IEG strikes fear into the heart of Hollywood
Seth Warshavsky has a way of making Hollywood celebrities a wee bit jumpy. Just ask Kelsey Grammer. Last year, the Frasier star sued when he reportedly suspected Warshavsky of possessing a racy video of him. Thing was, Warshavsky didn’t, and Grammer withdrew the suit. An explanation, please, Kelsey? No comment.
If you were worried about being turned into an unwitting Internet porn star, you’d be paranoid too: Warshavsky’s specialty is getting his hands on homemade celebrity sex videos and nudie pix. You know the ones: Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Tori Spelling. Last month, he struck again, with snapshots of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones lying naked on a beach, performing, um, solo. Making such indecent exposures available online — for a fee — have helped to make Warshavsky, who turns 26 April 17, very rich. By the time his 10-year high school reunion rolls around, his Seattle-based Internet Entertainment Group (IEG), whose diverse portfolio of mostly pornographic websites raked in an estimated $50 million in 1998, will most likely be a publicly traded company. ”My parents,” he insists, ”are very proud of me.”
Hollywood feels differently, to say the least. Even among celebs with clear consciences, IEG’s high-profile humiliations have cast a pall of fear that outweighs any positive feelings about the newly wired world. ”The Internet opens up so many issues,” says Jeff Bridges. ”The ethics of the whole thing haven’t really been ironed out. I don’t know if they can ever be.” The paranoia is such that few stars are willing to comment on the record about Warshavsky’s antics, knowing that anything they say could make him richer. ”If I start complaining, I’m calling more attention to [compromising material],” theorizes non-target Tim Robbins. ”I can rant, I can rave — all will call more attention to it. Sometimes, silence is the only path to resistance.”
One thing is certain: Copyright protection laws don’t offer much help. Dr. Laura’s body may belong to her, but the pictures legally belonged to the former lover who sold them to IEG. For other stars, like Richards (who has steadfastly refused to comment), the only protection is Warshavsky’s conscience — and unfortunately, Warshavsky thinks like a journalist. ”The only reason Entertainment Tonight doesn’t do what I’m doing is because it can’t show nudity,” says Web porn’s boy wonder. But Warshavsky says he has standards. No bestiality. No drug use. He claims to have passed on the Dr. Kevorkian video that 60 Minutes eventually aired. ”I think what 60 Minutes did was disgusting,” says Warshavsky. Before you mock his moral outrage, better burn those Polaroids hidden in your underwear drawer.