Reclusive Disturbed Woman Convicted of Online Obscenity

Image: She’s under house arrestThe Wall Street Journal‘s law blog covers the remarkable online obscenity case of 56-year-old Karen Fletcher. A reclusive abuse survivor, she is a sympathetic publisher of stories involving the rape, murder, and torture of children. The comments generated by this blog post voice our societies desire both for freedom and for various imperfect schemes for imposing decency standards.

Does the prosecution fit the crime?
Do you find it excessive that the Department of Justice would prosecute a recluse who wrote obscene fiction, placed it on her password-protected server, and charged 23 people $10 each for access? Closure of her site, Red Rose Stories, is recounted on the Anarchist Librarians blog.

Further, US District Judge Joy Flowers Conti reportedly told Fletcher that “if anyone would have read the story and acted upon it, a little child could have suffered devastation that you would have had to live with for the rest of your life.”

The problem with the reasoning of obscenity classification is that it creates a false separation between potentially destructive narratives, with redeeming artistic qualities, and those with none. The fallacy of this separation is that it can be made credibly at all, and that the distinction of art is a only a distraction.

If someone were to watch Silence of the Lambs, A Clockwork Orange, Eraserhead or Taxi Driver and then commit a crime, would that somehow be more acceptable than if they had been inspired by a terrible story wrapped in poorer art?

Much of popular entertainment and advertising is perhaps destructive, and best avoided, regardless of its artfulness. But its availability may be the cost of living in a free society. One might avoid those who favor disturbing stories, but I’m skeptical that the federal government should seize all computers with distasteful fiction on them.

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