Photo Attorney

Apr 19, 2009

18 USC 2257 Concerns for Photographers

Some photographers shoot nudes, sexually explicit, and/or erotic photographs. If so, your work may come under the purview of a law known as "section 2257." This law imposes some strict obligations that must be followed to avoid fines and penalties, including prison.

Officially known as 18 U.S.C. Section 2257, this federal law imposes name and age verification, recordkeeping, and labeling requirements on producers of visual depictions of actual human beings engaged in actual sexually explicit conduct. Likewise, 18 U.S.C. Section 2257A, which went into effect on March 18, 2009, imposes name and age verification, recordkeeping, and labeling requirements on producers of visual depictions of actual human beings engaged in simulated sexually explicit conduct.

In sum, these statutes require photographers to ascertain, by examining identification documents, that performers (models) are of legal age, as well as to record and maintain this information. With respect to depictions of actual sexually explicit conduct, failure to do so is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment of not more than five years for a first offense and not more than 10 years for subsequent offenses. With respect to depictions of simulated explicit conduct, failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in prison and a fine. Matter containing such visual depictions must be labeled with a statement indicating where the records are located, and those records are subject to inspection by the government.

To help photographers decifer what this law means to them, the US Department of Justice has prepared a "Small Business Compliance Guide" that provides explanations of the law and commonly-asked questions. Additionally, Stephen Haynes has published a book entitled, "A Photographer's Guide to Section 2257." Haynes is a retired attorney and photographs nudes. In his book, Haynes does a good job of examining the law as it applies to photographers and helps to explain in everyday language what photographers need to do to comply with the law. Note that Haynes' language in the book is raw and his political views are clear. But if you're a photographer whose work may come under section 2257, then both of these resources are worth your study.

Unfortunately, even when good intentions are present, the laws that result affect others that were not supposed to caught in the net. Thus, it's your job to make sure that you stay clear of any problems.