Bill Proposed to Curb 'Obscene' Content May Eradicate the Porn Industry

Senator Mike Lee proposed a bill this week that would redefine what is considered to be obscene content.

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Sen. Mike Lee proposed an obscenity bill on Tuesday
Photo: Darren McCollester (Getty Images)

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed a bill on Tuesday that, if passed, would redefine what obscenity means nationwide, which could effectively decimate the porn industry. The Utah Republican filed the Interstate Obscenity Definition Act (IODA) based on the Communications Act of 1934, and stated in the IODA that “obscenity is not protected speech under the First Amendment and is prohibited from interstate or foreign transmission under U.S. law.”

He continued, “But obscenity is difficult to define (let alone prosecute) under the current Supreme Court test for obscenity: the ‘Miller Test.’”

Sen. Mike Lee and his press secretary did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

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The Miller Test was introduced in 1973 and is named after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Miller v. California case that year. In that case, a California publisher and author Melvin Miller were prosecuted for publishing what was ruled as containing obscene material. Miller had mailed five unsolicited brochures to his mother and a restaurant manager revealing explicit images and photos of men and women engaged in sexual activities.

Following the court’s decision, then-Chief Justice Warren Burger outlined guidelines for jurors to follow when presented with obscenity cases including “whether the average person applying contemporary community standards would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

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Although producing and distributing sexual content is currently legal in the U.S., Lee’s bill seeks to reinstate the obscenity rules that were established in the Communications Act of 1934. These rules include removing content that “appeals to the prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, depicts, describes, or represents actual or simulated sexual acts with the objective intent to arouse, titillate, or gratify the sexual desires of a person, and, … lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,” the IODA says.

This bill will be particularly detrimental to the porn industry which relies solely on what the bill defines as “obscene content.” The Free Speech Coalition tweeted its concern for the First Amendment on Thursday, arguing the bill is a renewed attempt by conservatives to censor free speech and sexual expression.

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The director of public affairs with the Free Speech Coalition, Mike Stabile, told VICE News, “This bill, among our members, has gotten a huge amount of attention. Our members understand this for what it is: It’s a threat to their business, to their livelihood. It’s a threat to their community.”