Your Manga Could Get You 15 Years in Prison

By Casey Lynn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

mangaAn Iowa man recently pled guilty to one count of “possessing obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children” and to one count of mailing obscene material. He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. This obscene material? Manga.

Christopher Hadley, 39, ordered some manga from Japan two years ago. When a postal inspector decided that the content of the books was obscene, he applied for a search warrant. And when Hadley retrieved his package from the post office, having no idea it had been searched, he arrived home to find police officers who seized his manga, comic book, and DVD collection, as well as his computers. The charges against Hadley were based on only a small number of materials in the collection of over 1,200 publications.

Child pornography is obviously a touchy subject, and it’s a complicated one. The laws were originally enacted to prevent child abuse or any other harm to children, but since then, reported links between the use of pornography and actual abuse have led to the additional banning of virtual child pornography (i.e. illustrations or computer-generated images depicting children in a pornographic manner that did not involve the participation of any actual children). Though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the first law to this effect, there is a new law, the PROTECT Act, that specifically prohibits obscene virtual child pornography. This is the law under which Hadley was prosecuted; his guilty plea makes him the first person to be convicted for possessing cartoon art without any evidence that he viewed actual child pornography.

Manga is particularly problematic with respect to child pornography laws because of the illustration style; not only do characters tend to simply appear younger than they may be intended to be, but males are often androgynous, and the Japanese have a taboo against pubic hair. Of course, obscenity laws are supposed to protect works that have serious artistic value, which brings up the additional problem that many people don’t consider manga (or comic books generally) to be “real” art. Even the heavy hitters in the comic world were worried about what a conviction for Handley might mean. Neil Gaiman told MTV News in November: “I wrote a story about a serial killer who kidnaps and rapes children, and then murders them [referring to a storyline in ‘The Doll’s House’]. We did that as a comic, not for the purposes of titillation or anything like that, but if you bought that comic, you could be arrested for it? That’s just deeply wrong. Nobody was hurt. The only thing that was hurt were ideas.”

We have written before about the issue of obscenity laws possibly going too far, and the common refrain seems to be “slippery slope.” Obviously the law should take all reasonable steps to prevent child abuse, and this includes child pornography laws; but where should the line be drawn? If it’s manga now, does this pave the way for Neil Gaiman next, or maybe Alan Moore? You might scoff at that, but you probably would have done so ten years ago as well if I’d told you that someone might go to jail for fifteen years because of possessing (not even drawing!) some cartoons.

As to why Handley pled guilty instead of fighting the charges? Supposedly it was partly because he couldn’t afford his defense, but the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was already serving as special consultant for the case and probably would have stepped up some fundraising efforts. Apparently Handley’s lawyer also thought he wouldn’t be able to convince a jury once they saw the images in question. “If they can imagine it, they drew it,” he said. Isn’t that kind of the whole point of art? No matter how disturbing we might find the finished product, should it be illegal to see it?

It should be noted that (due to a gag order, apparently) we don’t actually know what manga titles were problematic for Handley, though some have their ideas. So should you be worried about your own manga collection? If there is anything that might possibly maybe somewhat be considered a depiction of an underage character in a sexual situation, maybe so. As one blogger put it, “hope you own a cross-cut paper shredder and an indoor fireplace.” Because unfortunately you never know when the justice system might decide to make an example of someone.

[Image Source: Flickr (CC)]

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38 Responses to Your Manga Could Get You 15 Years in Prison

  1. Manga is too general of a term for the type of comics he was reading. That's the same thing as saying "You can get 15 years in prison for a DVD".

    But I understand you have to take care of your traffic…

    • Point taken. Though I do wish we had a better idea of what exactly he was reading. One of the problems with "obscene" is that it's so subjective. (And unfortunately "child" is kind of fuzzy sometimes as well, when it comes to manga – it might be more obvious in this case, but who knows?)

  2. Manga is too general of a term for the type of comics he was reading. That’s the same thing as saying “You can get 15 years in prison for a DVD”.

    But I understand you have to take care of your traffic…

    • Point taken. Though I do wish we had a better idea of what exactly he was reading. One of the problems with “obscene” is that it’s so subjective. (And unfortunately “child” is kind of fuzzy sometimes as well, when it comes to manga – it might be more obvious in this case, but who knows?)

  3. Great post! My kids are into anime, and at the anime convention last year, I was astonished at the XXX-rated stuff I saw available for purchase. But I agree with you that it's really a slippery slope indeed.

    Barbara

  4. Child pornography laws aren't really "complicated." And remember that people who work for ICE are very highly trained professionals. They are educated and trained to know the difference between comic book fare, regular manga, and stuff that crosses the line. ICE agents are not some namesless, faceless automaton robots that capriciously deem stuff to be offensive just because they are prudes.

    Don't you think its curious that ICE agents opened and inspected that specific shipment of goods? I've received lots of international packages that weren't inspected by agents. But this one was. You know why? Because ICE has a database of mailing addresses of criminal organizations and outfits that ship materials harmful to children.

    I guarantee you that this scumbag Chris Handley was ordering illegal material from an underground producer of Manga, and he pleaded guilty quickly because the government had him dead to rights. He knew he would lose in a court of law.

    So don't worry about your comic book collections and your Japanese anime fapping material. Govt agents will not be busting down your door to raid you. But if you are a sick pervert giving money to organizations overseas who abuse and torture children, then all bets are off.

    • It's quite possible that's true (re: a criminal organization); it's just not something I've seen in what I've read about the case. The problem I see is that the letter of the law under which he was convicted is based on his private possession of the materials. You're completely right that it's very, very unlikely that the government is going to come knocking on your door to inspect your comics collection, but there are sometimes circumstances under which the police may get a peek at, for example, your computer, for unrelated reasons. Even if Handley's actions were unsympathetic, I'm more concerned about the potential for setting a precedent.

      • Casey, I'm not sure I follow what you mean about fears of setting a precedent. Precedent that his computer could be searched? Im certain it was searched as it was likely used to purchase the material online.

        By the way, the US government outlines its case to deny the motion to dismiss here.
        http://uncivilsociety.org/handley_order.pdf

        And the law is crystal clear. Any purchase of material showing cartoon characters of underage children engaged in sexual contact that has no artistic merit is against the law.

        • Sorry, by precedent I was speaking more generally; my concern is more about the issue of "no artistic merit." I have always found obscenity laws troubling for that reason. Again, I have no idea what materials are actually in question here, but simply given what we know about this case (that the man was a collector of comics and manga generally, that these materials were a small piece of that, and that he was not in possession of anything else that could be considered child pornography), it seems as if he probably purchased them for their artistic merit (and by "merit" I obviously don't mean fine art, but it's merit nonetheless). I'm not saying that the law was applied incorrectly in this case; I simply wanted to point out how the law correctly applied could arguably come out with an outcome that many would find unpalatable.

        • The US government should not define the rules of art to or not have merits. Art is more of the form of personal taste and freedom

    • Oh give me a break they are like robots. It depend who opens what that will be found to be objectionable, Look at Remeo and Juliet is also obscene if you take it the the level of these believes. The reality is that as my friend the attorney says, most people who do anything at all away from what ever the norm is at the time will fall into legal problems and will do time, as he says the average person can not pay for court cost for anything like this, this case if he had continue would probably moved over to million easy.

      The key is to be in the right states which things like this just don't happen reality bites but that how america rides. No matter what anyone here thinks they know, the reality is that if you fall into the court system be ready to shell out a lot of money for basic stuff, imagine something that could give a prosecutor plenty of money to burn and great political clout.

      For get about the attorney on the defendant side if its court appointed its basically someone just buying time or not a very good attorney unless you can get one from outside and these cases are expensive and long, not something a real attorney want's to spend time doing.

      We have so many laws now against so much that those who talk about how it will never happen to them can find themselves in trouble, of course you could always use in Iowa the religion card maybe he should have used that one.

      As for transporting, that is a common attack when everything else fails, read a little about the law and what technics are used the transportation one is used all over for almost anything they can, don't be so naive to believe this was a good thing, the reality is like in many countries we are also heading into the dreaded religions right knows best.

  5. Child pornography laws aren’t really “complicated.” And remember that people who work for ICE are very highly trained professionals. They are educated and trained to know the difference between comic book fare, regular manga, and stuff that crosses the line. ICE agents are not some namesless, faceless automaton robots that capriciously deem stuff to be offensive just because they are prudes.

    Don’t you think its curious that ICE agents opened and inspected that specific shipment of goods? I’ve received lots of international packages that weren’t inspected by agents. But this one was. You know why? Because ICE has a database of mailing addresses of criminal organizations and outfits that ship materials harmful to children.

    I guarantee you that this scumbag Chris Handley was ordering illegal material from an underground producer of Manga, and he pleaded guilty quickly because the government had him dead to rights. He knew he would lose in a court of law.

    So don’t worry about your comic book collections and your Japanese anime fapping material. Govt agents will not be busting down your door to raid you. But if you are a sick pervert giving money to organizations overseas who abuse and torture children, then all bets are off.

    • It’s quite possible that’s true (re: a criminal organization); it’s just not something I’ve seen in what I’ve read about the case. The problem I see is that the letter of the law under which he was convicted is based on his private possession of the materials. You’re completely right that it’s very, very unlikely that the government is going to come knocking on your door to inspect your comics collection, but there are sometimes circumstances under which the police may get a peek at, for example, your computer, for unrelated reasons. Even if Handley’s actions were unsympathetic, I’m more concerned about the potential for setting a precedent.

      • Casey, I'm not sure I follow what you mean about fears of setting a precedent. Precedent that his computer could be searched? Im certain it was searched as it was likely used to purchase the material online.

        By the way, the US government outlines its case to deny the motion to dismiss here.
        http://uncivilsociety.org/handley_order.pdf

        And the law is crystal clear. Any purchase of material showing cartoon characters of underage children engaged in sexual contact that has no artistic merit is against the law.

        • Sorry, by precedent I was speaking more generally; my concern is more about the issue of “no artistic merit.” I have always found obscenity laws troubling for that reason. Again, I have no idea what materials are actually in question here, but simply given what we know about this case (that the man was a collector of comics and manga generally, that these materials were a small piece of that, and that he was not in possession of anything else that could be considered child pornography), it seems as if he probably purchased them for their artistic merit (and by “merit” I obviously don’t mean fine art, but it’s merit nonetheless). I’m not saying that the law was applied incorrectly in this case; I simply wanted to point out how the law correctly applied could arguably come out with an outcome that many would find unpalatable.

        • The US government should not define the rules of art to or not have merits. Art is more of the form of personal taste and freedom

    • Oh give me a break they are like robots. It depend who opens what that will be found to be objectionable, Look at Remeo and Juliet is also obscene if you take it the the level of these believes. The reality is that as my friend the attorney says, most people who do anything at all away from what ever the norm is at the time will fall into legal problems and will do time, as he says the average person can not pay for court cost for anything like this, this case if he had continue would probably moved over to million easy.

      The key is to be in the right states which things like this just don’t happen reality bites but that how america rides. No matter what anyone here thinks they know, the reality is that if you fall into the court system be ready to shell out a lot of money for basic stuff, imagine something that could give a prosecutor plenty of money to burn and great political clout.

      For get about the attorney on the defendant side if its court appointed its basically someone just buying time or not a very good attorney unless you can get one from outside and these cases are expensive and long, not something a real attorney want’s to spend time doing.

      We have so many laws now against so much that those who talk about how it will never happen to them can find themselves in trouble, of course you could always use in Iowa the religion card maybe he should have used that one.

      As for transporting, that is a common attack when everything else fails, read a little about the law and what technics are used the transportation one is used all over for almost anything they can, don’t be so naive to believe this was a good thing, the reality is like in many countries we are also heading into the dreaded religions right knows best.

  6. I find this absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable. You might find some of these "xxx-rated" drawings unacceptable or even sick, and you can say whatever you want about Chris Handley but the point is a man is being charged for having what are basically obscene drawings! Who do these drawings hurt? Fantasy is fantasy and no matter how sick it is, it shouldn't be illegal.

    We should focus all our legal and prosecuting efforts on people who are hurting children not on people who's comics we find "morally wrong", whatever that means.

    • Sampi,

      Handley was not prosecuted for possession of obscene materials, which is actually protected under established case law. He was prosecuted for interstate transport. From the legal decision cited above:

      Thus, while an individual

      has a limited right to possess obscene materials in the privacy of his own home, there

      exists no right to receive or possess obscene materials that have been moved in interstate

      commerce, and that is the illegal conduct with which Defendant is charged.

      There is no dispute that the images at issue in this case do not involve real children but

      instead depict cartoons of children. Because the images at issue do not depict real children but

      instead merely cartoon depictions of children, the images are to be measured by the standard of

      obscenity enunciated in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. at 15. Obscene materials are not limited to

      those involving real persons and can include materials such as cartoons.

      • Unfortunately it seems like almost everything moves in interstate commerce these days. In the case of manga, there's not very much that you can go down the street and buy in your local book store, so the majority of it (at least in the U.S.) will be bought and sold over the Internet.

  7. I find this absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable. You might find some of these “xxx-rated” drawings unacceptable or even sick, and you can say whatever you want about Chris Handley but the point is a man is being charged for having what are basically obscene drawings! Who do these drawings hurt? Fantasy is fantasy and no matter how sick it is, it shouldn’t be illegal.
    We should focus all our legal and prosecuting efforts on people who are hurting children not on people who’s comics we find “morally wrong”, whatever that means.

    • Sampi,

      Handley was not prosecuted for possession of obscene materials, which is actually protected under established case law. He was prosecuted for interstate transport. From the legal decision cited above:

      Thus, while an individual
      has a limited right to possess obscene materials in the privacy of his own home, there
      exists no right to receive or possess obscene materials that have been moved in interstate
      commerce, and that is the illegal conduct with which Defendant is charged.

      There is no dispute that the images at issue in this case do not involve real children but
      instead depict cartoons of children. Because the images at issue do not depict real children but
      instead merely cartoon depictions of children, the images are to be measured by the standard of
      obscenity enunciated in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. at 15. Obscene materials are not limited to
      those involving real persons and can include materials such as cartoons.

      • Unfortunately it seems like almost everything moves in interstate commerce these days. In the case of manga, there’s not very much that you can go down the street and buy in your local book store, so the majority of it (at least in the U.S.) will be bought and sold over the Internet.

  8. You know, I heard that these things happen on the U.S. but I didn't know about any real cases. I've also heard that customs officers can check the contents on your laptop. I'm a hentai fan and since I don't want into trouble, I usually delete all my manga and mp3s whenever I go to the states. It's quite stupid to protect myself just because I happen to like japanese drawn pornography. I'm a law abiding citizen in my own country, I pay my taxes and stuff. I believe there are far more important crimes out there.

    • There are lots of crimes but most crimes are not as easy as this and going after some guy who does not have resources makes more sense, than trying to bring down say a real crime, sure it happens from time to time. Imagine how much easier and politically correct this is to say years of man power just to maybe bring down a person who has millions to spend, night and day.

  9. This is patently unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court has held that laws forbidding the possession of child pornography are unconstitutional to the extent they ban possession of fake depictions of child pornography. In other words, child porn can only be banned if it invovles an actual child. Thus, they can't put you away for drawings, etc… Even a PD would be able to figure this out.

  10. This is patently unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court has held that laws forbidding the possession of child pornography are unconstitutional to the extent they ban possession of fake depictions of child pornography. In other words, child porn can only be banned if it invovles an actual child. Thus, they can’t put you away for drawings, etc… Even a PD would be able to figure this out.

  11. You know, I heard that these things happen on the U.S. but I didn’t know about any real cases. I’ve also heard that customs officers can check the contents on your laptop. I’m a hentai fan and since I don’t want into trouble, I usually delete all my manga and mp3s whenever I go to the states. It’s quite stupid to protect myself just because I happen to like japanese drawn pornography. I’m a law abiding citizen in my own country, I pay my taxes and stuff. I believe there are far more important crimes out there.

    • There are lots of crimes but most crimes are not as easy as this and going after some guy who does not have resources makes more sense, than trying to bring down say a real crime, sure it happens from time to time. Imagine how much easier and politically correct this is to say years of man power just to maybe bring down a person who has millions to spend, night and day.

  12. "When a postal inspector decided that the content of the books was obscene."

    I'm just wonder since when are people allowed to check books you receive in the mail… I mean it's highly unlikely child porn is going to be bound and published even in Japan but so many people buy manga from abroad you cant just say "oooh yer sorry this is illegal" before you've even read it.

    I also think that people need to do more research they'd likely realise that the obscene stuff they found was frankly mild…. or so i'd hope.

    Alot of Manga does cross bordera with nudity an example being in Naruto with his "Sexy Technique" being a character under 16 does that make that child porn?

    I'd hope not or we're all screwed…

  13. “When a postal inspector decided that the content of the books was obscene.”

    I’m just wonder since when are people allowed to check books you receive in the mail… I mean it’s highly unlikely child porn is going to be bound and published even in Japan but so many people buy manga from abroad you cant just say “oooh yer sorry this is illegal” before you’ve even read it.

    I also think that people need to do more research they’d likely realise that the obscene stuff they found was frankly mild…. or so i’d hope.

    Alot of Manga does cross bordera with nudity an example being in Naruto with his “Sexy Technique” being a character under 16 does that make that child porn?

    I’d hope not or we’re all screwed…

  14. Morale of the Story:

    Never use the US Postal service for shipping stuff from Japan. Either fly there and get it yourself. Download it off of the internet. Otherwise, use a private business to ship it.

  15. Morale of the Story:
    Never use the US Postal service for shipping stuff from Japan. Either fly there and get it yourself. Download it off of the internet. Otherwise, use a private business to ship it.

  16. Yep. I regret Manga's dark side illustrations. Too much gore especially if sex is involved. They have this "rape" novels, video games and OVA as past times. But if you look in Japan, things are normal or maybe just a false sense. There are different cultural sexual tradition in this Earth and its a shame that Japan promotes sex to minors and Manga is a national reading material.

    Freedom has its limits. Possession of such items is a private thing but trying to distribute it is another. Do practice decency and if you not, make it sure it wont hurt anyone.

    TG, Philippines

  17. Yep. I regret Manga’s dark side illustrations. Too much gore especially if sex is involved. They have this “rape” novels, video games and OVA as past times. But if you look in Japan, things are normal or maybe just a false sense. There are different cultural sexual tradition in this Earth and its a shame that Japan promotes sex to minors and Manga is a national reading material.

    Freedom has its limits. Possession of such items is a private thing but trying to distribute it is another. Do practice decency and if you not, make it sure it wont hurt anyone.

    TG, Philippines

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