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Studios: Child Porn Bill Is Too Sweeping

October 13, 2005|Jube Shiver Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Hollywood lobbyists are warning federal lawmakers that proposed anti-child pornography legislation could prove so onerous for studios that they may be forced to keep detailed records about actors appearing in virtually any lovemaking scene, even for movies rated PG-13.

A little-noticed rider from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to the Children's Safety Act of 2005 passed by the House would require producers of material containing actual or simulated sexual conduct to keep records of the names, ages and proof of identification of the actors shown in the productions. They also would have to make the information available to law enforcement officials upon request.

Lobbyists argue that the measure's sweeping language goes beyond the intended target -- pornography -- and encompasses more tame fare.

"We are extremely concerned that this measure is overly broad and violates the constitutional protections of free speech," said Erik V. Huey, a Washington lawyer for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. "Mainstream film and television productions are being lumped in the same category as hard-core pornography."

The act is awaiting action in the Senate, where John Feehery, executive vice president for external affairs at the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said the studio trade group hoped to derail the record-keeping measure.

But a Senate aide, who requested anonymity because the final bill hasn't been drafted, said that although lawmakers were willing to work with Hollywood, a bill Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) planned to introduce would probably mirror the House version. Backers of the measure contend that the broad language is needed to close loopholes that could be exploited by child pornographers, arguing that Hollywood is overreacting because the measure merely tightens a law on the books.

Currently, the makers of any book, magazine, periodical, film, videotape, or other material that "contains one or more visual depictions ... of actual sexually explicit conduct" are required to keep each performer's birth certificates and driver's licenses on file, and include on the packaging disclaimers stating that no actors participating in sexual acts were minors.

Pence's rider would extend the record-keeping requirement to productions that depict even "simulated sex," and make that information available to law enforcement. First-time violators would be subject to a fine and as many as two years in jail.

"My amendment ... is designed to give law enforcement the tools to stop child pornography at the source," Pence said in a statement. "It will fix a glaring loophole in the current law by requiring pornographers to keep records of the names and ages of their subjects and proof of identification."

Although Pence's staff has indicated that the lawmaker is open to "a technical correction" that would limit the scope of the bill, Hollywood lobbyists fear the Justice Department will be unyielding in its push for tougher record keeping. Justice officials argue that changes are needed to protect children from sexual exploitation by pornographers.

"While it is true that these changes will mean that more mainstream producers whose materials depict only simulated sex and/or nudity, rather than overt sexual acts, will have to keep records ... eliminating them from the record-keeping requirement, as is now the case, raises serious child exploitation potential," the Justice Department said in an analysis.

Underscoring the weakness of current law, the Justice Department added that "a pornographer can film 16-year-old girls engaged in 'soft-core' sex and not be subject to the record-keeping requirement" because the filmmaker "can claim ... he was not aware of the ages of the girls" and escape punishment. Justice Department officials declined to further comment.

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Times staff writers Sallie Hofmeister and Meg James contributed to this report.

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