The Laws on Porn

What Are The Laws Relating to Pornography/Obscenity?

  • Local: Your local community might have specific regulations already in place. You’ll have to check your specific area.
  • State: Some states have legislation in place already. You can find details about your state here: The list is not complete, but we are working on providing an updated database for you.
  • Federal: There are a number of federal laws relating to pornography and specifically to filtering in schools and public libraries. See below for more details on these. You can also learn more about federal obscenity laws here:
  • Children’s Internet Protection Act: It is important to note that a specific law pertaining to libraries and schools regarding the Internet was passed by Congress in 2000 and was found to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. This law mandates that libraries and schools must have filters in place if they opt-in to receive specific e-rate federal funding. The ALA often recommends that libraries refuse this funding so that they don’t have to filter.

Much of the available hard-core adult pornography online is actually illegal.

First, one common misconception people have is that pornography is legal and protected by the First Amendment. The truth is that obscenity (hardcore adult pornography) is prohibited under existing Federal laws. These laws prohibit distribution of hardcore, obscene pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite or hotel/motel TV and in sexually oriented businesses and other retail shops. Additionally, it is important to understand that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. This has been repeatedly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The role of the Federal Government should be, as it has been in the past, to prosecute the major producers and distributors of obscene pornography. However, the U.S. Justice Department is not currently enforcing these laws and for the last 20 years only sporadically enforced them. Thus, illegal, obscene pornography is flooding our nation and the harm is great.

Many people do not understand that obscenity is actually illegal. The American Library Association (ALA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other anti-filtering groups often exploit this common misunderstanding to argue against the use of filters. You should often point out that filters would block obscenity, which is a majority of the hardcore adult pornography accessed on the Internet and likely accessed at your library/school.

For details on federal obscenity laws and U.S. Supreme Court rulings upholding these laws, visit

What is pornography?

The term “pornography” is a generic, not a legal term. As noted by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1973 obscenity case, Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 20, n.2, the term: “Pornography” derives from the Greek (harlot, and graphos, writing). The word now means “1: a description of prostitutes or prostitution 2. a depiction (as in a writing or painting) of licentiousness or lewdness: a portrayal of erotic behavior designed to cause sexual excitement.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary [Unabridged 1969]…

What is obscenity?

The term “obscenity” is a legal term, and in Miller v. California, supra the Supreme Court established a three-pronged test for determining whether a “work” (i.e., material or a performance) is obscene and therefore unprotected by the First Amendment. To be obscene, a judge and/or a jury must determine:

First, that the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; AND second, that the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, as measured by contemporary community standards, “hardcore” sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable law; AND third, that a reasonable person would find that the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political and scientific value.

SIDE NOTE: Typical “hardcore pornography” (e.g., a website, DVD or magazine) consists of little if anything more than one depiction of hardcore sex after the other (i.e., it’s “wall-to-wall” sex).


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