Obscenity laws are federal laws that regulate images, speech and other forms of communication. According to the United States Department of Justice, obscenity does not have protection under the First Amendment.
Throughout the U.S., it is illegal to distribute, sell, transport, mail ship, transfer or have the intent to sell obscene material. You can face fines and imprisonment if convicted of selling or transferring obscene material. The courts utilize a three-pronged test known as the Miller test.
Does the material appeal to prurient interests?
Prurient interests refer to an excessive interest in sexual content. The law describes prurient interests as erotic, lascivious, unhealthy, degrading, abnormal and shameful. It may be content that expresses a morbid interest in nudity or sexual content. To determine if the material fits the prurient definition, it must fit what a reasonable person considers prurient.
Is the material patently offensive?
If the average adult person finds the depictions patently offensive, then the legal system may find the content obscene. Some examples of patently offensive content include lewd exhibitions of genitals, sadomasochistic sexual abuse and excretory functions.
Does the material have value?
The last part of the three-pronged test is to determine if the content has value. Will a reasonable person say that the content lacks serious artistic, political, literary or scientific value? The law is more likely to deem content obscene if it is harmful with no serious value.
Obscenity can include visual depictions, written text and spoken word. Generally, obscene material must satisfy the entirety of the Miller Test.