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PRIVACY AND INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY

CBLDF logoFrom the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (February 2013): In Missouri, Christjan Bee, 36, was sentenced recently to three years in federal prison without parole, followed by five years of supervised release because authorities found on his computer comics that the government characterized as “pornographic”—i.e., depicting “children engaging in sexual behavior.” Prosecutors assert the material “is categorized as obscene and therefore illegal,” despite the fact that the material was not tried in court under the Miller obscenity test.

CBLDF was not involved in the case but its Executive Director Charles Brownstein was nonetheless concerned, saying: “At this time, little is known about the material Bee pleaded guilty to possessing. Based on the government’s characterization of the material, I remain unpersuaded that it is legally obscene under the Supreme Court’s Miller obscenity test. It is also distressing that Bee is being sent to prison for mere possession of obscene material, where there is precedent that the court’s power ‘does not extend to mere possession by the individual in the privacy of his own home.’ Even absent full Despair coverspecifics on the material Bee pleaded guilty to possessing, this is, on many levels, a distressing case.”

It is, in fact, a grotesque perversion of justice.

The Justice Department states that a forensic examination of Bee’s computer produced “a collection of electronic comics, entitled ‘incest comics.’” The comics are described to contain “multiple images of minors engaging in graphic sexual intercourse with adults and other minors.” The DOJ asserts that the comics lacked serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value — areas that would have been tried if Bee’s case went before a jury.

Brownstein said the government’s description “may be enough to make the work distasteful, but that’s not enough to deem a work obscene. The government’s description can easily describe a variety of comics that possess artistic and literary merit, including Robert Crumb’s ‘Joe Blow,’ a story I frequently lecture about because it was the subject of a badly reasoned obscenity conviction in the 1970 case People v. Kirkpatrick. It could also apply to any number of meritorious works of comic art, including the works of Alan Moore, Ariel Schrag, Phoebe Gloeckner, and others. Distasteful or disturbing subject matter does not make work obscene.”

Noting his disappointment that Bee did not reach out to CBLDF, Brownstein concludes: “We’re alarmed that the government continues to prosecute readers of comics at the cost of taxpayer dollars that would be better spent going after criminals who prey on and abuse real children. The key lesson here is that when a First Amendment emergency strikes, make CBLDF your very first call.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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