Is anything taboo in ‘toon porn’? Weighing the moral and legal questions

By Mike Brunker
msnbc.com

“The stereotypical hentai is a monster with a large amount of phallic tentacles harassing a Japanese schoolgirl,” said Igor Bass of Brooklyn, N.Y., Web master of the mainstream anime collector sites Animeglobe.comand Animegalleries.net. Like most mainstream anime Web masters, Bass said he does not link to hentai sites.

Some fans of such material make no pretense about where the attraction lies.

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“Does anybody know where one could find those fantastic Lolita manga (comic) pics showing girls age 2-10?” one hentai fan who identified himself as “diaper fancier” wrote in a news group posting.
Though most commercial toon porn Web sites steer clear of such material, the “Hentai Kid” said that fan artists and semi-professionals — many of them working from Japan — have no such compunctions.

“On the far end of the spectrum, it’s true there are ultraviolent stories involving unwilling underage participants,” he wrote. “If these artists were living in the U.S., they would probably end up in some sort of legal trouble, but in Japan there is no other apparent legal requirement other than a slight pixelation or censor bar over the genitals.”

Frederick Lane III, a lawyer and author of “Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age,” said it is inevitable that hentai will create controversy in Western societies, given that “the Japanese culture is much more accepting of violence in sexual setting.” It also is certain to push political hot buttons “because of the greater tendency for kids to get hold of it,” he said.

The legal landscapeBut creators and distributors of such material cannot be prosecuted under child pornography statutes because the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the Child Pornography Protection Act, a 1996 law banning “virtual’ child porn.

“The court said the reason that a computer-generated or animated image is not prosecutable under the Constitution is that there is no harm to an individual,” said Lane, who also writes an adult industry legal blog.
Obscenity charges could be brought against the operators of toon porn sites, Lane noted, though he rates that possibility as unlikely.

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“The fundamental issue is whether or not the material that is being distributed is something that prosecutors are going to spend much time on,” he said. “Even though the Justice Department has been paying more attention to obscenity cases under (Attorney General John) Ashcroft, I would think these guys are still fairly low on the target list.”

A bigger problem for cartoon site operators could be lawsuits charging copyright violations, since many either feature recognizable cartoon characters in sexual situations or have pirated content stolen from Japanese hentai sites, he said.

Bob Peters, president of the anti-pornography group Morality in Media, said that cartoon pornographers also could run afoul of a law passed last year by Congress if they use misleading Internet domain names designed to attract children searching for innocuous cartoon sites.
“If a complaint came about because a kid stumbled into a cartoon pornographic site, if I were a prosecutor I would give some serious consideration to going after them,” he said.

Peters said his group has received complaints from Internet users alleging that some cartoon porn sites violate obscenity statutes. He said he has no idea whether any of the complaints forwarded to the Justice Department would result in a case against toon site operators, he added that “illustrations can be obscene, so there is nothing in legal theory that would prevent a prosecution.”

Fear that the Justice Department might make an example of a cartoon porn provider is a likely reason that several big content providers declined requests for interviews for this article, according to Tom Hymes, editor of AVN Online.

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Site operators ‘on pins and needles’“Everyone right now is on pins and needles because no one trusts this Justice Department and no one wants to be put on the radar,” he said. “… It doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong or illegal.”

Toon porn providers also received a shock from an unexpected quarter earlier this year, when a Japanese publisher was sentenced to a year in jail for distributing obscene “manga,” or comic book. The prosecution of Monotori Kishi over production of the magazine “Misshitsu” (“Honey Room”) marked the first ruling in Asia to declare a comic book obscene, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Despite such legal uncertainties, most observers and participants believe toon porn will continue to expand.
To begin with, the economics favor the production of porn that requires no actors or directors and only limited production staff.

“Without going into specific figures, the profit margin is quite high (and) fixed expenses are extremely low,” the “Hentai Kid” said.
And Hymes said new levels of interactivity expected to be integrated into the toon porn experience as the three-dimensional realm develops will push animation sites into uncharted waters.

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The next frontier: Interactive toon porn“Think of it as a kind of combination of sexuality and porn and gaming,” he said. “… Eventually people will be able to have one of these characters represent themselves and employ other technologies that will allow them to have touching and feeling. Where it’s going to lead eventually is to the science fiction movies, where you insert yourself into virtual worlds.”

So should porn actors and actresses be worried that well-endowed avatars will take over the porn industry?
“I hardly think so,” Brewer, the AVN Online technology editor, said with a laugh. “I don’t think video and still photos for the purposes of adult entertainment are going to go away anytime soon.”

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