Federal case may redefine child porn

Justice Department indicts a photographer over a site that posted photos of clothed minors--a case that has raised First Amendment issues.

Jeff Pierson is a photographer whose action shots of hopped-up American autos laying waste to the asphalt at Alabama dragways have appeared in racing magazines and commercial advertisements.

Pierson's Web site boasted he has the "most wonderful wife in the world and two fantastic daughters." And until recently, he ran a business called Beautiful Super Models that charged $175 for portraits of aspiring models under 18.

In a federal indictment announced this week, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Pierson, 43, of being a child pornographer--even though even prosecutors acknowledge there's no evidence he has ever taken a single photograph of an unclothed minor.

Rather, they argue, his models struck poses that were illegally provocative. "The images charged are not legitimate child modeling, but rather lascivious poses one would expect to see in an adult magazine," Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama, said in a statement.

Pierson's child pornography indictment arises out of an FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigation of so-called child modeling sites, which have been the subject of a series of critical congressional hearings and news reports in the last few years. An August article in The New York Times, for instance, called the modeling Web sites "the latest trend in child exploitation."

Jeff Pierson
Credit: Southern Illusions
Jeff Pierson,
photographer

In addition to Pierson, the U.S. attorney also announced indictments against Marc Greenberg, 42, Jeffrey Libman, 39, partners in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., business called Webe Web, which in turn ran the now-defunct ChildSuperModels.com site. It was one of the larger sites that featured photographs of child models, allegedly from Pierson, and became the target of a report on Florida's NBC6 affiliate suggesting that it was a magnet for pedophiles.

First Amendment scholars interviewed Wednesday raised questions about the Justice Department's attack on Internet child modeling. They warned that any legal precedent might endanger the mainstream use of child models in advertising and suggested that prosecutors' budgets might be better spent investigating actual cases of child molestation.

Amy Adler
Credit: NYU
Amy Adler,
NYU law professor

"I don't know what the DOJ's trying," said Lee Tien, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group. "The best I can say is that it's puzzling that they would devote investigative and law enforcement resources to something (like this). This is a far cry from what folks normally think of as child pornography."

The Web sites that prompted the indictments are now offline. But copies saved in Google's cache and through Archive.org show the photographs in question depicted girls wearing everything from sweaters to, more frequently, swimsuits and midriff-baring attire. Parents appear to have given their consent.

Richard Jaffe, Pierson's attorney, said he could not immediately comment because he was in court on Wednesday. Jill Ellis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the northern district of Alabama, confirmed to CNET News.com that no nudity was involved. An arraignment for Pierson has been scheduled for December 14 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Armstrong.

No sex, no nudity
Because no sex or nudity is involved, the prosecutions raise unusual First Amendment concerns that stretch beyond mere modeling-related Web sites: children and teens in various degrees of undress appear in everything from newspaper underwear advertisements to the covers of Seventeen and Vogue.

Alice Martin
Credit: DOJ
Alice Martin,
U.S. Attorney

When actress and model Brooke Shields was 15 years old, for instance, she appeared in a racy Calvin Klein jean advertisement featuring the memorable line, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." Shields also appeared nude at 12 years old in an Oscar-nominated movie called Pretty Baby that was set in a New Orleans brothel. Similarly, 14-year-old Jodie Foster, wearing revealing clothing, played a pre-teen prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

Sally Mann, named Time magazine's "photographer of the year" in 2001, was attacked by critics for featuring nude images of her own children in a book called Immediate Family. Famed photographer Jock Sturges' photos often feature nude boys and girls on the beaches of California and France--images that are far more revealing than those of swimsuit-clad youths.

 

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