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Understanding federal obscenity laws related to internet content

On Behalf of | Apr 25, 2024 | Federal Crimes |

Federal obscenity laws stop certain explicit content from spreading on the internet.

The Supreme Court says obscene material is something that an average person thinks appeals to inappropriate interests, shows sexual conduct in a very offensive way and lacks serious value in literature, art, politics or science.

How these laws affect internet content

The internet makes it tough to control obscenity because it’s so widespread. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 tries to handle this by making it illegal to send or show obscene material where kids under 18 can find it.


Federal agencies, like the Department of Justice, work together to catch people spreading obscene materials online. They focus on big operations that use websites and digital platforms to share these materials. Prosecutors need to show that the content is obscene, which can change based on local standards.

Challenges with online obscenity

It’s hard to balance people’s rights and control what’s on the internet. As digital platforms grow, new types of possibly obscene content appear. Lawyers often argue about how to apply old obscenity rules to modern digital content. These debates get even trickier because other countries have different rules.

Defense against online obscenity charges

Some defenses against these charges include arguing about the community standards used, claiming the content has serious value, or questioning if the content really fits the strict obscenity definition. They might also check if the evidence was gathered properly.

Understanding and following federal obscenity laws is important for anyone creating or sharing content online. These laws might change as technology and social views evolve, leading to big discussions and possibly new rules in the future.