Free Speech Coalition: New Year – New Board – Old Peril

The Free Speech Coalition held its first general meeting of the year on Friday, January 23 at the Woodland Hills Marriott Hotel, and chewed on spam as one of its first orders of business.

Specifically, the subject had to do with the recently passed Burns-Wyden “Can-Spam Act,” which was scrutinized very effectively by attorney Ira Rothken of the Ira P. Rothken law firm. Other subjects on the table included patent and intellectual property issues, the announcement the new Board of Directors, and a brief statement by Board member and attorney Reed Lee regarding the recent termination by the FSC of former Executive Director Bill Lyon.

Unfortunately, only a few dozen people at most were in attendance, but video cameras were, shooting footage that will wind up in a documentary about Rob Black of Extreme Associates, titled In Defense of Rob Black. Black was there, as were Adam Glasser and Max Hardcore, all three of whom have faced obscenity charges in different parts of the country.

Jeffrey Douglas, who is lead counsel for the FSC, moderated, opening the meeting by first allowing Lee to read the prepared statement regarding Lyon’s abrupt departure late last year. It reads, in part, “During the last six months, in the course of the Board’s oversight of Free Speech Coalition operations, questions arose concerning significant amounts of Free Speech Coalition funds, including credit card expenditures and other financial irregularities. The Board designated one of its members to discuss these questions with then-Executive Director Bill Lyon. During this discussion, and in discussions with at least two others who were then members of the Board, Lyon gave answers that were then unacceptable to the Board. The Board’s decision to terminate Lyon resulted from his answers. The decision to terminate Lyon was unanimous.” The rest of the statement speaks to efforts the FSC is taking to shore up its oversight of its operations and comments regarding the search for a permanent Executive Director.

New Executive Director, Kat Sunlove, whose demeanor filled the room with sunlight and love, then took the floor, and explained ongoing and planned lobbying and fund raising events for the coming months, including a Legislative Night in Sacramento, Night of the Stars, Bingo, Chapter Development and Membership Outreach, among others. She also mentioned that the IFA (Internet Freedom Association), an Internet group formed to educate adult Webmasters about legal issues, might be merging with the FSC, but was not specific about when that might happen.

Sunlove also mentioned that the FSC has a new toll-free telephone number, 866-FSC-9373.

Jeffery Douglas then took back the floor, and launched into an impassioned talk about the upcoming election and what it portends for the adult industry. Specifically, he said that a convergence of two perilous trends was at play this election year: a ruling party with deep ideological commitments and the potential for a huge political pay-off, namely, the election. Because of this perfect political storm, he expects a minimum of 30 companies in both video and Internet could be targeted for prosecution this year. Regarding what to expect from that, he related that in 1987 there were also 30 companies prosecuted, and all but two of them ceased to operate. He also spoke about America’s “extraordinary new tolerance for government intrusion,” related an incident that illustrated how absurd and dangerously broad the mandate is for the Department of Homeland Security, and topped his talk off with the astute observation that we – Americans – are in the process of “accepting giving up our individuality… just like in jail!”

Ira Rothken then spoke to the issue of spam, saying that the good news about the new Can-Spam Act is that it replaces all state laws and the bad news is that it replaces all state laws. He warned that even if you follow the law to the letter when you send emails, and every email you send is opt-in, you are going to get a percentage of complaints from the public and you could get sued. He suggested following the letter of the law with all email, just to make sure, and outlined several Best Practices:

1. To avoid lawsuits, treat all email as unsolicited email by including a physical contact info in the body of the email and offering a conspicuous opt-out option.

2. Have a functioning return email address.

3.Stop emailing opt-outs within 10 days of notification

4. Opt-out should be obvious and easy to accomplish.

5. Keep an opt-in database, and include notes regarding the nature of the opt-in business relationship, just in case.

6. Install quality controls that will ensure the accuracy of the subject line text.

7. Do not include graphic nudity in email.

8. Do not use harvested or dictionary email

9. Do not send commercial email to cell phones

10. Include “sexual-oriented material” or something like it in the subject line.

The next speaker was new Board member Sid Grief, a Texas businessman and owner of AAA News. He spoke briefly to the issue of patent litigation, and urged anyone who received a letter from someone claiming infringement of a patent to immediately acknowledge receipt of the letter to the sender to avoid charges of willful infringement. The next steps is to consult with a patent attorney to figure out whether the patent in fact applies to you, and if it does, seeing if you’re alone in being targeted or are part of a larger group. The actions that would follow go to the heart of fighting a patent and are too nuanced for this report. Suffice to say that the Acacia Research situation is the first to date in which the adult Internet industry has had to organize to battle a patent that many feel has nom merit. Grief mentioned several others coming down the pike, including patents that cover currency converters, audio-video recording over the Internet, exit consoles, framed pages and thread-based messages. Though there are others, these few are quite enough to scare the wits out of anyone doing or planning to do business online.

The last speaker was attorney John Leader of the Leader, Kozmer & Macias law firm, who only had enough time to say a few additional words about patents. He advised taking a pragmatic approach to patents, which might mean settling rather than fighting. He also said that if you have a good idea for a patent, move on it or someone else will. He said the hardest thing to do is write a good patent, because if you write it too broad it won’t apply to anyone, and if too narrow, people will be able to avoid it. It might be worth noting that Mr. Lee is not a patent attorney.

Oh, there was one last speaker. Porn star Catalina, who accompanied Max Hardcore to the meeting, got up and said a few words. Specifically, she wanted to suggest to video porn producers that they might want to consider making more conservative box covers. Her thought was that it might help avoid obscenity prosecutions. It’s a thoughtful idea, but doesn’t hold much hope of being enacted, since the real marketing action takes place on the covers and not between them.

New FSC Board Members

Kim Airs, proprietress of Grand Opening!, the bi-coastal sex boutique;

Adam Glasser aka Seymore Butts, actor, director and producer;

Sid Grief, Texas business, owner of AAA News;

Joan Irvine, Executive Director of Adult Sites Against Child Pornography;

William Murphy, who runs Fair Villa Video, the superstore chain in Florida;

Nick Orlandino of Pipedream Products;

Julie Stewart, a principal in the innovative vanilla fetish company Sportsheets.

Existing FSC Board Members

Nick Boyias, owner of Marina Pacific.

Jeffrey J. Douglas, criminal defense attorney;

Mara Epstein, long-time marketing pro, now with Mile High Media;

Mark Kernes, AVN Senior Editor;

Reed Lee, Chicago First Amendment attorney;

Michael Ocello, PT’s Cabarets and president of ACE, the Association of Club Executives;

Kat Sunlove, acting Executive Director.