxx proposal will please excuse me if I take a bow for my uncanny foresight on this topic – thank you, thank you.) Senator Pryor wanted to know whether, under the .kids proposal, an immoral website operator could simply ignore any laws and place adult content on a website that uses a .kids domain name. Mr. Cambria responded that he did not have the technical knowledge to answer the question, and instead made only a vague assurance that he was told this wouldn’t be possible. The answer that Mr. Cambria lacked, of course, is that any .kids TLD could be implemented as a sponsored-level domain name – kind of like the .edu TLD. That means a governing body could oversee administration and use of .kids domain names, and could easily and quickly revoke the domain name of any party found to be violating any acceptable use provisions. The obstacle with .kids isn’t whether or not it would be effective in shielding children from adult content – clearly, it would be effective – but rather, whether or not ICANN would agree to create this TLD, since it is under no obligation to do so. If a .kids TLD application were granted, however, the government could then enact very strict penalties for anyone who knowingly provides material that is “harmful to minors” through use of a .kids domain name. Additionally, there would be a mechanism for removing offending websites immediately. And keep in mind, companies would not need to build entirely new websites for kids – existing websites with only kid-appropriate content could simply register a .kids domain name and point it at their existing site. It would take approximately 15 minutes of effort for the majority of kid-appropriate websites to implement this plan, and parents would then have an online sanctuary for their children.
Mr. Cambria made another error when Senator Pryor asked him about the industry’s level of support for age verification technologies. Several companies offer “online age verification” solutions that generally are of questionable utility and are also burdensomely expensive for high volume websites. Mr. Cambria, however, who does not seem to be very well informed about all the recent commotion over online age verification solutions, thought that the senator was asking him about whether or not the industry would support verifying the age of models and talent – and replied that, of course, the industry would welcome that! But that wasn’t what the senator was asking about – he wanted to know if we would be willing to employ expensive and ineffective systems to “verify” the age of website visitors, not models. So now, I’m sad to report, the “representative” of the adult industry just told Congress that we’re all perfectly okay with implementing “age verification” technologies on our websites. Get out your checkbooks, webmasters, because if you want to help cover Mr. Cambria’s slip-up then it’s going to cost you a whole heck of a lot of money. And the sad part? Kids will still get through this flawed and expensive “age verification” technology (although many of your adult customers won’t), so you won’t even be accomplishing something positive through shouldering all that financial burden. Hopefully, for all our sakes, Senator Pryor understands that Mr. Cambria missed the nature of the question, and therefore won’t hold us to Mr. Cambria’s response.
There were three other individuals invited to testify, in addition to Mr. Cambria, about the issue of internet pornography and children. Why is it, then, that it was not Mr. Cambria, but rather the two people to Mr. Cambria’s right – Tatiana Platt from AOL and Tim Lordan from the Internet Education Foundation – who had to make the point that parents should shoulder the majority of the burden of protecting their own children. Ms. Platt, who couldn’t resist referring to pornography as “filth” and who contradicted her own company’s chief about the prevalence of pornographic email spam, nonetheless presented the most compelling argument that parents must step forward and claim their own share of responsibility in shielding their kids from content that they feel is inappropriate. Likewise, Mr. Lordan – who also made gibes at adult entertainment – competently pushed for parental responsibility and educational campaigns. Mr. Cambria, unfortunately, had little to say on the issue.
The good news is that one of the senators had the right idea about the government’s best role in regulating adult content online. At one point, Senator Inouye (D-HI) rightly pointed out that in a recent poll, 70% of respondents indicated that they were concerned about obscenity and children’s access to pornography online – but that in that same poll, 70% of respondents also said that they did not want the government involved in solutions. Senator Inouye also expressed concern that the hearings in general would rile Congress up and result in more flawed and legally doomed legislation. Senator Inouye’s decision to bring this up was like a gift from above, but it was a gift that Mr. Cambria did not seize. The polling referenced by Senator Inouye shows one very important thing – it shows that Americans really don’t want the government deciding for them what they can see or hear.
Ms. Platt reported that only 8% of parents actually make use of available filtering software – and I would argue that while it’s possible that this low percentage is a sign of technical ignorance, as several senators attempted to suggest, it’s even more plausible that this low percentage of filtering use is a sign that most parents really aren’t all that concerned about what their children are doing online… at least, not concerned enough to install internet filters.
I admit that I would like to think that Paul Cambria is an activist who has the best interests of the entire adult entertainment industry at heart. I sincerely hope that this is a man who champions the freedom of sexual expression for all Americans, whether they run a successful business or not. Yet I can’t help shake the feeling that Mr. Cambria’s first duty as an attorney is to represent the specific interests of his clients. When asked specifically how large of a group he represented, Mr. Cambria only made vague allusions to big and powerful adult companies, and promised that wherever they went, so too would the rest of the adult industry. One can only assume he is referring to his own clients, such as Hustler, AVN and Vivid which, I believe, are all represented by Mr. Cambria. But – and let’s just be honest here – the interests of the biggest adult companies are not necessarily the interests of the adult internet “crowd” in general, which in my loose definition includes everyone from the professionally-run companies to the average citizens who choose to explore sexuality online in a lawful manner. Many of the bigger adult companies have only a small interest in online delivery of their content. Hustler, for example, makes a lot of its money through publications, DVD sales and retail stores – just to name a few of their revenue streams. Regulation that makes life difficult on small or medium-sized internet companies – or on independent adult webmasters and amateur Web girls – isn’t going to be much of a problem for the likes of Playboy. So when I see Paul Cambria get in front of the United States Senate and essentially promise to deliver some kind of ratings system that he has not discussed with the rest of the adult internet community, it makes me a little bit nervous. What does he have in mind? Perhaps what he’s thinking about really would serve the interests of his clients – but how about the rest of us? What happens if I don’t like Mr. Cambria’s ratings system? Why can’t we just continue to use the ICRA system that is already in place? And how will Congress react if Mr. Cambria can’t make good on his promise to play Pied Piper to the porn-selling mice of the internet? Cranky, I’d wager, will describe their mood if Mr. Cambria comes up short on delivering the goods.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m the first person to argue that the adult entertainment industry needs a voice. Time and time again I’ve watched in frustration as false accusations about the adult entertainment industry have been leveled against us, and then go completely unchallenged. I’m all for reaching out to government and asking it to work with us and not against us. But any “representative” sent by the industry should have a strong understanding of the issues about which he or she is expected to speak – and Mr. Cambria was less than impressive in his understanding of specific internet issues. I fully respect Mr. Cambria’s right to represent his clients’ interests to their government, but next time he decides to speak to a panel of senators about pornography issues, I humbly hope that he purports only to represent the people whom he actually represents – and not pretend to represent the interests and opinions of the entire adult entertainment industry.
Connor Young is President of YNOT Network, LP., and a member of the Free Speech Coalition Board of Directors.
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