It’s still one of the greatest moneymakers on the web. It still gets more traffic than most other web-based industries. So if you’re considering starting an adult website, it is certainly no wonder why. With some business acumen, a bit of ethics, and certain knowledge of the law, you can make quite a living in the adult web hosting industry. The focus of this article is the legalities of running an adult website — or how to run an adult website without getting yourself in a whole heap of trouble — and there’s a lot to it. So let’s get started.
Laws relating to adult web hosting are localized, meaning that they vary depending on the town/city, state, or country both you and your audience is in. That can present a huge problem, as you the webmaster can only do your best to abide by each of the laws of each locality in which you plan to do business. Fortunately, most all laws in this area are based around a single concept, the understanding of which can help your adult website avoid getting targeted. That concept is: obscenity.
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Though obscenity has many disparate definitions, as it applies to adult web hosting it refers to such debasements as bestiality, incest, rape, and child pornography. Any site that promotes these items (and doesn’t get shut down by the feds) is probably faking. If the booming market in the perverse is simply too much for you to ignore, however, and you decide to dare to host an adult site promoting these elements, just make sure you fake it too.
One test commonly used to determine a site’s obscenity, according to law, is the Miller Test, which states that if a website (or periodical, etc.) taken as a whole is found to be entirely lacking in artistic, scientific, literary, or cultural merit, as per the local community’s mores, it is deemed “obscene”. The best way to avoid your adult site from getting red flagged this way is to include non-adult content somewhere (preferably on more than a few pages) in your site. Think of Playboy, with its articles on politics and such. The bonus is, you can use this material to promote your adult site to a broader audience.
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A federal law that all U.S. adult sites must abide by is 18 U.S.C. 2257, which says that records documenting the legal age verification of each model depicted in a manner that is considered sexually explicit must be kept. No models under 18 years of age can appear in such a manner, nor can models over 18 years of age if they are unable to provide copies of sufficient age verification documents.
And this doesn’t only apply to models you shoot with your own photographers. This applies to any stock footage you use as well. Don’t assume that another website with images you’d like to use has done their due diligence. You must always do your own.
Your website’s landing page, or at least a preliminary webpage visitors to your site will view before being allowed entry the restricted, adult-content areas, must be a “Warning Page” that acts as a disclaimer stating that “this site contains adult material and should not be viewed by anyone under 21 years of age”. On this Warning Page it must also state clear that if viewing adult material is illegal in the state in which your visitors reside then they should not enter your website.
That having been said, you are still not freed from the responsibility of keeping minors from seeing the adult content in your site. It just shows that you’ve put forth the minimal good faith effort to keep them out. If you were to get prosecuted for allowing minors to view the adult content on your site, a Warning Page by itself is a shoddy defense.
How you take matters into your own hands is with an Age Verification System (AVS), which you must provide as a gateway for visitors wishing to enter your website. The logic behind an AVS is weak at best — presuming that simply because someone has a credit card in their name, they are probably over 18 — but it’s all we’ve got at the moment. What more can you do? If you can hire your own personal (or company) lawyer, all the better. Otherwise, we recommend having your site hosted by a web hosting provider that advertises its support for adult websites and maybe even offers tools (like an AVS) to help you to better run yours. Look around. They’re out there.