"This is a difficult area," said Michael A. Bamberger, a First Amendment specialist at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, based in New York, who filed a brief on behalf of a booksellers' group in the Knox case. "The whole history of the exception from First Amendment protections for child pornography is based on the harm to the child. But there is in my view a free speech issue with respect to designating photographs of persons under the age of 18 who are clothed as child pornography."
But Mr. Bamberger expressed uncertainty about whether his concerns applied when told details of the model sites found by The Times. "To me, it sounds as if you are really talking about nude equivalents, almost like cellophane clothing, and that's not clothing at all." To distinguish between illegal images and, say, photographs of children posing in underwear for a store catalog, the court said it had to apply the Dost standards and review a range of facts, like the nature of the images and whether the marketing was intended to appeal to pedophiles.
For example, the court noted, a potential customer could know the images of minors were illegal if they were marketed with statements proclaiming that they would "blow your mind so completely you'll be begging for mercy." Explicit listing of the children's ages, along with sexually loaded terms like "hot," could also be used as evidence of illegality, the court said.
The modeling sites reviewed by The Times incorporated many such references to encourage viewers to subscribe.
That is true for one of the most successful collections of sites, according to some portal rankings, run by an entity called PlayToy Entertainment. On its central site, PlayToy holds itself out as a company that helps children start modeling careers. There is, however, no phone number, address or prominent e-mail address available for companies that might seek to hire the girls or for parents who might want their children to be models.
The central PlayToy site originally located by The Times contained links to as many as six sites featuring little girls. In recent days, the central site has been redesigned, removing the links to the girls' individual sites.