What is Obscenity Law?

Obscenity Law

What is Obscenity Law?Obscenity law is the body of law that controls what images, speech, and other expressions people can legally communicate. Obscenity law pertains to suppressing or banning speech that is in violation of standards of good taste and decency.

This body of law creates a balance between legitimate communication in a free society with the purposes of public censorship. Obscenity law involves the prosecution and defense cases that contradict and interpret obscenity laws.

Attorneys at SBEMP (Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney) law firm provides professional legal advice and services to clients in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Inland Empire, Orange County, Coachella Valley, Costa Mesa, San Diego, New Jersey, New York, and surrounding communities.

What does the US federal government state about obscenity?

Federal obscenity law does not exist. The US government does not explicitly ban obscene conduct. In reality, the American government expressly protects some communications in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

According to the Supreme Court, the US government has well-defined obscenity laws that can be constitutional if they are written and applied appropriately.

State laws create obscenity laws

While the federal government does not have obscenity laws, a majority of states have laws that prohibit obscene communications. The laws differ between states.

State obscenity laws are derived from the state’s police power. Obscenity laws refer to criminal laws that prescribe punishments, including fines and jail time, for disseminating obscene material.

The federal government’s power is restricted by the US Constitution, but states have extensive powers to control the conduct of those within their borders.  They may control behavior as long as their prohibitions are not in violation of US laws.

Obscenity laws are typically constitutional and enforceable as long as they do not run against the First Amendment protections of free speech and expression.

What qualifies as obscene?

While obscenity laws are usually enforceable, the body of law still prompts the question of what speech and materials are deemed obscene and what speech is merely controversial or artistic. The definition of obscenity by the US Supreme Court has changed throughout the years. While there is a three-part test in place today, the definition of obscenity remains subjective.

Censorship and Telecommunications

Obscenity laws also encompass rules pertaining to what broadcasters can present on TV and radio. The regulations from the Federal Communications Commission require broadcasters not to publish anything obscene at any time.

In addition, they cannot publish anything obscene between the hours of 6:00 am and 10:00 pm. They define indecent as anything that is offensive in comparison to general community standards.

Since the regulations are so vague, it can be challenging for broadcasters to understand how to comply with regulations while still maintaining creative power over the materials that they publish.

Obscenity laws remain controversial

As one judge stated, what one man believes is vulgar, another man sees as just a song lyric. Obscenity laws remain controversial as the standards of morality and decency differ significantly between people and communities.

Additionally, standards of morality can change over time. Restrictions that seem justifiable at some point in time, such as a prohibition on sending contraceptives through the mail, might appear offensive only a few years later.

Lawyers who practice obscenity law have to balance all of the facets as they advocate on behalf of their private clients or for public interests.

Lawyers at the SBEMP law firm serve clients from Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Inland Empire, Orange County, Coachella Valley, Costa Mesa, San Diego, New Jersey, New York, and nearby locations for a range of legal practice areas.

For more information or to request a consultation please contact the law offices of SBEMP (Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney) by clicking here. 

SBEMP LLP is a full service law firm with attorney offices in Palm Springs (Palm Desert, Inland Empire, Rancho Mirage), CA; Indian Wells, CA; Costa Mesa (Orange County), CA; San Diego, CA; New Jersey, NJ; and New York, NY.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by reading it. This blog post may be considered ATTORNEY ADVERTISING in some states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained within this blog post. Before acting or relying upon any information within this newsletter, seek the advice of an attorney.

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