Obscenity, Child Pornography and Indecency
Under both state and federal law, it is a crime to publish, sell, distribute, display, or, in some cases, merely to possess obscene materials or child pornography. These laws also apply equally to the Internet, and a number of people have been prosecuted and convicted for violating them in that context.
The line between what is obscene and what is not is hard to draw with any precision - as one Supreme Court justice said, "I could never succeed in intelligibly" defining obscenity, "[b]ut I know it when I see it" - but the term basically means hard-core pornography that has no literary, artistic, political, or other socially redeeming value. One reason that it so hard to define obscenity is that it depends in part on local community standards; what is considered obscene in one community may not be considered obscene in another. That makes it particularly difficult to determine whether materials on the Internet are obscene, since such materials are, in a sense, everywhere, and it is therefore not enough that the materials are legal wherever you are. In one case, the operators of a bulletin board service in California posted materials that were not considered obscene there, but were convicted of violating the obscenity statutes in Tennessee when the materials were downloaded there.
Child pornography is the visual depiction of minors engaged in sexually explicit activity. Unlike obscenity, child pornography is illegal regardless of whether it has any literary, artistic, political, or other socially redeeming value.
Sexually oriented materials that do not constitute either obscenity or child pornography generally are legal. Still, it is illegal in most cases to provide such materials to minors, and displaying or sending such materials to people who do not wish to see them may be a violation of the University's Sexual Harassment Policy.