Otakon 2012 Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
by Justin Sevakis,
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's panel, entitled "Is Manga A Crime? Criminal Prosecutions of Manga in the USA and Canada," was hosted by Charles Brownstein, the Defense Fund's Executive Director. The CBLDF has been defending comics from "moral panic" and legal controversy for 25 years, and in recent years has increasingly seen attacks on manga.
Brownstein briefly recapped the history of comic books and their legal challenges, from the Comics' Code voluntary censorship of most comics in the 1950s, through obscenity charges at the retailer levels, and finally end-users in the 2000s. Brownstein noted that manga has a different set of taboos and levels of sexuality than is common in the West, placing it at odds with some law enforcement and parental groups. With anime and manga becoming increasingly prominent at conventions and in stores and TV, it's also becoming more visible.
Brownstein reviewed four different cases. First, in the early 2000s, comics store clerk Jesus Castillo, was arrested in Dallas, TX for selling hentai manga Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen and UrotsukiDoji: Legend of the Overfiend to an undercover officer. The defense presented Dr. Susan Napier and Scott McCloud as expert witnesses, but the prosecution prevailed and Castillo was sentenced to 180 days in jail. (He served unsupervised probation, and appeal attempts failed.)
In 2003, the PROTECT Act of 2003, ostensibly a child-protection act that offered many new abuse protections for children, included drawings in its definitions of child pornography, and has since been used to prosecute anime and manga. Shortly after the law took effect, in U.S. vs. Whorley, a man who already had a criminal record was convicted for downloading lolicon manga images on a public terminal, and received the same penalty as he would have for for receving real child pornography.
In U.S. vs. Handley, manga collector and disabled veteran Christopher Handley was arrested in 2006 after postal inspectors viewed a package of imported manga. Police seized over 1,000 books and magazines, hundreds of DVDs and seven computers. While awaiting trial, Handley was prohibited from accessing any anime and manga related material online, using internet chat, and was forced to undergo mental health counseling. Handley was convicted for posession of sexual mages of minors, and was sentenced to six months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and five years of probation, as well as forfeiture of all materials seized by police.
Brownstein then introduced Ryan Matheson, who ran up against Canadian customs in 2010 when he was visiting a friend, but was instead arrested at the border for posessing and importing child pornography. The CBLDF alledges several abuses and incidents of improper conduct by authorities in the handling of the case, including being denied legal representation. Matheson was released awaiting trial, and after several hearings the Canadian government dropped all charges in early 2012. Matheson went over the story of his ordeal in detail with Brownstein.
The panel closed with a plea for donations to the fund, which is working to assist Matheson with the cost of his legal defense and raising awareness on comic book and manga legal issues.