Does Jason Reitman’s New Movie Open Up a Hollywood-Size Can of Legal Worms?

October 26, 2014
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Does Jason Reitman’s New Movie Open Up a Hollywood-Size Can of Legal Worms?

According to an interview he granted to Huffpo, director Jason Reitman had his crew build out a fully functional porn site for characters in the movie to use, presumably to enhance the film’s verisimilitude.

“We had a guy whose job, full-time, was to look at porn… and find thumbnails so we could create Pornhub pages so that it looked as though someone was searching things and things were coming up,” Reitman explained. “So that guy, for weeks, he just watched porn and came up with thumbnails and titles to clips.”

On the one hand, it’s sort of nice to hear that someone in Hollywood took the time to learn a thing or two about how online porn actually works, instead of just relying on clichés and stereotypes. On the other hand, this approach raises some legal questions that Huffpo probably didn’t give much thought to, so we don’t know whether Jason Reitman gave them any thought, either.

For instance, did Reitman secure the rights to the images in question? Was part of his porn researcher’s job to figure out which movies and images belonged to which studios and producers? Somehow, I doubt it. My bet is that the researcher just made like a real porn surfer, and compiled a collection by download without giving a second thought to anything past whether the images met his criteria, whatever that criteria might have been.

Brazenly violating copyright is one thing – everybody on the Internet does that– but federal laws regarding the storage and maintenance of age-verification documents pertaining to the performers in porn is another story.

If you were to ask 10 attorneys about §18 USC 2257, you might get 10 nuanced, if not conflicting, opinions about whether it could be construed to apply to Reitman’s movie, because 2257 is a big, confusing mess of a statute, with a matching set of CFRs that only provide so much help in figuring out WTF the whole morass of legalese actually means.

On the one hand, Congress did dream up a section of the law (2257 A) to provide Hollywood with a loophole that made it a far less burdensome law for them to comply with than it is for the adult entertainment industry. On the other hand, that exception applies to “simulated sexual conduct” – and if you’re grabbing real porn off the Internet to stick in your movie, that’s not simulated sexual conduct engaged in for a mainstream Hollywood film, it is actually sexual conduct created as porn, then later grafted into a mainstream Hollywood film. Since the statute applies to the conduct and the depiction thereof, and not the context the sexual conduct appears in, presumably 2257 would apply here, not 2257A.

Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter, because at the moment, the feds aren’t enforcing 2257 at all, much less enforcing it in Hollywood’s direction. And if they are to start enforcing it again, the feds sure as hell aren’t going to start by holding Jason Reitman’s feet to the fire.

That’s not really my point, though. My point is that the level of respect for copyright law as it relates to online porn is even lower than it is for music or other non-porn entertainment forms. It’s so bad now, even other rights-holders to creative works – guys like Jason Reitman – don’t give a flying fuck about the porn industry’s intellectual property rights.

Now, I could be wrong. It’s possible that Reitman and company really did chase down all the relevant rights-holders and secure not only a license to display their work in the context of his film, but also secured the identification records needed to satisfy 2257, or information sufficient to point the feds in the direction of the appropriate custodians of record.

For now, though, it’s a question that nobody has thought to ask Reitman – and I’d lay out pretty heavy odds against the notion that Reitman himself ever gave it any thought, himself.

Coleen Singer is a writer, photographer, film editor and all-around geeky gal at, where she often waxes eloquent about sex, porn, sex toys, censorship, the literary and pandering evils of Fifty Shades of Grey and other topics not likely to be found on the Pulitzer Prize shortlist. She is also the editor and curator of When she is not doing all of the above, Singer is an amateur stock-car racer and enjoys modifying vintage 1970s cars for the racetrack. Oh, she also likes porn.

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