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Porn sites start complying with Utah warning label law

FOX 13 Investigates

SALT LAKE CITY — Some pornographic websites are beginning to comply with a new Utah law requiring warning labels be attached to adult-oriented materials.

At least three major sites — Pornhub, XTube and RedTube — have begun attaching the opt-in notification for visitors, which states that Utah believes pornographic materials can be harmful if viewed by minors.

“It shows for a lot of businesses, they’re more concerned about their pocketbook than they are about being prosecuted,” said Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, who sponsored the bill earlier this year.

Rep. Brammer’s bill got national attention and he faced pushback and threats of lawsuits from the adult entertainment industry when it debuted earlier this year. The adult site XHamster even trolled the legislature by posting a parody warning on its site for Utah viewers to see.

Rep. Brammer watered down the original bill and it passed the legislature. Governor Gary Herbert allowed it to go into law without his signature. It allows people to bring a private civil action in court against a site for displaying “obscene” materials. But it would require someone to go to court and have something declared “obscene.”

The trade group representing the porn industry told FOX 13 it advises websites not to comply with the new law, believing it is still unconstitutional.

“No matter the message, the First Amendment restricts the government’s ability to compel speech. Individual companies may choose to comply because it’s easier than facing lawsuits or fines. We’ve never advised our members to comply, and don’t believe this is being done in any widespread manner, but respect that a business may make decisions that limit potential liability,” Mike Stabile, a spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition, said in an email.

“As with similar, previous legislation in Utah, we’ll eventually see the law challenged and overturned, and at no small expense to the Utah taxpayer. That’s unfortunate, because that money and energy could be spent educating people about actually effective methods of protection, like parental filters.”

An email sent to Pornhub requesting comment on why it began posting warning labels was not immediately returned. Rep. Brammer said in response he would believe it when he sees a lawsuit.

“So far, it’s been a lot of talk. I don’t think that they will, if they do bring a legal challenge, I don’t think they’ll be able to succeed on that,” he told FOX 13. “We have a difference of opinion on that. They haven’t felt confident enough yet to bring a legal challenge and most of the companies, rather than make the challenge and spend the money on that, they’re complying.”

Rep. Brammer said he ultimately would like to expand the legislation to allow for people to sue an adult website, even if they don’t know who owns it. But he said he was not planning to bring that forward in the 2021 legislative session that begins in January. Other states have expressed interest in running similar legislation, he said.

Rep. Brammer said the warning label law has already alerted parents when their child was re-directed to an adult site and it’s educated them about parental filters.

He insisted his bill did not block adults from viewing pornography, just minors.

“If that’s where they want to go, they’re going to get there. And I’m not trying to stop that,” he said. “But I’m giving them a chance if that’s not where they want to go.”

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