Obscenity Law



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Obscenity laws deal with laws that relate to the regulation or suppression of what is considered obscene material. In the United States, this usually revolves around pornography and issues of freedom of speech.

Because censorship laws enacted to combat obscenity restrict freedom of expression, crafting a legal definition of obscenity is a very difficult proposition. The sale and distribution of “obscene” materials has been prohibited in most American states for decades, However, most of the legislation relating to obscenity has not clearly defined what it is, leaving it to courts to determine whether something is obscene or not. While the Supreme Court has ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment, it, too, has left it to trial courts to determine what obscene materials are.

Basically, a matter is only obscene if it would be considered so by the local community standards. This standard virtually assures that the definition of what is obscene will vary widely from one location to another.

For more information on obscenity law, please review the materials below. Additionally, you may be able to find an attorney with experience dealing with obscenity in your jurisdiction on the Law Firms page of our website.

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Articles About Obscenity Law

Obscenity Law - US

  • Children's Internet Protection Act

    The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries. In early 2001, the FCC issued rules implementing CIPA.

  • Children's Online Privacy Protection Act

    The COPA Commission, a congressionally appointed panel, was mandated by the Child Online Protection Act, which was approved by Congress in October 1998. The primary purpose of the Commission is to "identify technological or other methods that will help reduce access by minors to material that is harmful to minors on the Internet."

  • Communications Decency Act

    The Communications Decency Act (S.314) was passed by the United States Senate in June 1995 by a large majority. The U.S. senators who voted for the CDA either violated their oath of office and thus are little better than traitors or — if they now plead ignorance of the amendment they voted for — failed in their responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of the people.

  • Determining Indecency - Three Prong Obscenity Test

    The highlighted section below constitutes what is now referred to as the "Three Prong Obscenity Test" which was an element in the Supreme Court Decision regarding the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

  • Federal Communications Commission - Regulation of Obscenity, Indecency and Profanity

    It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to broadcast indecent or profane programming during certain hours. (See definitions). Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the responsibility for administratively enforcing the law that governs these types of broadcasts. The FCC has authority to issue civil monetary penalties, revoke a license or deny a renewal application. In addition, violators of the law, if convicted in a federal district court, are subject to criminal fines and/or imprisonment for not more than two years.

  • First Amendment Center - Pornography and Obscenity

    There are two types of pornography that receive no First Amendment protection — obscenity and child pornography. The First Amendment generally protects pornography that does not fall into one of these two categories — at least for adult viewers. Sometimes, material is classified as “harmful to minors” even though adults can have access to the same material.

  • Obscenity - Chapter 71

    Chapter 71 of Part I of Title 18 of the United States Code, relating to obscenity.

  • Obscenity Law - Wikipedia

    The legal term of obscenity is usually denoted to classify a distinction between socially permitted material and discussions that the public can access versus those that should be denied. There does exist a classification of those acceptable materials and discussions that the public should be allowed to engage in, and the access to that same permitted material—which in the areas of sexual materials ranges between the permitted areas of erotic art (which usually includes "classic nude forms" such as Michelangelo's David statue) and the generally less respected commercial pornography.

Organizations Related to Obscenity Law

  • Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS)

    Created in 1987, the mission of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) is to protect the welfare of America’s children and communities by enforcing federal criminal statutes relating to the exploitation of children.

  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

    The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, (NCMEC), is a private, (501)(c)(3) nonprofit organization which was created in 1984. The mission of the organization is to serve as the nation’s resource on the issues of missing and sexually exploited children. The organization provides information and resources to law enforcement, parents, children including child victims as well as other professionals.

  • Obscenity Crimes Organization - Morality in Media (MIM)

    A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Morality in Media (MIM) was launched in New York City in 1962 as a neighborhood organization after grade school children were caught with pornographic publications. Founding members included a Catholic Priest, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, a Lutheran pastor, and a Greek Orthodox Priest. Now national in scope, MIM works through constitutional means to curb traffic in obscenity and uphold standards of decency in media. Common sense, anecdotal evidence and social science research all point to a link between obscenity and indecency and harmful consequences.

Publications Related to Obscenity Law

  • FCC - TV Ratings and Channel Blocking

    The television industry has voluntary ratings for TV programs that appear in the corner of your television screen during the first 15 seconds of each television program. The ratings are also included in many magazines that give TV ratings and in the television listings of many newspapers. Ratings are given to all television programming except news, commercials, sports, and unedited movies on premium cable channels.

  • Filing an Obscenity Complaint

    The FCC accepts complaints electronically, by letter, email, facsimile or telephone. If possible, your complaint should include the call sign of the station, the community where the station is located (city, state), and the date and time of the broadcast. Although not required, including this information greatly assists the FCC in processing your complaint quickly and efficiently. Your complaint should also contain enough detail about the material broadcast that the FCC can understand the exact words and language used. It is very helpful if the complaint includes a partial tape or tranof the aired material or a significant excerpt.

  • Obscene, Indecent, and Profane Broadcasts

    It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours. Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the responsibility for administratively enforcing these laws. The FCC may revoke a station license, impose a monetary forfeiture, or issue a warning if a station airs obscene, indecent, or profane material.

  • Obscenity and the Constitution

    In ROTH v. UNITED STATES (U.S. 1957), the United States Supreme Court determined that, as a matter of history and function, obscenity is "utterly without redeeming social importance." Obscenity is "not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press." Likewise, in CHAPLINSKY, the Court found that there are utterances that "are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be deprived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality."

  • Obscenity on the Internet

    The strengths of the Internet as a medium of communication have unfortunately been exploited for the distribution of pornography. Typically, citizens encounter pornography on the Internet through either websites, or e-mail. Commercial websites selling obscene materials are increasing both in number and in the degradative quality of their images. Typically, these websites offer an online mechanism for ordering physical products (such as magazines, videotapes, or DVDs), provide online content viewable for a fee, or both.

  • Privacy International - Privacy and Free Speech

    Privacy and free speech are in many ways two sides of the same coin. Collisions are possible, particularly in the areas of media coverage of personal lives; or libel and defamation rules that inhibit some speech. We focus on the positive links between these two rights, and their interdependence. The act of censorship may occur through enacting surveillance, and enacting forms of censorship may result in surveillance.