Fake child pornography results in $300,000 fine

A man has been ordered to pay $300,000 in damages for creating child pornography "mock-ups" while serving as an expert witness in child pornography cases. He also faced criminal charges in relation to the made-up images.

Using stock-image photographs of children engaged in ordinary activities, the expert witness digitally manipulated the images to make it appear as though the children were involved in sexual acts. He reportedly used the images to help defend clients in court, arguing that child pornography laws are unconstitutional because they may potentially be used to prosecute people for possession of fake photos. The purpose of creating the photos, he claims, was to demonstrate how easy it is to create "virtual" child pornography that is indistinguishable from "real" child porn.

Expert ordered to pay $300,000 in damages

The parents of the children depicted in the photographs lodged a complaint against the man in 2007 after discovering how the images were being used. Under a federal law called the Child Abuse Victims Rights Act of 1986, victims of child pornography are entitled to damages of at least $150,000 each. According to court documents, the parents of the children depicted in the images argued that even though the girls did not currently know how the photographs had been used, they could be haunted by the manipulated images in the years to come.

In his defense, the man argued that he was immune from liability under the statute because he created the images for use in court and had never distributed them, claiming that his actions were protected by the First Amendment. However, although it acknowledged that his intentions were to aid a criminal defendant, not to harm children, the court ruled against him and ordered him to pay $300,000 in damages. The court wrote in its opinion that he did not have the "right to victimize additional minors by creating new child pornography in the course of preparing and presenting a defense."

Fake pornography is still pornography

Under federal law, child pornography is defined as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a person under the age of 18 - regardless of the age of consent for sexual activity in any given state. Significantly, the definition of child pornography applies not only to photographs and videotapes, but also to digital and computer-generated images that are indistinguishable from depictions of an actual minor. Virtual pornography is still considered pornography.

Furthermore, an image may be considered "sexually explicit" even if it does not depict a child engaged in a sexual activity; any image of a child that is sufficiently sexually suggestive may constitute child pornography.

People charged with possession, production or distribution of child pornography can face serious legal consequences at both the state and federal level if convicted. For instance, a first-time offender convicted at the federal level of producing child pornography faces steep fines and a minimum sentence of 15 years, while a first-time conviction for transporting child pornography in interstate or foreign commerce carries a mandatory sentence of five to 20 years in prison.

When facing child pornography charges, it is important to seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney with experience defending against child pornography charges can advise the charged individual of the legal options moving forward and help to ensure that his or her rights are protected.