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Sue Me

He Brought You the Motel Centerfolds of Dr. Laura, the Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee Honeymoon Video and Much, Much More. The Louder the Celebs Protest, the Richer Internet Porn Peddler Seth Warshavsky Gets.

June 13, 1999|MARK EHRMAN | Mark Ehrman's last piece for the magazine was on Richard Simmons' "Cruise to Lose" program

The pictures of Luciana are not responding." It's 11 p.m. Seth Warshavsky is home, in a spacious condo 23 floors above the Seattle waterfront, but still awake, still working, still on the phone. His day began 20 hours earlier in Miami and, having been gone all of one weekend, a backlog of crises awaits. Most pressing: "The Mick Jagger girl."

His company, Internet Entertainment Group, had just released nude photos of Luciana Giminez on its flagship adult Web site, Club Love, a real coup, Warshavsky says, turning gleeful, since the Brazilian model is rumored to be carrying Jagger's baby.

It's this kind of splashy tabloid porn that has made a 26-year-old with hyperactive business glands into the most infamous pornographer of the Internet Age. Giminez's debut, however, is plagued by glitches. Warshavsky furiously clicks his mouse, but "the mystery adulteress blamed for wrecking the blissful union of Mick Jagger and aging wife Jerry Hall," as the Club Love come-on describes her, refuses to inflate past thumbnail size.

"Call me right back," he says to a tech minion and hangs up.

The photos soon join Warshavsky's online gallery of celebrity shame. He released the Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee "honeymoon" video after the couple lost their bid for a restraining order. He posted photos of Laura Schlessinger under the promo "amateur slut"--taken decades before her ascent to God-and-family radio personality. A peekaboo shot of Tori Spelling. Images of Keith Richards "getting some self-satisfaction."

Endowed with the nerve to embarrass stars and the legal muscle to duke it out in court, Warshavsky puts Hollywood on edge. Most famously, actor Kelsey Grammer anonymously sued to keep a compromising home video out of cyberspace. Warshavsky denied having the video, then countersued to open court documents describing it. A reenactment ("What You Would Have Seen, Had We Had the Video") went up on the Web instead.

The winning streak ended when he ran afoul of the Roman Catholic Church. IEG laced its Papal Visit site, detailing His Holiness' most recent U.S. trip, with sex jokes and links to porn. Even Warshavsky's counsel, Derek Newman, expresses moral qualms about that one. IEG later settled the case. It is appealing a preliminary injunction forbidding its release of a pre-Tommy video with Pamela Anderson and Poison frontman Bret Michaels.

Win or lose, these tangles keep the media feeding at his trough and save Warshavsky from being just another anonymous online porn-peddler. IEG, which he formed in 1995, raked in more than $45 million last year. "I don't think anyone else has really tried to create that brand-name recognition on the Net," Warshavsky says. "We want to be the next generation of Playboy, Penthouse or Hustler."

Unlike his predecessors in porn, Warshavsky shows little interest in politics--or even in Larry Flynting politicians. He possesses a keen appreciation of the law and the 1st Amendment: "I passionately subscribe to what it stands for," he says. When a case demands it, he hires Los Angeles litigator Alan Isaacman, the attorney portrayed by Edward Norton in "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Still, obscenity-wise, Warshavsky is content to operate within the bounds staked out by skin magnates Hefner, Guccione, Flynt, et al.

His lawsuits primarily center on ownership issues. (In the Anderson/Lee case, the couple, for reasons unclear, gave up their rights to the video acquired by IEG.) The loser, time and again, is privacy.


In a world of shock TV, hidden-camera investigations and Jerry Springer, why bag on Warshavsky? "We're just as much journalists as 'Fox Files' or 'Hard Copy' or '60 Minutes,' " he says. "It's a different kind of content."

Different in that it goes where television's cultural free fall cannot-- under the panty line. "The only reason '60 Minutes' or '48 Hours' doesn't show [Pam and Tommy] is because they can't show nudity. And the hypocrisy that comes into play when they say, 'you're profiting off of these people's mistakes,' is absurd."

Warshavsky derives his profits not so much from famous people's so-called mistakes as from ordinary people's--men's--weakness for flesh. As a teenage operator of a phone sex network, he saw in the Internet a revolutionary porn delivery system. Not just pictures and text but live video streaming right to the home PC. This would surely replace the trip to the back of the video store in the way the VCR buried X-rated theaters. The browsers Warshavsky can entice to stay cough up a monthly membership fee of $24.95, plus a per-hour premium for one-on-one encounters with women (or a couple or a guy) who fulfill requests. A Dressing Room Cam gives subscribers a peek into their changing room, and a Pee Cam is mounted above the toilet.

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