Legal requirements for an adult dating site?
June 19, 2007 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering starting an adult internet dating service in the US. What legal implications do I need to consider? (Some mildly NSFW details follow).

I'm considering creating a site for local gay/bi men BDSM enthusiasts to post/browse/search profiles, send private messages, etc. I know sites like this already exist but I'm hoping to create a small, low-overhead site that's both locally focused and low or no cost to end users.

I would, however, like for members to be able to post possibly NSFW pictures of themselves. On the one hand, I know that US recordkeeping requirements have become quite stringent. On the other, there are still a lot of personals and related sites -- not to mention craigslist -- that don't require one to submit two government-issued picture id's in order to post NSFW pictures of oneself.

Are sites in this latter category operating in a legal gray area? Or are there exceptions to the recordkeeping requirements for social networking, dating, or craigslist-like sites? Short of talking to a lawyer, are there any good resources for obtaining this sort of information in general?
posted by treepour to Law & Government (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Let me get this straight, you want to create a sexually explicit site for gay/bi men you are worried about violating potential child porn laws, but you want advice short of contacting a lawyer?

You need to talk with a lawyer. This isn't something you can just wing.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:16 PM on June 19, 2007

Apart from verifying the age of the persons depicted, there are laws specifically regulating the depiction of adult BDSM activity. (cf, which requires age verification to see explicit BDSM imagery, and AFAIK it's not legal to show sexual contact with a person who is bound.)

IANAL, but I agree with Ironmouth that one should be consulted.
posted by desjardins at 6:20 PM on June 19, 2007

Oh, fyi, I helped run a local (pansexual) group for BDSM enthusiasts, and we just used Yahoo groups. Again, IANAL, but I believe Yahoo bears the liability in that instance, not the group owner/moderators.
posted by desjardins at 6:25 PM on June 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far. It seems like maybe I should have clarified something. I'm not interested in creating a porn site. It would be a social networking/personals/dating site. I've encountered a number of these which don't seem terribly concerned the legal liability of hosting NSFW user pictures attached to personals ads. That suggests to me that either the laws aren't as stringent regarding personals-type sites or that these sites, including craigslist, are operating in a legal gray area.

I'm not ruling out talking to a lawyer, but I'd like to educate myself as much as possible before I do.
posted by treepour at 6:42 PM on June 19, 2007

I would not allow them to host images on your site. I mean, they're presumably going to exchange bodily fluids with one another right... surely a quick email isn't too much of a hurdle.
posted by phrontist at 6:48 PM on June 19, 2007

Best answer: I've done freelance work for a client who runs several (small and large) adult dating sites for gay men. I don't know much about the legal niceties of his decision-making process, but I know that adoption of USC 2257 required some changes in his business processes.

Some of his sites do not require user registration to browse profiles and photos; for these, he has adopted standards for what sorts of photos are acceptable content, and he has a staffer moderate them prior to the photos being posted on publically accessible areas of the site. Some of his sites do require user registration, including the I-am-over-18 checkbox or acknowledgment. These have less stringent rules regarding photo content, but we also programmed a moderate-prior-to-publication function. On none of these sites does he collect government id's, model releases, or the other sorts of information that would be typically required of "models" for photos under the government recordkeeping requirements.

Inasmuch as he also produces porn, he has consulted a lawyer and is also a member of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade group for the adult industry. Take a look at their web site for educational purposes, even though a lot of it may not apply to you. There's a lot of other resources for adult and gay-adult webmasters, although I don't have my list handy. (Bookmarked on some other PC...) The only one I can remember right now is Gay Wide Webmasters. My email's in my profile, if you want to write with some other questions.

BTW, I had created a fetish-oriented photo-gallery and user-profile site based on PHP-Nuke back in 2002. (That was back before social networking really took off; I'd use a different platform now). I sold the site in 2005 because I didn't want to have to deal with 2257. What a potential legal headache, though it was fun running it, and I got to meet lots of interesting people online.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:52 PM on June 19, 2007

One more thought: Take a survery of the dating sites out there, whether Manhunt, m4m-world, men4sexnow, daddyhunt, bear411, or what have you (none of which I work for). You'll get a sense of what the general sentiment is. Many of them do review/moderate photos prior to publication, but some do not.

For my former, I allowed users to upload anything without me moderating it first, but then I would delete photos if "flagged" by a user and if, upon review, I agreed they should be deleted. (Sound familiar...?)

Moderating the photos in advance gives you more control, of course, but also requires a much greater investment of your time.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:57 PM on June 19, 2007

I'm not sure I'd start one in this business environment, make sure that you have a good way to not just be another "me too" website in this market. There are several sites that I know are having serious cash flow issues at the moment and are not profitable.... supposedly some of the giants, even like, are running close to the line.
posted by SpecialK at 9:13 PM on June 19, 2007

« Older Lookin' for upper back heat   |   IPCC/RCM climate data Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.