July 6, 2011

At what age can a cartoon legally have sex?


(Via Quill and Quire) The New York-based Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Canadian organization Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund have joined forces to pay the legal costs of an American man who is being charged with importing and possession of child pornography after Canadian customs agents discovered sexually explicit Japanese-style Manga cartoons on his laptop. According to the website Comic Book Resources, the defendant was “A computer programmer and comic book fan in his mid-20s who flew to Canada to visit a friend….One of the items is believed to be a doujinshi, or fan-made comic, of the mainstream manga series ‘Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.'” According to Wikipedia:

The storyline follows Nanoha Takamachi, a nine-year-old Japanese girl attending elementary school, who lives with her parents and her older siblings. Nanoha’s regular everyday life ends when she rescues an injured ferret who reveals himself as a young shapeshifting mage named Yūno Scrya, an archaeologist from a parallel universe.

The man, whose identity has been protected, was allowed to return to the United States with the court-mandated restriction of not using the internet except at work. If convicted of the crimes in Canada, he will face a minimum sentence of one year in prison and will be placed on Canada’s “sexual offender” list.

The Ottawa Citizen wrote an op-ed about the case:

Canada’s current law goes beyond pornography that causes harm to children. It also makes some works of the imagination — stories and drawings — illegal if they depict people under the age of 18 in sexual situations. Many classic works of art might meet that definition, and the law does allow for a defence on the grounds of artistic merit.

This puts the courts in the bizarre position of determining what is a work of art. Citizens cannot hope to know in advance what the law really forbids, and whether the judge will share their opinion of what is art. Policing the way you express yourself on a piece of paper or on your laptop comes awfully close to policing your thoughts.

Judges are not meant to be arbiters of taste; they are meant to balance rights in a free society. Imaginary people do not have rights.