Pornography Law

Hi Guys - Long time lurker first time poster - in fact I haven’t been to the Straight Dope for quite some time - we have to pay now? :frowning:

My question is - What are the pornography laws in the U.K (where I’m from) and the U.S. How do they differ?

My knowledge (which may well be wrong!) is that in the U.K, Child Pornography and Bestiality are illegal, but nothing else. Is that true? I’m pretty sure that the newspapers here print pictures of topless girls aged 16+, but is the age for naked pictures on the internet 18?

So - what can I own? What can I download? What can I take myself? What can I make a website about? How do these rules differ from the U.S?

Disclaimer - This is a topic that came up in a conversation with some friends a week ago - I like to be better informed when we have a discussion!

IANAL, etc. In the US, “obscenity” (which is not the same from a legal standpoint as “pornography”) is defined in the US Supreme Court case Miller v California as material which

“the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and © whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

IIRC, the only form of pornography which is banned outright in the United States is that which depicts real people who were under the age of 18 at the time the material was produced. I believe sexually explicit actor portrayals of people under 18 (for example, Lolita) and material which does not involve actual people (for example, fictional stories or written fantasies) are protected speech. I haven’t followed the latest round of kiddie porn cases very closely so my information on that could be outdated.

Thanks Otto. What is the difference between Obscenity and Pornography then? My first guess would be Pornography (Legal), Obscenity (Illegal) but you’ve metioned underage pornography so it seems the law doesn’t make quite that distinction.

I have googled a bit on the subject - but nowhere have I found a list of… uh… “genres” and their respective legalities.

Pornography is writing (or visual art) which aims to sexually arouse its audience. It’s hard to get people to agree on just what is porn and what isn’t, but that’s the general definition. The word is derived from ancient words meaning prostitute and write.

I paraphrased that from my old heavy dictionary. I feel silly directly quoting from a dictionary.

Otto nicely wrapped up the courts’ definition of obscenity. It’s tricky to prosecute an obscenity case. Pornography is legal, unless a court rules that a particular work is obscene. Cities can often get away with limiting the location of stores that sell porn and their store hours. There are local rules about not selling porn near a church or school. Dealers usually don’t have the money to challenge these rules, so they don’t fight them.

The theory behind the law against child porn is that children cannot legally give consent to sexual actions. Therefore, titillating photos of underage people constitute exploitation and, in some cases, rape. One case a while back ruled that computer-graphic generated pictures of child sex were not illegal, because no actual children were exploited.

I’ve heard of some works which get around the “lacks serious… literary value” stipulation by having one of the performers recite Hamlet’s soliloqy in the middle of the video. After all, nobody’s going to argue that Shakespeare lacks literary value!

Probably not necessary, though, since it is so hard to prosecute obscenity. It’s really more a threat to annoy purveyors of adult materials, to the extent that the law is used at all.