Legal Toolkit for Webcam Models

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This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of XBiz World Magazine and online here.

Webcam performers are professionals. Just like any other model, actor, or actress, you – as a webcam performer – should have a basic understanding of laws that are applicable to your career.  Here is a basic “legal toolkit” that every cam model should keep handy and review from time to time. You are sexy, and so is making money.  To make the most, do it right!

  1. Read contracts. Review and understand the terms of use, privacy policy, and model/broadcaster contracts, as well as any other agreements you sign with a live cam site or clip site. If you are working through a studio, read and understand any agreements you have with the studio as well.  Know your rights and obligations as between you and the cam site provider, clip site provider, studio, and the clients.
  2. Understand “2257.” Federal statutes, 18 U.S.C. §2257 and §2257A, and associated regulations, set out the standards for verifying and documenting age (of majority – 18) and other information of adult performers.  Cam sites and clip sites will require proof of a government-issued photo-ID from you and any other performer that appears in your account. Cam sites and clip sites usually take care of the rest of 2257 compliance. If you run an independent website for your fans though, you’re on your own for that.  There are website-building programs that integrate and manage 2257 obligations for you, which can ease the burden so you can focus on what you’re best at – performing!
  3. Do not involve minors. Do not have anyone under the age of 18 in the room in which you are filming. Creation of child pornography is, of course, illegal. Having a minor even in the room could lead to the cam site operator, or even a client, reporting you to the police and/or National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. You could wind up being criminally prosecuted in addition to terminated from the cam or clip site.
  4. Do not offer prostitution services online. Do not write messages or make oral offers that could potentially be interpreted as soliciting or accepting an offer of prostitution or sex trafficking. The “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA), passed in 2018 in the U.S., enables criminal and civil prosecution of website providers that allow messages or other content that promotes or facilitates prostitution or sex trafficking to be transmitted through their sites. This means that site operators will be looking for this type of language both using computer algorithms (which may sweep content that is not prostitution in with content that is) and via manual methods. They will have to do this in order to comply with the law, themselves, and accordingly, could suspend or terminate you from their sites if they find anything even remotely resembling prostitution or sex trafficking. Be aware of your communications and how they could be interpreted.
  5. Do not cross the line into obscenity. The threshold of what constitutes obscenity is difficult to define.  It was notoriously described as “I know it when I see it” by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964. In the 1973 decision in Miller v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court established a test for obscenity. In short, the test evaluates contemporary community standards, whether the work “appeals to the prurient interest” or is “patently offensive,” and whether the work “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” The boundary still may sound difficult to ascertain, so stay far away from it.  Avoid making scenes that depict bestiality, urination or vomiting in sex scenes, and the like that could potentially be interpreted as being beyond the ethereal border.
  6. Keep your personal information secret. Don’t disclose personal information, such as your real name, location, where you went to college, etc. to clients.  Though certainly not impossible, it can be very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to fight back against stalkers, cyber-stalkers, or people sharing your personal information online.
  7. Copyright your content. Submit to the U.S. Copyright Office an application for registration of any shows you record while being broadcasted on a live cam site, as well as any clips you create for clip sites (assuming that the cam site or clip site you use enables you to keep the copyright rights to your performances). You should file for a registration at the end of each quarter for all recordings created during the past three months. This will significantly boost your ability to fight piracy of your content if or when it happens. Note, however, that if someone else is recording you for a clip (e.g., operating the camera), they may own copyright rights in the video, and you’ll need him or her to sign over (i.e. “assign”) such rights to you either before or after the shoot, preferably before.
  8. Know DMCA rules. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) “notice and takedown” procedures enable you to have a website operator remove your content posted by a third party without your permission. This applies to content that you create of which you are the copyright owner (even when the copyright isn’t registered). If such of your content is pirated and uploaded to a tube site or social media, etc., you can use the DMCA procedures to file a complaint to notify the website operator to take down the content.
  9. Trademark your stage name. File a trademark application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for your stage name. This will give you the upper hand if another performer adopts a similar name without your permission. Confusion caused by a performer who willfully chooses a similar name to yours can mean lost profits to you as prospective clients could unwittingly slip away to the other performer.
  10. Obtain model releases. Each person has a right of publicity, which is generally defined as the right to control and profit from the commercial use of one’s own name, likeness (image), and voice. If you have another performer performing with you, e.g., in a clip you’re recording, you’ll need him or her to sign a model release (and possibly a copyright assignment too if they are helping record, direct, edit, etc.) allowing you to copy, alter, distribute, and resell their image (and voice), as well as use their stage name, in order for you to legally sell and distribute the video later.

These are some tips that you, as a webcam performer, should keep in mind for live cam shows and independent clip production. Remember that these are just some of the many laws and legal concerns that you should be familiar with. Knowing your rights, and abiding by the laws, will put you in an optimal position to profit from your hard work. If you have questions on any of the concepts or need help with a particular matter, get yourself a good lawyer. Most businesses require legal counsel at some point, and usually need it periodically throughout their existence. You are an entrepreneur and no different – Be savvy!

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