If A Minor Reads My NC-17 Fic, Will I Go To Jail?

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Title: If A Minor Reads My NC-17 Fic, Will I Go To Jail?
Creator: Ophelia
Date(s): roughly 2001
Medium: online
External Links: If A Minor Reads My NC-17 Fic, Will I Go To Jail?, Archived version
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If A Minor Reads My NC-17 Fic, Will I Go To Jail? is an essay by Ophelia

It was posted to the X-Files website Working Stiffs in roughly early 2001.

Some Topics Discussed

  • a lot of legalisms and technical statutes
  • the wild west of the internet and fanfic
  • Minors in Fandom


Last week I got an e-mail from someone asking for a copy of one of my stories. This particular fic has two versions, one PG-13, one NC-17. Anyone's interest in my fanfic thrills me, and I was about to send the uncut version, because I personally prefer it. But just before I hit the "Send" button, I wondered, "How old is this person?" Deciding to play it safe, I attached an expurgated copy of the story instead, plus an apology and a link to the adult version in case my correspondent was over the age of 18.

After that (and I always think of these things after), I did a quick check with the person's e-mail provider and found out that yes, janedoe@someisp.com was a high school student. I just about had a heart attack. I am a worrier, and a good one, too, and quickly manufactured a rabidly straitlaced mother for this girl who would find the downloaded adult fic on her daughter's hard drive, see my attached e-mail address, and begin harassing me. I imagined a series of complaints to my ISP, online pornography watchdog groups, and the federal government. About the time I had made myself into the index case for a whole slew of lawsuits that would bring repressive new legislation against fanfic authors (I have to do this occasionally -- it's like a fire drill, but cathartic), I decided it might be a good idea to check out what the actual possible consequences for sending adult matter to an underage person is. The considerations below reflect what I found out.

Things Consider Before Posting Adult Fiction:

Personal Beliefs. No reliable, widespread technology exists to keep adult material out of the hands of minors, and parents and teachers are hardly superhuman. How much would it bother you if your fic ended up being read by a 16-year-old? What about 14? 12? 8? Labeling and rating your adult stories are good ideas, but they rely purely on the honor system. It's a good idea to examine your beliefs about adult fiction and its possible impact on minors before posting.

Social Issues and Public Opinion. Any time you affix your e-mail address to a story you risk flame mail, but authors who work in fields that require the faith of the public, such as law enforcement, the schools, or large television ministries (don't laugh! It could happen!) might want to take the possibility of "exposure" into particular account.

Having said all that, it is now time for:

Theoretical Consequences. You thought you were going to get out of here without the obligatory dystopian, "The Internet Is Stealing Your Rights" and "The Internet Will Be Destroyed By Right-Wing Madmen," didn't you? Didn't you?! Never mind figuring out how you're supposed to care if the thing that's stealing your rights is about to be destroyed anyway. Here are some new laws and potential laws related to kids and the internet.

So. Breathe deep the gathering gloom. (Go on, you're an X-Files fan -- you enjoy it). Well, okay, paranoia isn't really necessary. As long as you use common sense when writing adult fic, nothing dreadful is likely to happen to you. Keeping track of proposed legislation and writing your senator or state representative (but not into your adult fiction) is also a good idea, as is looking into Internet pornography law for your country, if you are not a U.S. citizen. My personal solution is never to post under my own name, and to avoid directly e-mailing NC-17 material to anyone, even if their handle is HotGrandma@retirementvilla.com. I do plan to continue sending links, however, until and unless the Fox Network sends that 2600 judge after me.

By the way -- after I was done freaking out and scrounging the FBI's web site for information about what happened to people who corrupted minors, Jane Doe wrote me back. She confirmed that she was underage and thanked me for sending the PG-13 version of the story. As for NC-17 fic, she said, "I'm not interested in that stuff. It doesn't appeal to me."

Nothing like being made to feel immature by a 14-year-old.