Officially founded in 1991, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) is the trade association of the adult entertainment industry based in the United States.
The association’s roots date back to March 1968, to an early convention held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, in Los Angeles. The association’s first iteration grew out of a national group called the Adult Film Association of America (AFAA), made up mostly of theater owners. But with the advent of inexpensive home video, the AFAA morphed into the Adult Film and Video Association of America (AFVAA).
By 1987, the AFVAA leadership included industry legends like David Friedman, director Ron Sullivan and performer/publisher Gloria Leonard, among others.
The same year, an event defined the group as a true industry trade organization and galvanized its members – the arrest of adult producer Hal Freeman for pandering. Prosecutors charged that paying performers to have sex on film was prostitution. But Freeman took the fight to the California Supreme Court and won, opening the doors to making porn production legal in California and establishing the need for an organized group to advocate for adult.
This era also produced the group’s iconic “Fighting for Your Freedom” poster that mimicked the Marine’s flag-raising on Iwo Jima with adult starlets in military uniforms. The group’s first “Night of the Stars” benefit was held in the summer of 1988, eventually becoming one of the most prestigious annual galas held by the industry.
After Freeman v. California, the proliferation of adult home video being sold in suburbs and smaller cities saw retailers become the target of “obscenity” charges by law enforcement officials. In 1990, under the first Bush administration, the Federal government attacked most of the major manufacturers of adult films and products with a sting operation designed to destroy the industry. Search warrants against approximately 30 manufacturers of adult product were executed. Most of the cases were surprisingly settled favorably and saw very few saw jail sentences, with the notable exception of VCA’s Russ Hampshire.
The legislative climate provided the impetus that gave birth to the Free Speech Legal Defense Fund (FSLDF), formed by industry leaders to protect the rights of members in all areas of adult entertainment. But the group later decided to select a name more reflective of its broadened role in the adult community. In 1991, Free Speech Coalition was adopted as the name, as it exists today.
The first FSC Board, listed in its Nov/Dec 1992 newsletter as including: Al Bloom, Ron Braverman, Charlie Brickman, Sheri Freeman, Lenny Friedlander, Russ Hampshire, David Kastens, Bill Margold, Jim South, Bill “Pinky” Stolbach, Bob Tremont and Chuck Zane — all early industry pioneers. With the support of companies from each sector of the industry, as well as performers, professionals and adult consumers, the group initiated activities that would establish FSC as the industry’s legislative watchdog. Although FSC views litigation as a last resort, it has not hesitated to take serious, swift action when required, in order to defend the rights its members.
In 1994, the retention of a lobbyist in Sacramento was necessary to combat an excise tax on adult products and services, in the guise of funding programs to aid victims of domestic abuse and rape. In fact, most of the money was earmarked for tax collection and law enforcement.
The FSC argued that constitutional law long forbade the targeting of a content-defined tax and this bill was the model of such a tax scheme. FSC led a coalition of affected businesses and industry groups in fighting the tax. The FSC demonstrated the tax not only set a dangerous, unconstitutional precedent, but also that it would be bad for the state’s economy. The bill was defeated at its first committee hearing, without a single vote in favor.
In 1995, a comprehensive Federal scheme regulating in minute detail the creation and wholesale distribution of recorded images of sexual conduct went into effect. Purportedly aimed at detecting and deterring child pornography, the so-called Federal Labeling Law (also known as 18 U.S.C. § 2257) eliminated all privacy in the creation of sexual images. Any producers of, and performers in, such materials were ordered to comply with detailed disclosure requirements.
In order for the industry to comply, the FSC was essential. FSC conducted training seminars, prepared compliance documents and uniform exemption labels and negotiated with the Justice Department for relief from some of the more burdensome and unreasonable components of the law.
In 1996, Ashcroft vs. Free Speech resulted in a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Federal Simulated Child Pornography law.
Legislators continued their relentless attacks on adult entertainment. One of the FSC’s tenets is that “adult entertainment” is exactly that – material made by adults, for adults.
The industry and FSC were therefore placed in a difficult position by the amendment of the Federal Child Pornography laws in 1996, which included “simulated” child pornography within the definition of child pornography. The redefinition of child pornography to include computer generated images or adults “appearing” to be minors, engaging in actual or simulated sexual activity was extremely controversial. The law also criminalized non-pornographic material marketed so as to “convey the impression” that it contained child pornography. In other words, the so-called “Child Pornography Prevention Act” eliminated both pornography and children from the definition. Upon conviction of creating simulated child pornography, the mandatory minimum sentence was 15 years imprisonment. The Senate Judiciary Committee (the committee of origin), never even held a hearing on the bill, yet it was signed into law, following Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) attaching it during the Conference Committee to the October 1996 Spending Bill.
The opposition to controversial federal regulations goes on. Legislators continue to impose regulation, under the mantle of “protecting” young children. In 2005, FSC filed a complaint against the Department of Justice and then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, citing that 18 U.S.C. § 2257 regulations endangered the privacy and safety of performers by allowing private information to be accessed through the record-keeping process; also that 2257 regulations were complicated to the extent that adult producers would be unable to fully comply with the record-keeping system.
A revised set of 18 U.S.C. § 2257 regulations was released in December 2009, prompting another complaint against the DOJ and Attorney General Eric Holder in 2010. That case was continued on appeal in April 2012.
Most recently, FSC led the opposition to Los Angeles County’s “Safer Sex” ballot initiative or Measure B, which was sponsored solely by HIV/AIDS nonprofit organization AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). After several years of relentless attacks on adult industry healthcare resources and companies, the debate over mandatory use of barrier protection on adult movie sets saw further development as county voters passed the initiative in Nov 2012. As it has many times in its turbulent past, FSC will press forward through litigation, though discussion of industry relocation and other alternatives are on the table for adult producers. Aside from being a tremendous waste of resources for Los Angeles County (the home of the modern adult film industry), Measure B represents government overreach, foisted on taxpayers and the industry by an outside special interest. The real effect of Measure B will be chilling for adult movie producers
Opposition of Measure B continues, supported by FSC
FSC’s mission is to protect and promote the well being of adult industry businesses and its members. In the mainstream spotlight now more than ever, the contradictions embodied by the multi-billion dollar pornography media industry are overwhelming. It is a creative, communicative industry, both reviled and adored by popular culture, protected by the First Amendment, yet systematically attacked by law enforcement. Commercial pornography appeals to individualists, attracted by the outlaw image and the promise of access to wealth. But the very existence of that industry depends on the ability to work collectively. FSC is honored to serve the adult community – past present and future.
*Portions excerpted from Free Speech Coalition Reaches 20 Milestone Fighting the Good Fight by Bob Johnson, XBIZ Magazine