Child Pornography Law

What is Child Pornography?

Child Pornography is a criminal offense and is defined as any visual depiction involving the use of a minor, or one appearing to be a minor, engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Visual depictions include photographs, film, video, pictures or computer-generated images or pictures, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means. Child pornography has become particularly problematic with the rise of the Internet and its ability to both transmit data far and wide and provide a level of anonymity to its users and the victims depicted in images of child pornography.

Types of Depictions

Any depiction of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct may be considered child pornography. This can include photographs, digital images, computer-generated images, drawings, videos, or animations, among others. This also applies if the person in the depiction is actually an adult but appears to be a minor. Moreover, altering an image or video so that it appears to depict a minor may also be child pornography (for example, editing the face of a minor onto the nude body of an adult in an image or video).

Defined Terms for Child Pornography

A "minor" is any person under the age of eighteen years.

"Sexually explicit conduct" means actual, graphic or simulated sexual intercourse, including anal and oral; bestiality; masturbation; sadistic or masochistic abuse; or lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of the minor.

Prohibited Acts

Obviously, producing child pornography is illegal. However, it is also illegal to knowingly possess, distribute, receive, or possess with intent to distribute, any form of child pornography. Each act may receive a different criminal penalty. Inadvertent access is usually not illegal, such as accidentally clicking on a link that directs one's web browser to such a depiction. However, repeated visits may demonstrate a pattern of behavior sufficient for a conviction.


There is an exception to typical definitions of child pornography. If it can be proven that the depiction has serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value, it may be exempted from child pornography laws. The definition of a pornographic image can be subjective and many courts refer to the case of U.S. v. Dost to determine whether an image meets the criteria for pornography. That case created the "Dost Test" in order to better determine whether a visual depiction of a minor constitutes a "lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area." The Dost Test has six criteria, not all of which must be present, nor are other criteria necessarily excluded from the test. Those criteria are:

1. Whether the focal point of the visual depiction is on the child's genitalia or pubic area.

2. Whether the setting of the visual depiction is sexually suggestive, (i.e., in a place or pose generally associated with sexual activity).

3. Whether the child is depicted in an unnatural pose or inappropriate attire given the age of the child.

4. Whether the child is fully or partially clothed/nude.

5. Whether the visual depiction suggests sexual coyness or a willingness to engage in sexual activity.

6. Whether the visual depiction is intended or designed to elicit a sexual response in the viewer.

Sources of Law

It is both a federal and a state crime to knowingly possess, manufacture, distribute, or "access with intent to view" child pornography. The federal law prohibiting child pornography is 18 U.S.C. Chapter 110, Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children. In addition, the Child Online Protection Act and the Children’s Internet Protection Act also outlaw child pornography and cover media such as websites and other online forms of child pornography. Additionally, every state has its own laws regarding both child pornography and statutory rape (i.e., sexual activities with a minor).

Child pornographers can be prosecuted by the FBI, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs, the U.S. Attorney General, state attorneys general, state and local law enforcement, and local prosecutors. Largely, who has jurisdiction and who will be responsible for prosecuting depends on the way in which the pornography was accessed or distributed. If across state lines, such as by the internet or through the mail, federal authorities may be involved, though local authorities can also prosecute for these crimes on their own. Child pornography convictions can result in up to 15 years in federal prison as well as registration by the convicted as a sex offender.

To consult State Legislation regarding child pornography laws and regulations please see the Criminal Code by State page.

You can also find additional resources related to child pornography below on this page, or you can consult with an attorney in your area by visiting our Law Firms page.


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Articles About Child Pornography Law

  • Drug Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: Not Safe with Safety Valve
    As any federal criminal law practitioner knows, there are a daunting set of mandatory minimum offenses in the federal law that trump any other sentencing provisions. The most common of the mandatory minimum offenses are for drug offenses.
  • Basics of Possession of Child Pornography Charges in Florida
    Prosecutors in Florida and federal law enforcement agencies fight diligently to convict individuals who are found to be in possession of child pornography. Often, they refuse to plea these cases and will seek the maximum punishment possible. It is important for defendants to understand the nature of the charges against them and the potential penalties that can result from being found in possession of child pornography in Florida.
  • What Is Considered Child Abuse in New Jersey?
    Unfortunately there are numerous cases each year where child abuse takes place in New Jersey.
  • Admitting Prior Bad Acts in Sex Crimes Cases
    Sex crime defendants often lament the difficult in receiving a fair trial after being accused of a heinous crime. They may confront juror bias and a criminal justice system that is stacked against them. This has become evidence with the change in how the process works in some states concerning the admission of prior bad acts.
  • Defenses to Possession of Child Pornography
    Possession of child pornography is a serious crime with potential harsh punishments based on state and federal charges. It is common for such charges to involve a federal investigation that turns up multiple forms of prohibited conduct.
  • Sexting - Should it be Criminalized?
    With the ability to give a smart phone to their children, parents in the technological age have often decided to buy electronics and phones for their children to interact with their friends. When most children have a smart phone, it is not long before one of these devices is used for communication other than texting or phone calls.
  • Challenges of Sexting Laws
    Throughout the United States, teens are sending picture messages or video depicting their naked bodies. Often, they are sending these to each other, but in some instances they send them to someone over eighteen. The laws of each state may have been built to protect these young adults from exploitation and child sex crimes, but when they are the culprits, they may be breaking various state and federal laws themselves.
  • Sex Crimes Penalties and Conviction
    Sexual relations with another person when consent has not been granted is considered rape or a sex crime in California as well as many other states. It is important to know what laws govern each state and how they apply to the person accused of the crime. Harsh penalties and punishments await those convicted of these crimes with severe consequences that may last the entire life of the offender.
  • Teens Sexting Issues
    Many states in the country have laws that criminalize sexting. In some states the act is charged as a felony when naked pictures are transmitted to someone underage. Teens and adults may be charged with possession of child pornography when these activities transpire.
  • The Increasing Problem of Child Porn in Society
    More individuals are being arrested for child porn crimes through federally funded task forces. Online crimes of child pornography are a top priority, but ridding the internet of this content is difficult with advanced technology and computer experts.
  • All Criminal Law Articles

US Federal Child Pornography Statutes

  • 18 USC Chapter 110, Section 2251

    Sexual exploitation of children.

  • 18 USC Chapter 110, Section 2251A

    Selling or buying of children.

  • 18 USC Chapter 110, Section 2252

    Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors.

  • 18 USC Chapter 110, Section 2252A

    Criminalizes knowingly advertising or distributing "an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or a visual depiction of an actual minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct." The law draws a distinction between obscene depiction of any minor, and mere depiction of an actual minor.

  • 18 USC Chapter 110, Section 2260

    Production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the United States.

  • 18 USC Chapter 71, Sec. 1466A - Obscene Visual Representations of the Sexual Abuse of Children

    Criminalizes material that has "a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture or painting", that "depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and is obscene" or "depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in ... sexual intercourse ... and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value". By its own terms, the law does not make all simulated child pornography illegal, only that found to be obscene or lacking in serious value.

Child Pornography Law - US

  • Child Online Protection Act (COPA)

    The Child Online Protection Act makes it a crime for anyone, by means of the World Wide Web, to make any communication for commercial purposes that is "harmful to minors" unless the person has restricted access by minors by requiring a credit card number. COPA imposes criminal and civil penalties of up to $50,000 per day for violations.

  • Child Pornography - Definition

    Under federal law (18 U.S.C. §2256), child pornography1 is defined as any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where * the production of the visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or * the visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or * the visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

  • 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.

  • Communications Decency Act (CDA)

    The CDA prohibited posting "indecent" or "patently offensive" materials in a public forum on the Internet -- including web pages, newsgroups, chat rooms, or online discussion lists. This would have included the texts of classic fiction such as the "Catcher in the Rye" and "Ulysees", the "7 dirty words", and other materials which, although offensive to some, enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment if published in a newspaper, magazine, or a book, or in the public square. It is also important to note that the CDA was not about child pornography, obscenity, or using the Internet to stalk children. These were already illegal under current law.

  • Pedophilia and the Law

    A pedophile is an individual whose primary sexual orientation is for children. Quite literally the word pedophilia means love ("-philia") for children ("pedo-"). In the field of psychology, a pedophile is considered to have paraphilia, or a psychosexual disorder. In the field of law, a pedophile is not a criminal unless s/he acts on their desires for children. When a pedophile does act on his or her feelings or desires, they may be committing acts of child sexual abuse or molestation, child exploitation, child pornography, incest, kidnapping, statutory rape, or the prostitution of minors.

  • PROTECT Act of 2003 (Amber Alert Law)

    The “PROTECT Act of 2003” is an historic milestone for our nation's children. The Justice Department will dedicate the full force of our nation’s resources against those who victimize our nation’s youth. Important coordinated law enforcement information, fast law enforcement response, and swift and sure penalties can work to protect our children. The PROTECT Act comprehensively strengthens law enforcement’s ability to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish violent crimes committed against children.

  • United States Department of Justice - Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS)

    By the mid-1980's, the trafficking of child pornography within the United States had been almost completely eradicated through a series of successful campaigns waged by law enforcement. Child pornographers had become lonely and hunted individuals. Producing child abuse images was both difficult and expensive, and reproducing images was equally difficult and expensive. Purchasing and trading such images was extremely risky. Anonymous distribution and receipt was not possible and it was difficult for pedophiles to find and interact with each other. Unfortunately, technology has changed the situation.

Child Pornography Law - Europe

Child Pornography Law - International

  • Computer Crime Research Center - Child Pornography - International Perspective

    Child pornography is a problem of international proportion. The global community has recognised that children are at risk from those who engage in the production, exhibition, distribution, and consumption of child pornography and that children can suffer serious negative effects as a result of pornographic exploitation. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ("UNCRC"), which has been ratified by an overwhelming majority of the nations of the world, identifies child pornography as a violation against children and requires that nations who are parties to the convention take measures to prevent the exploitative use of children in pornographic materials. Despite the notable efforts of many nations, child pornography remains a serious issue.

  • Criminal Code of Canada: Child Pornography and Luring of Children on the Internet
  • National Sex Offender Registry - RCMP

    In partnership with the provinces and territories, the Government of Canada created a National Sex Offender Registry to provide rapid access by police to current vital information about convicted sex offenders. The Sex Offender Information Registration Act [SOIRA] was proclaimed as law and came into force on December 15, 2004.

Organizations For Child Pornography Law

  • Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP)

    Founded in 1996, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating child pornography from the Internet. ASACP battles child pornography through its CP reporting hotline, and by organizing the efforts of the online adult industry to combat the heinous crime of child sexual abuse. ASACP also works to help parents prevent children from viewing age-inappropriate material online.

  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP)

    The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre is dedicated to eradicating the sexual abuse of children. That means we are part of UK policing and very much about tracking and bringing offenders to account either directly or in partnership with local and international forces.

  • Crimes against Children - Interpol

    Children are the most vulnerable individuals in our society; they are also the most precious commodity that the world has and have a right to be protected from all forms of abuse. INTERPOL as an organization is also committed to eradicating the sexual abuse of children and has passed several resolutions making crimes against children one of International policing top priorities.

  • Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

    Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) is a non-profit civil liberties organisation founded on January 10, 1997. Its main purpose is to promote free speech and privacy on the Internet and raise public awareness of these important issues. The Web pages have been online since July 1996. It should be noted that the organisation is not connected to the University of Leeds nor supported by the University of Leeds in anyway and all members of the organisation are acting in a purely personal capacity unless it is expressly stated otherwise.

  • Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW)

    The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), coordinated by the U.S. Department of Justice, is a cooperative effort between Jurisdictions hosting public sex offender registries (“Jurisdictions”) and the federal government. These Jurisdictions include the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia, and participating tribes. This Website is a search tool allowing a user to submit a single national query to obtain information about sex offenders through a number of search options.

  • Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

    IWF was established in 1996 by the UK internet industry to provide the UK internet Hotline for the public and IT professionals to report potentially illegal online content within our remit and to be the 'notice and take-down' body for this content. We work in partnership with the online industry, law enforcement, government, the education sector, charities, international partners and the public to minimise the availability of this content, specifically, child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world and criminally obscene and incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK.

  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)

    The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s® (NCMEC) mission is to help prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation; help find missing children; and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them.


    We are the leading advocate for children’s rights, active in 190 countries through country programmes and National Committees.

  • Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT)

    The objectives of the VGT are: * to make the Internet a safer place; * to identify, locate and help children at risk; and * to hold perpetrators appropriately to account. The VGT is made up of the Australian Federal Police, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the UK, the Italian Postal and Communication Police Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the US Department of Homeland Security and Interpol. Jim Gamble, the Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is the Chair of the VGT.

Publications About Child Pornography Law

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