The Transformation of Obscenity Law

Information & Communications Technology Law (2018) vol 27, issue 1

27 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2018

See all articles by Jacob H. Rowbottom

Jacob H. Rowbottom

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2017


This article looks at the number of convictions for a group of offences categorised as obscenity-related in the official statistics. While the aggregate numbers show a dramatic rise, this article examines the trends in relation to the individual offences. The article shows that the law of obscenity has undergone a significant transformation. A central change has been the shift from the publisher as the target for criminal liability to the viewer of the content (for example, through the introduction of possession offences). A further change is the move away from the reliance on broadly worded offences to provisions that target a narrower range of content. Those two changes explain why the number of convictions has sharply increased while the law has become more permissive as to the types of content that can be published. The discussion places these changes into context, looking at the original rationale for the offences and how the interpretation and usage of the legislative provisions has evolved with the system of communication and distribution.

Keywords: obscenity law, pornography, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Rowbottom, Jacob H., The Transformation of Obscenity Law (September 1, 2017). Information & Communications Technology Law (2018) vol 27, issue 1 , Available at SSRN: or

Jacob H. Rowbottom (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

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