Educate Yourself. Too many beginning webmasters attempt
to get into this industry without familiarizing themselves with
the complicated regulatory scheme applicable to adult Website operations.
Numerous resources exist to assist you in determining whether this
is the right business for your personality and risk tolerance level.
Resource sites, industry trade publications, legal resources and
court opinions should all be consulted before the first dime is
spent on purchasing content or marketing.
Develop a Business Plan. Many beginning webmasters have
approached our firm for representation with nothing more than a
good idea and a few bucks in their pocket. They start building their
Website before performing any sort of commonplace market conditions
evaluation or financial analysis. Pretty models or a unique web
design are not enough to succeed in the adult Website business,
at its current maturation level. Business plan forms can be found
on the Internet. Entrepreneurs who have succeeded in the brick and
mortar world can be the source of invaluable advice when it comes
to the practical realties of operating an online business. Write
your business plan and have it evaluated by your accountant, financial
planner or attorney.
Raise Sufficient Capital. Gone are the days when a booming
adult Website business could be created for under a thousand dollars.
Given the "stiff" competition out there today, a significant budget
is required for items such as:
Marketing and promotion
Licenses, taxes and permit fees
Skimping on any of these items can sound a death knell for any startup
Identify a Niche. The beautiful buxom blond porn star
niche has been overdone, and may not provide the best return on
investment. However, the interest in human sexuality is as varied
as human beings themselves. Countless unique niches have yet to
be discovered or exploited. Smaller webmasters can compete in a
marketplace dominated by larger companies through niche marketing.
Warning: Some niches can result in higher legal liability.
Form a Corporation. Even as the adult Website industry
becomes more sophisticated, too many Webmasters are operating as
sole proprietors without the benefits and protections of a corporate
entity. Properly created and maintained, a corporation can provide
a shield against liability for various debts, and is basically considered
cheap insurance. In addition, a corporation allows a business to
more easily take on investors and sell assets, should the need arise
in the future. Finally, creating a corporation provides one with
the air of professionalism that any startup Webmaster needs to assist
in establishing his or her business reputation.
Network. What this author has found in representing adult
webmasters since the industry started in around 1995 is that those
who are successful are those who form relationships, trade traffic,
and who simply network. Attending trade shows such as Internext
is a great place to start. Many regional events also occur throughout
the country and North America all year long. Bar meets, parties,
online chat sessions and many other forms of networking activities
are available to the beginning Webmaster who seeks them out. Networking
can pay dividends!
Create a Set of Valid Terms & Conditions. As a Website
owner, you can require that all users of the site agree to a set
of restrictions and conditions in order to access and use the site.
A third party billing company’s Terms & Conditions are no substitute
for your own! A comprehensive set of T&Cs can save you in the event
of a legal dispute with one of your customers.
Keep Minors Away from Adult Materials. The government loves
to use this argument, so take it away from them. Either keep your
free areas censored, or implement good faith efforts to keep minors
out away from free material. There are various different ways to
do this: We provide our clients access to a particular computer
script and copyrighted age declarations to keep minors out, but
you must try to do something to keep children away from adult content.
Keep in mind, virtually every state has a law prohibiting anyone
from making adult materials available to minors.
Strictly Comply with the Mandates of Section 2257. Title
18, U.S.C. §2257 imposes stringent requirements for (1) creating
content, (2) maintaining records; and, (3) displaying content. Dont
try to guess which images require 2257 certification. Assume they
all do. An attorneys advice is critical at this juncture.
Only Use Licensed Content. Do not steal images from other
Websites or newsgroups. If you did not create it, or buy it, it
belongs to someone else. Common notions of what is in the "public
domain" are generally wrong.
Pay Your Taxes, Keep Your Employees Happy and Over-comply with
Government Regulations. Adult businesses are under a microscope.
If the government is looking for a way to get you, it might find
a way through technical non-compliance with a host of regulations
or laws. As an adult webmaster, you cannot get away with what other
businesses get away with. You will be held to a higher standard.
Often clients come to the attention of law enforcement through complaints
by ex-employees, customers or models who feel cheated. Maintain
a high degree of personal integrity and business ethics. This may
avoid substantial problems in the future.
Create a Brand Name. Picking a name that is capable of
registration as a trademark or service mark is important to the
success of your business. Creating an online identity through a
recognizable brand name is half the battle to long term success.
Names like "hotblondbabes.com" are generally considered
too descriptive for trademark registration. However, arbitrary,
made-up names like "Yahoo!" or "Exxon" or "Polaroid,"
which mean nothing in the English language, have the best chance
of being registered as a trademark or service mark. Performing a
trademark search prior to selecting your online brand name is also
a good idea. Some legal advice on this issue early on can pay dividends
into the future.
Watch Your Links. Precedent has been established imposing
vicarious liability on Webmasters for content contained on sites
to which they link. Are you comfortable with the content found on
all sites linked to your pages? This is especially important if
you are in any sort of financial relationship, or obtain any sort
of benefit for reciprocal linking.
Take a Stand against Child Pornography. The enemies of
the adult industry always attempt to mix concepts of protected adult
materials with illegal child pornography. We, as an industry, must
at every turn attempt to reestablish that all important line of
demarcation. Take an outspoken stand against any involvement by
children with adult materials, either as participants or as audience.
Link to organizations such as www.ASACP.org (Adult Sites Against
Become Politically Active. Join the industrys trade
organization such as the Free Speech Coalition, found at www.FreeSpeechCoalition.com,
and the Internet Freedom Association, Inc. found at www.i-freedom.org.
These organizations are looking out for the future of the industry,
and are fighting for your rights on various fronts. The Internet
Freedom Association is in the formative stages, and can use help
in building a strong webmaster trade association looking out for
the unique interests of the adult Internet industry. The Free Speech
Coalition has litigated a number of important cases for the adult
industry, and has been running for Free Speech rights for decade.
The positions that these organizations take will affect the future
of your industry. Get involved. Become a member, become a director,
contribute and be active in your industry. Its not a bad way
to meet people in the industry either.
Become an Expert on Obscenity Laws. Every adult webmaster
should be able to recite the Miller test for obscenity from memory.
Obviously you will need to obtain some advice from a competent First
Amendment attorney to understand the intricacies of this law, and
how it has been interpreted throughout the years by the courts.
However, every adult webmaster should know the basics, along with
some of the potential defenses. Obscenity prosecutions are coming,
and the first wave has already begun. Two cases were filed by the
Department of Justice in the last 6 months, based on Website content,
and one individual has already been sentenced on a federal felony
for mailing obscene materials available on her Website. Conventional
wisdom dictates that this is just the very beginning of what will
likely happen given Attorney General John Ashcrofts stated
intent to initiate obscenity prosecutions on a wide-scale against
Internet content. You should learn the tricks of the trade when
it comes to identifying potentially obscene material, and reducing
your risks for being targeted by the government. Adult Webmasters
should learn to develop a "smell test" to determine what
might be considered obscene, based on prevailing community standards.
Secure Evidence of Your Communitys Standards. Does
your local community allow the sale of hard core adult materials?
Is there an adult bookstore or video store in your neighborhood?
If you are charged six months from now for content you are selling
today, how will you be able to prove what the community standards
were when you were selling the material? Some courts allow introduction
of "comparable" materials in the defense of an obscenity
prosecution. It may benefit you to have somebody, who would make
a good witness in court, go to the adult bookstores in your area
and purchase the hardest adult material he or she can find, and
put it in a sealed bag stapled with the receipt. That bag may come
in handy some day.
Mind Your Promotional Activities. Many adult webmasters
are extremely careful when it comes to the content, but throw caution
to the wind when it comes to marketing activities. Are your affiliates
spamming the newsgroups, or sending out unsolicited emails? At least
sixteen states have laws regulating the dissemination of unsolicited
email (SPAM). Make sure your marketing activities do not cause more
trouble than theyre worth.
Translate your site. Dont ignore the substantial
foreign markets that are ready and willing to pay money for your
content, if they could only read your text! Various online and human
translation services are available to translate the text of your
site into virtually any language. Identify those markets which will
provide adult Webmasters with the best conversion rates, and translate
your sites into those languages.
Ask for, and Listen to, Advice from Experienced Professionals.
The adult Internet industry is one of the friendliest industries
in existence. Experienced industry players are happy to take newbies
under their wing as a mentor. Often newbies are either afraid to
ask for advice, or believe that they dont need it. Much can
be learned from industry veterans who are often more than willing
to share their experience learned from many mistakes.
Taking some of these tips to heart will drastically
reduce your learning curve and allow you to benefit from what would
otherwise be years of experience. Go forth, and prosper!
Lawrence G. Walters, Esquire is a partner with the law firm Walters Law Group.
Mr. Walters represents clients involved in all aspects of adult media.
The firm handles First Amendment cases nationwide, and has been involved
in significant Free Speech litigation before the United States Supreme
Court. All statements made in the above article are matters of opinion
only, and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult your
own attorney on specific legal matters. You can reach Lawrence Walters
Metro Orlando Office
Lawrence G. Walters, Esq.
Walters Law Group
195 W. Pine Ave.
Longwood, FL 32750-4104 Voice: 407.975.9150
Toll Free: 800.530.8137