The lawful definition of pornography in the U.S. evolved through decades, from 1960s. In this period, recognizing ambiguities, it was chosen to use the term "sexually explicit content" as one of the pornography's euphemisms, but later it was determined that a distinction between pornographic and sexually explicit content is completely artificial. In Miller v. California the Supreme Court used the definition of pornography made by Webster's Third New International Dictionary of 1969 ("a depiction (as in a writing or painting) of licentiousness or lewdness: a portrayal of erotic behavior designed to cause sexual excitement"). Black's Law Dictionary followed the Miller test and defined pornography as material that taken as a whole the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find appealing to the prurient interest. The definition "graphic sexually explicit subordination of women, whether in pictures or in words", worded by feminists in Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance has been twice struck down, in 1983 and 1985 (in the Minneapolis City Council by the mayor and in Indianapolis by a federal appeals court in American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut, respectively). Currently California and New York are the only states with case laws (People v. Freeman (1988) and People v. Paulino (2005) respectively) that tend to support pornographic movies not being subject to the mostly illegal prostitution-related charges, such as pandering against the producer. Heinle's Newbury House Dictionary of American English (2003) defined pornography as "obscene writings, pictures, or films intended to arouse sexual desire".
The 1979 Revision of the Federal Criminal Code stated that "in Los Angeles alone, the porno business does $100 million a year in gross retain volume" while "the average porno magazine sells for between $6 and $10 each". According to the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, American adult entertainment industry has grown considerably over the past thirty years by continually changing and expanding to appeal to new markets, though the production is considered to be low-profile and clandestine. The total income of modern country's adult entertainment is often rated at $10–13 billion, of which $4–6 billion are legal. The figure is often credited to a study by Forrester Research and was lowered in 1998. Other sources, quoted by Forbes (Adams Media Research, Veronis Suhler Communications Industry Report, and IVD), even taking into consideration all possible means (video networks and pay-per-view movies on cable and satellite, web sites, in-room hotel movies, phone sex, sex toys, and magazines) mention the $2.6–3.9 billion figure (without the cellphone component). USA Today claimed in 2003 that websites such as Danni's Hard Drive and Cybererotica.com generated $2 billion in revenue in that year, which was allegedly about 10% of the overall domestic porn market at the time. The adult movies income (from sale and rent) was once estimated by AVN Publications at $4.3 billion but the figure obtaining is unclear. According to the 2001 Forbes data the annual income distribution is like this:
|Adult Video||$500 million to $1.8 billion|
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced... [b]ut I know it when I see it... Justice Potter Stewart, Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964The term "pornography" (from Greek πόρνη (pórnē), a prostitute) first comes from an 1857 British medical dictionary, which defined it as "a description of prostitutes or of prostitution, as a matter of public hygiene", therefore pornography by itself was not a widely used term in nineteenth-century America and the term did not appear in any version of American Dictionary of the English Language in its early editions. The dictionary introduced the entry in 1864, defining it primarily as a "treatment of, or a treatise on, the subject of prostitutes or prostitution". Early charges used the term "obscenity" as well as after Miller v. California, though the term "pornography" remained as a reference entry:
|Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law||"Material that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement"|
|The People's Law Dictionary||"Pictures and/or writings of sexual activity intended solely to excite lascivious feelings of a particularly blatant and aberrational kind, such as acts involving children, animals, orgies, and all types of sexual intercourse"|
|West's Encyclopedia of American Law||"The representation in books, magazines, photographs, films, and other media of scenes of sexual behavior that are erotic or lewd and are designed to arouse sexual interest"; "the depiction of sexual behavior that is intended to arouse sexual excitement in its audience"|
The upcoming censorship of pornographic materials in the United States became based on the First and partially Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to Constitution. It also includes the so-called harm principle, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. The absolutist interpretation of the First Amendment as applied to pornography has never been sustained by the Supreme Court. In the Investigation of Literature Allegedly Containing Objectionable Material, issued by the U.S. Congress Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials in 1953, it was noted that "perhaps the greatest impediments to the prompt and effective enforcement of existing laws intended to control pornographic materials are the difficulties of establishing a precise interpretation of the word". During the Warren Court (1953-1969), the first notable court to face the cases of such kind, justices Potter Stewart, Byron White, and Arthur Goldberg shared the opinion that only hardcore pornography was not protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. This position was contested notably by U.S. Solicitor General James Lee Rankin (in office 1956-1961), but in Jacobellis v. Ohio Stewart concluded that criminal obscenity laws are constitutionally limited under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to hardcore pornography. Concurring in the 1957 Roth v. United States Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote: "[E]ven assuming that pornography cannot be deemed ever to cause in an immediate sense, criminal...conduct, other interests within the proper cognizance of the State may be protected by the prohibition placed on such materials."
The 1967 Public Law 90-100 found the traffic in pornography to be "a matter of national concern", as well as in obscenity. In this period the Court considered pornography to have two major dimensions. The first can be defined as dealing with sexual representations that are offensive to public morality or taste, which concerned the Court notably in the 1966 Ginzburg v. United States case. The second centers on the effect of pornography on specific individuals or classes, which is the focus of most public discussions and prior Court pornography decisions. This dimension was mentioned only twice in the array of decisions made in 1966. A frustration was expressed notably by Justice Hugo Black in the 1966 Mishkin v. New York: "I wish once more to express my objections to saddling this Court with the irksome and inevitably unpopular and unwholesome task of finally deciding by a case-by-case, sight-by-sight personal judgment of the members of this Court what pornography (whatever that means) is too hard core for people to see or read. In the 1974 Hamling v. United States decision the Supreme Court said that just because pornographic materials are for sale and purchased around the country, "does not make them witnesses of virtue... Mere availability of similar materials by itself means nothing more than that other persons are engaged in similar activities. The 1976 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defined that pornography consists of "written, graphic, or other forms of communication intended to excite lascivious feelings". Since determining what is pornography and what is "soft core" and "hard core" are subjective questions to judges, juries, and law enforcement officials, it is difficult to define, since the law cases cannot print examples for the courts to follow. The Rehnquist Court further enhanced the power of community controls on pornography. Current Chief Justice John Roberts told at the confirmation hearing on his nomination: "...it's my understanding under the Supreme Court's doctrine that pornographic expression is not protected to the same extent at least as political and core speech, and the difficulty that the Court has addressed in these different areas of course is always defining what is or is not pornography...
In May 2005 U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales established an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. The task force, according to a Department of Justice news release on May 5, was "dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of the distributors of hard-core pornography that meets the test for obscenity, as defined by the United States Supreme Court." Under President Bush's and Gonzales' rationales the FBI Adult Obscenity Squad was recruited in August 2005 to gather evidence against "manufacturers and purveyors" of adult pornography.
The famous Indianapolis definition of pornography by Dworkin and MacKinnon paralleled their Minneapolis ordinance. The first was rejected by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for several reasons. The ordinance did not use any of the accepted terms that the Supreme Court had developed over time for determining when material is obscene, including "prurient interest", "offensiveness", or "local community standarts". Another concern was the way the women were depicted in the work. If women were referred to in the approved fashion stressing equality, the activity involved would be regardless of how sexually explicit it was. The Court also indicated that if women were referred to in a disapproving way depicting them as subversive or as enjoying humiliation, the activity would be unlawful regardless of the "literary, artistic or political qualities of the work taken as a whole". Judge Frank Easterbrook said: "We accept the premises of this legislation. Depictions of subordination tend to perpetuate subordination. The subordinate status of women in turn leads to affront and lower pay at work, insult and injury at home, battery and rape on the streets...but...this simply demonstrates the power of pornography as speech. Conceptions of Democracy in American Constitutional Argument: The Case of Pornography Regulation by Frank Michelman, issued by Tennessee Law Review (vol. 56, no. 291, 1989) partially consented that "pornography is political expression in that it promulgates a certain view of women's natures and thus of women's appropriate relations and treatment in society", but also concluded that the Indianopolis ordinance was precisely designed to suppress that particular view by censoring pornography. Minneapolis ordinance was struck down on the grounds that it was ambiguous and vague, however despite of its failure the proposal influenced other communities across America.
Another matter, which frequently circulates in American anti-pornography movement is a close bond of pornography with rape. According to Porn Up, Rape Down by Northwestern University Law Professor Anthony D’amato, "the incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85 per cent in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults". Recognizing that the Nixon and Reagan Commissions tried to show that exposure to pornographic materials produced social violence, D'amato concludes that "the reverse may be true: that pornography has reduced social violence". D'amato suggests there are two predominant reasons why an increase in the availability of pornography has led to a reduction in rape. First, using pornographic material provides an easy avenue for the sexually desirous to "get it out of their system". Second, D'amato points to the so-called "Victorian effect". It dates back to the British Victorian era where people covered up their bodies with an immense amount of clothing, generating a greater mystery as to what they looked like naked. D'amato suggests that the free availability of pornography since the 1970s, and the recent bombardment of internet pornography, has de-mystified sex, thus satisfying the sexually curious.
Boston-based Sex.com is one of the major adult domain names with a worth at $100 million. Seattle-based Flying Crocodile, Inc. has a stable of more than 280,000 adult sites. Another famous leader is XPics Publishing, which launched more than 600 adult sites, like Xpics.net and Xpics.cc. Lesbian sites are considered not to fit securely into anti-pornography or "pro-sex" feminist ideas. Among several marginal sites are SexBizLaw.com, a legal resource for the adult-entertainment industry, Seattle internet traffic monitor SexTracker.com and PornValleyNews.com There is also a vast amount of e-zines, including all mainstream. Playboy was quick to jump on the Web and made its content differed from the print version. Fleshbot online magazine features sex-related digital technologies and their distribution.
Early American stag films included Wonders of the Unseen World (1927), An Author's True Story (1933), Goodyear (1950s), Smart Alec (1951), and Playmates (1956-58). The breakthrough films such as 1972 Deep Throat and 1978 Debbie Does Dallas, that launched the so-called porno chic, put the adult movies production onto the commercialization. In this period America's most notorious pornographer was Reuben Sturman. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, throughout the 1970s Sturman controlled most of the pornography circulating in the country.
The country now houses over 40 adult movies studios featuring heterosexual scenes, more than any other country. The branch, according to founder and president of Adult Video News Paul Fishbein involves the manufacturers of adult products, distributors, suppliers, retail store owners, wholesalers, distributors, cable TV buyers, and foreign buyers. The production is concentrated in San Fernando Valley (mainly in Chatsworth and Reseda) and Las Vegas, where more than 200 adult entertainment companies gather to network and show off their latest wares. The world's largest adult movies studio, Vivid Entertainment generates an estimated $100 million a year in revenue, distributing 60 films annually and selling them in video stores, hotel rooms, on cable systems, and on the internet. Vivid's two largest regional competitors are Wicked Pictures and Digital Playground. Colorado-based New Frontier Media, a leading distributor of adult movies (at NASDAQ since November 2000) is one of the two adult video companies traded publicly, the another one being Spanish Private Media Group.
The industry's decision to embrace VHS in the early 1980s, for example, helped to do away with Sony Betamax, despite the latter format's superior quality. Video rentals soared from just under 80 million in 1985 to half-billion by 1993. Suffering at the hands of video warez tended not be publicly stressed by country's film industry. In 1999 there were 711 million rentals of hardcore films. 11,300 hardcore films were released in 2002.
In the recent years, according to Fishbein, there are well over 800 million rentals of adult videotapes and DVDs in video stores across the country. Digital Playground said it is choosing the Blu-ray Disc for all of its "interactive" films because of its greater capacity.
The female demographic is considered to be the biggest catalyst for pornographic cultural crossover. According to Adella O'Neal, a Digital Playground publicist, in 2000 roughly 9% of the company's consumers were women while four years later that figure has bloomed to 53%.
American adult pay-per-view television is presently unregulated since it is not technically "broadcasting" as defined in the Federal Communications Act. Cable and satellite television networks host about six main adult-related channels. Most of them (particularly Playboy TV, Penthouse TV, and Hustler TV (there is also a "Hustler Video", a line of raunchy films created by Larry Flynt)) are maintained by three mainstream porn magazines. In 1999 Playboy Enterprises sold to Vivid Entertainment a small channel which was renamed to Hot Network. Since that Vivid launched two more channels—the Hot Zone and Vivid TV. The viewers paid close to $400 million a year to tune in to Vivid's hardcore content and the company soon overtook Playboy as operator of the world's largest adult-TV network. However, after passing the 2000 United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group case Playboy bought all three networks from Vivid in 2001 and folded them into "Playboy's Spice" brand. Operators then shunned "Playboy's Spice Platinum", a new group of channels with graphic hardcore fare.
Some subsidiaries of major corporations are the largest pornography sellers, like News Corporation's Direct TV. Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, once pulled in $50 million from adult programming. Revenues of companies such as Playboy and Hustler were small by comparison.
Many adult magazines in the United States are now highlighted by special features and are usually sold wrapped to avoid their look-see by the under-age persons. A primarily softcore Barely Legal focuses on models between 18 and 23 years. Hustler's Leg World is focused on the female legs and feet. Perfect 10 publishes the images of women, untouched by plastic surgery or airbrushing.
Pornographic bookstores have been subject to zoning laws in the US.
A downloadable mod—"Hot Coffee"—developed by Dutch hacker Patrick Wildenborg in 2004, according to Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, accelerated the need to discuss the challenges faced in creating games with pornographic content. The two-day San Francisco gathering was held in June 2006 to delve into the design, development, and technology of sex in video games, also in the United States.
Meanwhile Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was pulled from shelves by Rockstar Games after it became public knowledge that, with the use of a Gameshark, a scene can be unlocked portraying the protagonist having sex with another character. In the scene both characters have their clothes on. The game was later sold without the unlockable scene.
Playstation 2 video game God of War features an event in the first part of the game where protagonist Kratos can have sex with two topless prostitutes, who reside in a bedroom on his boat. Although no sexual acts are depicted (they occur off-screen and are indicated by sound effects), the women are shown topless. The player interacts by performing button and joystick commands that appear on screen which results in an experience reward for the player.
The adult sections of American comic book stores carry a large number of translations of Japanese hardcore comics, as well as an increasing number of home imitations.
One of the anime porn movies, which started the American adult video market, was Urotsukidoji. The adult anime market exists primarily through direct sales: mail-order to customers, and wholesale to specialty shops which cater to anime and to comic-book fans. The legal framework in both countries regarding the regulation of obscene and pornographic material is overall rather similar.
b. The sex tourism involving minors outside the U.S. is also illegal.
c. The term "dial-a-porn" was used at the federal level e.g. by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 , but it was partially voided by federal courts over subsequent years. Another term usage includes the 1996 Denver Area Educational Telecommunications Consortium v. Federal Communications Commission certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
d The transportation of pornography in interstate commerce was banned in the 1973 case of United States v. Orito. The Supreme Court upheld zoning restrictions that either quarantine or disperse pornography merchants, leaving it to local officials to determine whether local interests are best served by restricting all porn merchants to a single district. Though the Court has also upheld zoning that prohibits pornographic entertainment within a certain distance of a school, the legitimate primary purpose excludes the preventing of access by minors which can be achieved much more directly by simple restrictions. On May 13, 2002 writing for the majority in Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, Justice Clarence Thomas stated that using community standards to identify material that could be harmful to minors does not make the law overly broad and therefore unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
e Utah uses the legal term "pornography" for the same illegal sexually explicit material.