R.O.C. was one of the first groups in the country to recognize the threat if S.1521 (Pornography Victims Compensation Act) which would enable victims of sex crimes to sue the makers, distributors, exhibitors and sellers of materials deemed "sexually explicit" if even a "partial" correlation between the crime and depictions within the material in question is established by the court.
We are proud to have helped organize a nationwide coalition of over 20 grass roots anti-censorship groups to register our opposition to this legislation through our letters, phone calls and actions each time it came before the House Judiciary Committee. Our work and the work of other pro-freedom groups and individuals--in the Media Coalition which led/informed this struggle in so many ways--helped stave off an "easy majority" voting for this bill in Committee before going to the full house. What follows is Chris Finan, Executive Director of the Media Coalition, on the current status of S.1521:
"After more than a year of struggle, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed on June 25, the fourth version of the Pornography Victim's Compensation act on a 7-6 vote. Voting to support the bill were Senators Grassley, Thurmond, Hatch, Simpson and Brown. They were joined by Democratic Senators Heflin and DeConcici. Opposing the bill were Senators Biden, Kennedy, Leahy, Kohl, Metzenbaum and Simon, all Democrats. Senator Specter, a Republican, left the meeting immediately prior to the vote and did not leave a proxy.
The version of S.1521 that was approved bears little resemblance to the bill that was introduced in March 1991. The original bill authorized civil suits against producers and distributors of non-obscene material. The bill that was approved on June 25th applies only to obscenity and child pornography. As a final concession to critics of the bill, the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Senator Specter that provides that a producer or distributor cannot be sued unless he or she has been convicted of criminal obscenity for selling the work that allegedly caused the attack.
At the June 25th Judiciary Meeting, Senator Biden proposed another amendment that would have required that the producer or distributor have been convicted of obscenity before selling the same work to the perpetrator of the sex crime. Senators Grassley and Thurmond denounced this amendment as a attempt to gut the bill, and it was defeated on a 7-7 tie with Senator Specter joining the Democrats. However, some observers noted that the Specter amendment itself would make it highly unlikely that a successful prosecution could be brought under the act.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Judiciary Committee has taken a step toward making producers and distributors of books, magazine, recordings, movies and videotapes liable for the acts of criminals. While we can take some comfort from the amendments adopted by the committee, there is a strong possibility that an effort will be made on the floor of the Senate to press the original version of the bill. Even if the current version were to become law, however, there is no doubt that subsequent Congresses would see efforts to expand its scope to include non-obscene sexual material and other kinds of controversial material.
The Judiciary Committee vote leaves us no choice but to carry our fight against S.1521 to the full Senate. We must begin immediately to communicate our opposition to the principle of third-party liability to every member of the Senate. Every Senator should hear the message that despite the amendments made by the Judiciary Committee, S.1521 threatens the First Amendment rights of all Americans.
While our fight will be harder from now on, we should be encouraged by what we have accomplished so far. Our efforts persuaded six Senators in an election year to vote against a bill that was purportedly "anti-pornography" and "pro-victim." Senator Specter could not be persuaded to vote for it even after it had been amended in the way he demanded! This is remarkable, but it is no miracle: it was the result of hard work. We can do it again."
Following is a selected list of Senators who should be contacted as soon as possible about S.1521. Obviously, Senators pay the closest attention to the letters and telephone calls that they receive from their constituents. So, everyone should be sure to write their own Senator if he or she is on the list. Friends or family members living in those states might also be enlisted in the fight.
In addition, everyone should write Senator George Mitchell of Maine, the Majority Leader, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, the Minority Leader and Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware. Senator Biden led the opposition to S.1521 in the Senate Judiciary Committee and hopefully will continue to oppose the bill when it comes to the floor.
Please don't delay in writing these letters and/or calling. Action in the Senate could come at any time.