Monday, July 28, 2008

Why Copyright Laws Don't Matter To Anti-Porn Activists: Diana Russell's Myopia Revisited

Interesting article I discovered this morning from well known antiporn activist Dr. Diana Russell, where she explains the supposed angst she felt for publishing antiporn agitprop (in this case, her seminal essay series Against Pornography, which was ultimately released around 1994)..

But especially intriguing was this passage on why she ignores copyright law when she uses material from porn sites to promote her positions:

There were several reasons for my reluctance to request permission to include pornographic pictures from the pornographers who hold the copyright for this material. I didn't want to support the pornography industry by paying them to reprint their pictures. I also knew that the total cost of the permissions would be way beyond my means. [...]
Yeah, right, Dr. if that stopped Nikki Craft and Gail Dines and Melissa Fairley from thieving from porn sites. (Gee, I wonder how much Nikki Craft paid for those HUSTLER cartoons and pictorals she defiles for her site?? Or whether the Abby Winters girls will be getting any royalties from the good Dr. Dines for being used by them for her Stop Porn Culture slideshows??)

Russell also goes on to express her "fears" about getting sued for using such material without permission, yet then explains how those "fears" were overcome:

I consulted several attorneys about the likelihood that I would be sued if I self-published Against Pornography. Their opinions on this question varied greatly. The only attorney who actually examined my manuscript thought that the risk was considerable, not only because of the copyright laws but also because he believed that at least two passages in which I point an accusing finger at Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, and Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse, could be regarded as defamatory. He therefore advised me to delete or change these passages. I commented that it would be a cop out to omit the names of these two notorious pornographers just as it would be a cop out to fail to mention Hitler when talking about those responsible for the Holocaust. Despite my defiant words, I had many sleepless nights worrying about whether I might lose my house -- my only significant material asset. But to give up this project out of fear of being sued by pornographers felt like allowing them to defeat and censor me.
I must also admit that my delusions of grandeur about what Against Pornography might achieve also played a role in my willingness to risk so much. I pictured a host of public figures opening the book and feeling horrified by the misogynist pictures, impressed by the research evidence on their harmful effects, and convinced by my theory that pornography is a significant cause of rape. I felt confident that some of the producers of the most prominent media programs, even if motivated by their lust for sensationalism, would want to cover or debate my book. I fantasized about Against Pornography becoming a catalyst for replacing the belief of many educated people that pornography is harmless, with knowledge of its destructive effects, including its promotion of violence against women and children. As I discuss later, this fantasy was not realized with the first edition of this book.
My insomnia was cured by a few conversations with Stephen Fishman, an attorney and author of an important legal text on copyright law (1996), who believed that the publication of Against Pornography would not violate this law -- for the following reasons. First, the reprinted pictures are part of a critical scholarly work that was written for educational purposes. Second, the book is not competitive with the publications of the pornographers whose pictures I reprinted. Third, since several of the sources (e.g., Hustler and Playboy) had policies that would have caused the owners of these magazines to deny me permission to reprint their material had I sought it, I was legally entitled to exercise my right to free speech by disregarding their restrictive rules. The fact that I believed that showing the actual pictures was necessary to effectively communicate my criticism of them and their effects constitutes the rationale for this entitlement.
Fishman also warned me, however, that regardless of my legal right to reprint this copyrighted material, the pornographers might still decide to sue me. Since it would cost me tens of thousands of dollars to mount an effective legal defense, being sued would have been financially disastrous for me. My anxiety about this possibility was greatly alleviated when I decided that a suit against me by pornographers for publishing "their" pictures in Against Pornography without their permission would probably generate enough support for me to organize a defence committee to raise the money needed to fight them in court. I also imagined that a good attorney might volunteer her or his services or be willing to work for a limited fee. This wishful fantasy has lasted to this day.
In short...pretty much the same argument that Adam Cohen of NoPornNorthhampton makes regarding Stop Rape Culture: the ends of wiping porn off the face of the earth justifies the means.

Of course, there was no suit from "the pornographers" filed against Russell's book.

The remainder of the Russell essay includes a general attack on liberal and Leftist men and women
for not sufficiently opposing porn on Russell's favored grounds.

Liberals and left-wingers are far more disparaging than right-wingers of feminists' anti-pornography politics. Most liberal and left women seem to have bought the view of their ideological brothers that pornography is just "harmless fantasy" that allegedly reduces rape and sexual abuse because it is cathartic i.e., male viewers get rid of their sexually aggressive urges by masturbating to pornography. Far from being harmlessly cathartic, pornography increases male aggression and willingness to rape and act out other forms of sexual assault and abuse.

It also includes a especially scurrilious assault on then ACLU director Nadine Strossen and her book Defending Pornography as being "liberal" and "antifeminist" in her "enthusiastic celebration" of pornography and its evils.

The American Civil Liberties Union is a prime example of a liberal organization that has increasingly become a watchdog for the interests of pornographers (for substantiation of this point, see Dworkin, 1988; and Dworkin and MacKinnon, 1993). Nadine Strossen, the current President of the ACLU, spends most of her book Defending Pornography arguing against censorship, claiming that Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin and all the rest of us anti-porn feminists are virulent advocates of it. She frequently refers to us by derogatory names such as "the feminist procensorship movement" (1995, p. 15); "MacDworkinites" (as if we are all clones of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon); "anti-sex crusaders," and "pornophobic feminists" (1995, p. 20). Her ally, Marcia Pally refers to us as "right-wing feminists" (1994, p. 16).
Although censorship appears to be Strossen's favorite word, she never even attempts to define it. From the examples she cites, though, her definition appears indistinguishable from what most people would consider the exercise of their free speech rights to protest. For example, Strossen criticizes what she calls "the censorial impact of such coercive tactics as boycotts" (1995, p. 210).
However, Strossen does not just defend pornography in her book; she enthusiastically celebrates it. In her chapter on "positive aspects of pornographic imagery (pp. 161-178)," she includes testimonials by other women on the joys of pornography. She quotes the following passage by Ann Snitow, an editor of the book, Power and Desire (1983):

Think, for example, of all the pornography about servants fucking mistresses, old men fucking young girls, guardians fucking wards. Class, age, custom -- all are deliciously sacrificed, dissolved by sex. (Cited in Strossen, 1995, p. 176)
Not surprisingly, Strossen's feminist-bashing book was enthusiastically feted by the media, most of whose representatives share her misrepresentations of the views of anti-porn feminists.

Yet for all the smack directed at liberal and Leftist men and women, and anticensorship and sex-positive feminist "liberals" and Leftists, Russell is more than willing to drop names of certain radical activists when it suits her purposes (emphasis added by me):

Although I received many reports from individuals of the powerful impact Against Pornography has made on their opinions about pornography, my expectations of the willingness of public figures to endorse this book turned out to be extremely unrealistic. The uncorrected galleys were sent to at least 26 public figures requesting their endorsement of the book. Only Gloria Steinem, Phyllis Chesler, and Tipper Gore did so. Two other positive responses were forthcoming: Noam Chomsky said that he would like to endorse the book if he could find the time, and Ralph Nader, although he declined to write an endorsement, offered to help publicize the book. .

So it seems that Noam Chomsky has been anti-porn long before he claimed in 2006 that he was "blindsided" by "The Hustler" (sic) magazine. And considering Nader's long-time affinity for pandering to right-wing populist elements, his sympathies with antiporn agiprop surprises me not at all, either.

So interesting to look into the mind of a zealot, isn't it???


  1. damn.
    these people are wack.

    got civil liberties?

  2. Such narcissistic bullshit is to be expected from an ambulatory nut-job like Russell. Like grandiose paranoids everywhere, she thinks all eyes are upon her.

    Her mighty truth will change the minds of "important public figures" forever and she constitutes such a threat to rich pornographers like Bob Guccione and Larry Flynt that they'll stop at nothing, including expensive litigation, to silence her clarion voice.

    But like most things that go on in the minds of paranoids, her warped perceptions of the real world have no credibility outside the confines of her own cranium.

    Just as no big names beyond one or two of the usual suspects cared to associate themselves with her tripe, none of her targets took it seriously enough to give her the legal martyrdom she so obviously craved. Her disappointment that the world didn't stand still in orbit upon the publication of her devastating cultural critique is palpable. And like everything else about her, certifiably loony.

  3. Eh, fair use and it was pre-2257.

    Also, why would anybody want to give her free publicity by suing her?

    And, guess what – NoPorNoHo has the entire book in PDF form here.

    I had to laugh when I saw Tipper Gore had given an endorsement. God, what a piece of work she is. Remember the Parents Musical Resource Center and her congressional hearings on music lyrics? Not to mention her book, Raising PG-Rated Kids in an X-Rated Society, which went after everything from rap to heavy metal to Dungeons and Dragons as Corruptors of Our Youth.

    She was actually a major reason why I voted for Nader rather than Gore back in 2000, and I wonder how many people in key states had that somewhere in the back of their mind when they were deciding who to vote for, or whether to vote at all. I think a really good case that the Gores pandering to the religious right and social conservatives like Russell actually cost them the election, with disastrous results for the country considering the even-worse fundie that got elected instead. (I actually had no idea how much further to the right that was compared to Bush 1 until after he was elected.)

  4. Oh, wow – I was just going through some really old files on my archive disk, and I see that I have a critique of Russell's book that was sent to me by Avedon Carol back in 1997.

    I will repost it shortly.