Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* Sexually Explicit Materials and the Internet, by Douglas Birsch

Questions on the Definition of Obscene Material

Who is the average person? What counts as a "community" in determining community standards? Must we use the standards of the majority of the people in the community or would the standards of a section of the community be sufficient? In a similar way, does the material need to offend the majority of the community or merely some segment of it? What differentiates healthy sexual interest from prurient interest? What experts should the courts depend upon to determine whether the work lacks literary, artistic, political, or scientific value?

The courts have interpreted obscene materials to be a form of speech, and therefore the legal position on obscenity is related to the First Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment has not been interpreted to protect all speech. Some speech is considered to have low value and can be regulated or banned. Obscene material is one category of low value speech, along with libel, slander, profanity, false advertising, and others. It is low value speech because it has no social importance since it lacks literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Legally, obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment and can be regulated by the government, but what philosophical position should be taken in relation to it?

I can present a --philosophical position that informs my suggestions about obscenity and the Internet, and then elaborates those specific recommendations.

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