For a half-dozen ersatz college coeds--known only as Alex, Amber, Milla, Robyn, Tamara, and Trixie--the fall semester got off to a very rocky start. These six "students" inhabit a pornographic "Voyeur Dorm" in Tampa, Florida, equipped with 40 cameras that transmit round-the-clock coverage of their every intimate action to subscribers on the World Wide Web. Although no customers actually enter the studio, Tampa's city council is upholding a finding by the zoning board that the site violates local ordinances regarding "adult" businesses and has threatened to lock the doors to Voyeur Dorm. Although the operation has not yet been shut down, the threat hangs in the air.
Over the past few years, Tampa has stepped up its attacks on traditional adult businesses. "We've gone after them vigorously," city council member Bob Buckhorn has told the press. "I don't think they reflect our community values." The Voyeur Dorm, he says, "is not conducive to wholesome living."
Maybe not. But according to Washington, D.C.-based Internet and First Amendment law specialist Robert Corn-Revere, Tampa may just have to get used to the student bodies. Corn-Revere notes that localities have sometimes been given great latitude in regulating what might otherwise be considered protected speech. But that is usually the case only when there are "secondary effects" involved, such as noise or traffic. No such secondary effects exist here, he points out. "The Commerce Clause [banning state interference with interstate trade] has turned out to be a really powerful argument in the Internet context," says Corn-Revere, who believes this to be the first case of its type.
That theory may soon be put to a test. Voyeur Dorm is going to court to challenge the zoning board's ruling.