You might be surprised at what is illegal under federal law

Pornography seems to be everywhere. Hotels feature pay-per-view hard-core films. Cable and satellite premium channels offer unrestrained sex programming. Gas stations sell graphic magazines and pornographic bookstores have aisles and aisles of hard-core foreign and domestic DVDs for sale. Many also show graphic films in peep booths. Then, there is the Internet, serving up almost unlimited graphic, brutal, deviant sex content to anyone who goes online, including young children.

Making the situation worse, the mainstream media often treat pornographers as just another legitimate business, affording them even more credibility. Pop culture has also embraced pornography as a viable and acceptable entertainment choice, promoting it as a fun and healthy expression of sexuality – in movies, TV, music and video games. A-list celebrities seem to go out of their way to be seen with stars of pornographic films.

Something this common and seemingly widely embraced must be legal, right?


According to federal laws, a person or company cannot:

…send obscene material through the U.S. mail (18 U.S.C. § 1461)

… use any common carrier (such as UPS or FedEx) to transport obscene material (18 U.S.C. § 1462)

… bring in obscene material from outside the country (18 U.S.C. § 1462)

…distribute obscene material through the Internet or any interactive computing device (18 U.S.C. § 1462)

… receive obscene material through the Internet or any interactive computing device (18 U.S.C. § 1462)

…broadcast obscene material over the public airwaves (18 U.S.C. § 1464)

…transport obscene material across state lines, including via the Internet (18 U.S.C. § 1465)

…create obscene material with intent to transport across state lines or export internationally (18 U.S.C. § 1465)

…engage in the business of selling or distributing obscene material that has been transported across state lines or internationally (18 U.S.C. § 1466)

…transmit obscene material through cable or satellite systems, include subscription services (18 U.S.C. § 1468)

…transmit obscene communications across state lines or internationally through a telephonic device (47 U.S.C. § 223)

…knowingly distribute obscene materials to minors under 16 years old (18 U.S.C. § 1470)

…knowingly use a misleading domain name to deceive people into viewing obscene content (18 U.S.C. § 2252B)

…knowingly embed words or digital images into the source code of a website to deceive people into viewing obscene content (18 U.S.C. § 2252C)

In addition to federal laws, most states have adopted laws prohibiting obscene material.

Ten questions that need answers
1.    How can brick-and-mortar sex shops sell seemingly obscene material if they can’t legally bring it across state lines?

2.    If it is illegal to transmit obscene material over the Internet, why is hard-core pornography flourishing online?

3.    If a person orders an obscene magazine or DVD online or through a catalog, how can a company legally deliver it?

4.    How does the pornography industry get away with producing and distributing 13,000 pornographic films each year if it is illegal to produce with intent to distribute?

5.    If it is illegal to distribute or sell obscene content that crosses state lines via computer or satellite, how can hotels sell in-room hard-core pornography?

6.    How can home cable and satellite systems transmit subscription-based hard-core pornographic programming without violating the laws that prohibit such action?

7.    How can the 1-900 sex phone lines still exist since it is illegal to transmit obscene material across state lines via a telephonic device?

8.    If it is illegal to receive obscene content via an interactive computing device, how can people watch hard-core pornography on their laptops in the airport, on car-based DVDs and on iPods?

9.    If law enforcement agencies will not investigate and prosecute obscenity crimes, how can citizens set their community standards and protect themselves from the harmful effects of obscene content?

10.    Why should pornographers be favored through lax or nonexistent law enforcement, over children and families?

If all of this is illegal, why isn’t more being done to stop it?

Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values in Cincinnati, says three elements are necessary to create and maintain a decent society: engaged citizens, responsive public officials and effective law enforcement. Too often, all three are lacking. However, every day brings a new chance to make a difference. Get informed, get engaged and get vocal. You are not alone.

Copyright © 2013, Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved. Used with permission.