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Obscenity (in Latin obscenus, meaning "foul, repulsive, detestable"), is a term that is most often used in a legal context to describe expressions (words, images, actions) that offend the prevalent sexual morality of the time.
Despite its long formal and informal use with a sexual connotation, the word still retains the meanings of "inspiring disgust" and even "inauspicious; ill-omened", as in such uses as "obscene profits", "the obscenity of war", etc. It can simply be used to mean profanity, or it can mean anything that is taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting.
The definition of obscenity differs from culture to culture, between communities within a single culture, and also between individuals within those communities. Many cultures have produced laws to define what is considered to be obscene, and censorship is often used to try to suppress or control materials that are obscene under these definitions: usually including, but not limited to, pornographic material. As such censorship restricts freedom of expression, crafting a legal definition of obscenity presents a civil liberties issue.
Obscenity v. Indecency
- Main article: Indecency
The differentiation between indecent and obscene material is a particularly difficult one, and a contentious First Amendment issue that has not fully been settled. Similarly, the level of offense (if any) generated by a profane word or phrase depends on region, context, and audience.
National laws provide the context within which obscenity is viewed within the society, while at the same time reflecting to some degree sociatal norms
Canada obscenity law
Section 163 of the Canadian Criminal Code provides the country's legal definition of "obscenity". Officially termed as "Offences Tending to Corrupt Morals", the Canadian prohibited class of articles which are to be legally included as "obscene things" is very broad, including text only written material, pictures, models (including statues), records or "any other thing whatsoever" -- that according to Section 163(8) -- has "a dominant characteristic of the publication is the undue exploitation of sex, or the combination of sex and at least one of crime, horror, cruelty or violence" is deemed to be "obscene" under the current law.
The current law states
163. (1) Every one commits an offense who
- (a) makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever; or
- (b) makes, prints, publishes, distributes, sells or has in his possession for the purposes of publication, distribution or circulation a crime comic.
"Crime comics" are stated to be books that glorify criminal activities and have at least one depiction of such criminal actions of the book's text.
United Kingdom obscenity law
The Obscene Publications Act basically determines the criteria for what material is allowed to be publicly accessed and distributed within the member countries of the United Kingdom.
- Note also the proposed Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2006-2008 (ongoing) which seeks to render illegal the possession of "Extreme" Pornographic Images, as the Government claims that attempts to control the supply and distribution of this material no longer seem effective with the availability of such material on the Internet.
US obscenity law
- Main article: US obsecenity law
Various countries have different standings on the types of materials that they as legal bodies permit their citizens to have access to and disseminate among their locale populations. The set of these countries permissible content vary widely accordingly with some having extreme punishment up to and including execution for members who violate their restrictions, as in the case of Iran where the current laws against pornography now include death sentences for those convicted of producing pornography.
- Censorship in the United States
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of speech in the United States
- First Amendment to the United States Constitution
- Obscene phone call
- Sexual norm
- Henderson, Jeffrey The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy 1991 Oxford University Press ISBN 0195066855
- Judith Silver of Coollawyer.com, "Movie Day at the Supreme Court or 'I Know It When I See It': A History of the Definition of Obscenity," on FindLaw.com.
- Slater, W. J. review of The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy by Jeffrey Henderson. Phoenix, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 291-293 doi:10.2307/1087300
- O'Toole, L. (1998), Pornocopia: Porn, Sex, Technology and Desire, London, Serpent's Tail. ISBN 1-85242-395-1
- The Melon Farmers (UK)
- Chapter 71 of Part I of Title 18 of the United States Code, relating to obscenity. Hosted by the Legal Information Institute.
- "A resource for educating the public and reporting violations of internet obscenity laws"
- 2005, Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Cmte. Hearing on Decency in the Media archive at CSpan. 
- Ethical Specticle article on problems with definition of obscenity
- "Under Color of Law: Obscenity vs. First Amendment" Nexus Journal (Chapman University Law School) article on problems with definition of obscenity.
- Truetales.org report on "recent FBI obscenity raids" (2005-10-24)
- Model Citizenship - Real-life Examples of Obscene and Sociably Unacceptable Behavior
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