Pornography Laws in the UK: A Complete Guide

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Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

Pornography, more commonly known as “porn” is widely available on the internet, however there are many pornography offences, such as indecent image offences, revenge porn or extreme pornography. For this reason, people need to be aware of what is ‘acceptable’ in terms of the law. Porn laws in the UK have been established to protect the public, especially for those who cannot consent, such as children or animals.

Is porn legal in the UK? 

In general, yes porn is legal in the UK. However, pornographic images, videos and other material can fall into several categories that are against the law, so understanding whether certain pornographic materials are legal is not always black and white. For example, extreme porn is much harder to define as it depends on how realistic the acts depicted in the material are.

In some cases, there are much clearer instances where pornographic material is illegal. For example, it is widely known that child pornography is illegal in the UK. 

What was the 2019 ‘porn law’? 

In April 2019, the Digital Economy Act 2017, more commonly known as ‘Porn Law’ was enforced in the UK. Although this law covered various areas related to electronic communications and copyright, it is better recognised for its aim to restrict access to porn. 

It was the ‘Porn Law’ that introduced the legal requirement for online porn websites to implement an age verification system that aimed to prevent people under the age of 18 from accessing commercial-operated pornography. If sites failed to comply, they could be fined up to £250,000, or up to 5% of their turnover. 

The enforcement of this law was quite controversial and it was heavily criticised for having serious privacy concerns, so is currently on hold in the UK. And equally, it is easy for those accessing these sites to circumvent the intended restriction by self-certifying and proceeding to the content irrespective of the real age of the person doing so.

Is there a legal age at which you can watch porn? 

In the UK, it is not illegal for someone under the age of 18 to watch porn. Despite this, it is illegal for someone to sell or distribute pornographic material to children younger than 18 years old. 

Different types of porn laws in the UK 

There are various porn laws in the UK which apply to various pornographic materials and circumstances. 

Online pornography

Online porn is the most widely available type of pornographic material. After the ‘Porn Law’ was passed in the UK, online porn websites were required to put an age verification system in place, to prevent younger viewers from accessing the content. However, it is not illegal for under 18s to watch porn online. 

Pornographic media 

In terms of other pornographic media, it is illegal to sell pornographic films rated 18 or R18 to individuals under the age of 18. However, selling pornographic top-shelf magazines is not legally age-restricted in the UK. 

Sharing pornographic images 

It is an offence to cause a child under the age of 16 to view porn, including showing them photographs depicting sexual activity. This extends to children under 18 years old in the case of people in a position of trust, such as teachers. The only exception to this is where the material is being used for educational purposes. 

Child pornography

Child pornography is one of the most serious porn-related laws in the UK that revolves around any type of pornography involving children under the age of 18. Strict laws are in place for the making, possessing and distributing of child pornography. 

If you have accidentally viewed child pornography, it’s important to get in touch with a criminal defence solicitor immediately. 

Extreme Pornography

Extreme pornography is defined as explicit material that is grossly offensive, disgusting or of an obscene nature, which is a criminal offence in the UK. Material that is classified as extreme pornography can include but is not limited to sexual acts portraying realistic threats to a person’s life, serious injuries, necrophilia, bestiality or non-consensual sexual activity. 

What are the penalties for breaking pornography laws in the UK? 

The penalty for breaking pornography laws in the UK depends on the circumstances of the case, including the type of porn involved and the age of the individual involved. In general, the possession of any kind of illegal pornography can result in a prison sentence of up to 5 years, whereas the distribution of porn can result in sentences of up to 10 years. 

What to do if you’ve been accused of pornographic offences 

At Lawton Solicitors, we’re experienced in dealing with pornography offence cases. If you or someone you know has been accused or charged with pornographic offences, or other sexual offences, you should get in touch with one of our sexual offence specialists immediately.

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