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Christopher Hadley, a comic book collector, currently faces up to 20 years in prison for possession of manga. Hadley’s collection, which police inspected after he received a shipment of books from Japan that the postal inspector thought contained objectionable content, contained some materials that the government deems “obscene” under the PROTECT Act (18 U.S.C. Section 1466A).
The PROTECT Act, which prohibits obscene virtual child pornography, came on the heels of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, which struck down the first laws criminalizing virtual child pornography (that is, drawings or computer-generated images that do not involve the participation of actual children) on free speech grounds.
Hadley’s collection contained no photographic content, only illustrations in comic book form. Hadley’s lawyer pointed out in an interview that the Japanese drawing style tends to make characters look much younger than they are intended to be, and though the manga involved explicit sexual situations, there were no actual children.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has signed on as a special consultant in Hadley’s defense. Comic book writers like Neil Gaiman are concerned about the precedent this prosecution could set. Could, for example, anyone who owns a copy of Alan Moore’s Lost Girls be in legal trouble?
A District judge already found portions of the PROTECT Act to be unconstitutional (on free speech grounds) when he ruled on the motion to dismiss; this leaves Haldey facing obscenity charges under the Miller test when his case goes to a jury.
– Casey Fiesler
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