Legal Question in Technology Law in California

Adult websites

Is it illegal to view adult websites? Can people on probation for non-sexual crimes view them? If viewing the websites is illegal why don’t they go after the people who create them rather than the people who view them?

Asked on 3/13/04, 10:19 am

2 Answers from Attorneys

Edward Hoffman Law Offices of Edward A. Hoffman

Re: Adult websites

Viewing adult web sites is legal as long as the sites themselves don't contain child pornography. Mr. Walton's answer says it is also illegal to view web sites containing obscene material, but I am not sure if he's right about that. *Sending* obscene material might be a crime, but I don't believe that receiving it or viewing it privately can be a crime. As you say, in such cases the operators of the site would be the appropriate people to prosecute.

Of course, being on probation changes some of the analysis. The terms of your probation may forbid you to see certain types of material, and if that is the case you must comply. (You can challenge the legality of the restriction, but would still have to comply unless and until your challenge succeeds.) Unless your probation terms specifically forbid you to visit legitimate adult sites, I don't see any way you could be punished for doing so.

A note for readers -- the question concerns California law, and that is the law on which my answer is based. Probation may work differently in other states.

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Answered on 3/14/04, 4:36 pm

Timothy J. Walton Internet Attorney

Re: Adult websites

It depends upon what is depicted and where you live. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the legal test for obscenity turns on three considerations: 1. Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work as a whole appeals to the prurient interest; 2. Whether the work depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and 3. Whether the work as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. For those wishing to provide or access adult material via the Internet, the thorniest part of the test for obscenity is the “contemporary community standards” aspect. Websurfers rarely identify their local community when accessing websites. Still, providers of adult content are supposed to reference the most sensitive community standards when determining compliance with obscenity regulations.

The exhibition of children engaged in sexual acts is always illegal, even if the children are computer-generated images. A reporter for National Public Radio was even arrested and charged with violating the law while researching a story about child pornography on the Internet.

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Answered on 3/14/04, 9:39 am

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