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June 24, 2008

Defining Obscenity By Search Terms Within a Community

Obscenity is always one of those conundrums for the courts, what with contemporary community standards as the measuring stick.  But how is the measuring stick measured?  Usually it's by testimony and the biases of the jurors trying the case.  As with anything going on in a juror's mind, are they deciding on what they actually believe, or what they think the community expects them to decide?  Well, as usual, the Internet has a way of breaking through this problem. 

Ars Technica is reporting on two cases, one from Utah and another from Florida, that rely on defining the contemporary community standard by using common search terms in the local area.  It is no secret that porn and related adult materials are popular on the Internet.  What a representative sample of the community as expressed in a jury box may be quite different from what people seek in the privacy of their own homes.  The Utah case involved rentals of X-Rated movies.  The lawyers obtained statistics of pay per view porn from cable and satellite services and found that porn was popular enough in Provo to get an acquittal.

The Florida case is just as novel.  The defendants produced multiple-participant pay per view porn and were charged with obscenity, prostitution, and a host of other charges.  The lawyers are now looking to get community search statistics on similar adult materials as a way of defining contemporary community standards.  Ars includes a chart with sample search terms and frequency over time.  Porn consumption is one of the hardest things to measure since most people do it in private.  Now it may be measurable as a market.  It's a fascinating concept as evidence used in court.

June 24, 2008 | Permalink


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