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The Law and Pornography

What about the law on pornography?

There is no legal definition of pornography, which is very confusing! Below is a simple explanation of what the law means in most of the situations you will come across.  The law applies to the Internet in the same way as it would apply to any other type of media. What is illegal off-line is illegal online.

Here are some frequently asked questions:


Q. How old do I have to be to buy a top shelf magazine?

A. Strictly speaking legally acceptable pornographic magazines displayed on the top shelf of a newsagent can be sold legally to anyone of any age. They are sold on the top shelf and to over 18s only by convention.

Q. At what age can I rent or buy a DVD/video?

A. DVDs/Videos should legally only be supplied, lent or sold to those over the age limit displayed on the DVD/video. There are no legal penalties for showing DVDs/videos in the home to an inappropriate age group.

Q. What sort of pornography is illegal?

A. Pornographic material is considered legally ‘obscene’ if it is judged to have ‘a tendency to deprave and corrupt’ the intended audience. (Obscene Publications Acts 1959 & 1964, as amended). This normally applies only to the most violent and degrading adult pornography. It is currently an offence to ‘publish’ obscene material. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 has introduced a new offence of being in possession of ‘extreme pornographic material’.

Possession of child pornography (‘indecent’ photographs of children under the age of 18) is a serious criminal offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Q. Am I criminally liable if I download pornography?

A. It depends on what sort of pornography you are downloading. If you knowingly downloaded child pornography, you would be committing a criminal offence.

Q. What happens if I download pornography in my workplace?

A. It depends on the policy of your employer. Many employers have policies that state downloading pornography or sending inappropriate emails will lead to a disciplinary warning or dismissal.

Q. What should I do if I come across material that I believe to be illegal?

A. If you come across material that depicts child sexual abuse or material that you think may fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act, you should report it through the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) hotline. Go to their website,, where you can make a report online. If you suspect inappropriate chat or behaviour with a child online, you should report to it the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. You can make a report on their website,