Pornographer Paul F. Little, who works under the moniker “Max Hardcore,” lives and works in California. But that didn’t stop the Feds from hauling Little 2,500 miles across the country to Tampa, Florida, where they convinced a jury to convict him on 20 counts of obscenity this week. Why Tampa? Because, prosecutors successfully argued, Little’s Websites used some servers there.
Jury-shopping — trying to try your case in a town where the locals are likely to be in your favour — is a time-honored tradition in the U.S. legal system. But the Web opens up a whole new world of possiblities for aggressive prosectors. In this case, says the St. Petersburg Times: “defence attorneys said Little never knew his site was housed in Tampa, and that prosecutors never produced any evidence that he did.” Presumably he’ll bring that up before a Federal judge, who has the ability to sentence him to a 100 years in prison — 5 years for each count.
How did we get here? Start back in the 70s, when the U.S. Supreme Court had to grapple with how to define “obscenity.” (Legal geeks: We’re talking Miller v. California.) The Court’s Solomonic “cut the baby in half” response was to say local “community standards” dictate what’s over the line. At the time that made sense: In the 70s porn was mainly distributed through local stores, and the decision allowed conservative rural farm towns to set a different standard than Greenwich Village.
But whose community standards apply to content on the Internet? Prosecutors can — and do — argue since Internet material is available everywhere, an obscenity trial can be brought anywhere. Employing physical webservers based in a socially conservative jurisdiction makes any defence all the harder.
Little’s lawyers have already vowed appeal, but until and unless the courts re-visit the old “community standards” provisions, hosting blue content on webservers located in a less-than-liberal town has just become a very dicey proposition.
So, where are your servers?
Photo: St. Petersburg Times