Sex pictures have exploded in magnitude after the availability of the Internet. Internet pornography is pornography which is distributed via the Internet, primarily via websites and through USENET.
Internet pornography began spreading commercially almost at the same time as the Internet became a huge communications method for private home users in the middle 1990s. Like the videocassette recorder, the internet has been effective because it allows people to view pornography anonymously in the privacy of their homes. Initially, most pornography distribution (typically scanned-in photos from magazines) took place in special Usenet newsgroups, which provide the benefit of more or less anonymous posting, allowing easy circumvention of copyright restrictions.
Later pornographic websites sprang up. These are prohibited in many countries, cities and states around the world, although usually to little effect. With the exception of child pornography, efforts at restricting the viewing of pornography over the internet have been largely ineffective, because the producers of pornography can usually move to jurisdictions in which the pornography is not restricted and because law enforcement have been reluctant to move against consumers of pornography.
One of the first worries about porno websites was that children might be able to easily access them, but many pornographic websites around the world have taken care of this worry by instituting age verification systems or credit card requirements. However, there still exists lots of free pornography on the web, usually samplers to these pay sites. These sites are usually open to minors.
Another major concern is the distribution of child pornography which has been the subject of concerted efforts law enforcement. Unlike most other forms of pornography, distribution of this type of pornography occurs mostly surreptitiously and law enforcement has been more successful in restricting its distribution. Unlike other forms of pornography, the production of child pornography is almost universally illegal, making it much more difficult to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In addition, child pornography is also unique in that law enforcement has focused on arresting and convicting persons who view and possess this form of pornography.
Today there are many forms of internet pornography available; the most common are web porn, usenet porn and shared porn. Shared porn can be distributed over IRC, instant messaging, and various filesharing networks such as GNUtella and KaZaA.
History of legislation in the U.S.
In the United States, the first attempt to regulate pornography on the internet was the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996, which prohibited the "knowing" transmission of "indecent" messages to minors and the publication of materials which depict, in a manner "patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs", unless those materials were protected from access by minors, for example by using credit card systems. Immediately challenged by a group of organizations spearheaded by the ACLU, both of these provisions were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. The "indecent transmission" and "patently offensive display" provisions were ruled to limit the freedom of speech guarantee of the First Amendment. (521 U.S. 844 (1997), Reno v. ACLU)
The second attempt was the narrower Child Online Protection Act (COPA) of 1998 which forced all commercial distributors of "material harmful to minors" to protect their sites from access by minors. "Material harmful to minors" was defined as materials that by "contemporary community standards" are judged to appeal to the "prurient interest" and that show sexual acts or nudity (including female breasts). Several states have since passed similar laws.
An injunction blocking the federal government from enforcing COPA was obtained in 1998. In 1999, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction and struck down the law, ruling that it was too broad in using "community standards" as part of the definition of harmful materials. In May 2002, the Supreme Court reviewed this ruling, found the given reason insufficient and returned the case to the Circuit Court. In March 2003, the 3rd Circuit Court again struck down the law as unconstitutional, this time arguing that it would hinder protected speech among adults. This ruling is now under review by the Supreme Court.
The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000 required that public libraries, as a condition of receiving federal subsidies for internet connectivity, employ filtering software to prevent patrons from using internet terminals to view images of obscenity and child pornography, and to prevent children from viewing images "harmful to minors", a phrase typically used for otherwise legal pornography. The act allowed librarians to disable the filtering software for adult patrons with "bona-fide research or other lawful purposes". The act was challenged by the American Library Association on First Amendment grounds, and enforcement of the act was blocked by a lower court. In June 2003, the Supreme Court reversed and ruled that the act was constitutional and could go into effect. U.S. v. American Library Association, No. 02-361, 2003.