Canadian Journal of Law and Technology


Jonathan Clough


extreme pornography, obscenity laws


For decades, the traditional Western liberal approach to obscene material has been that while the availability of such material may be restricted, individuals are free to possess it so long as they do not distribute to others. Prior to the advent of the Internet, traditional means of control were effective in limiting the availability of such material. However, free of traditional restrictions the Internet allows easy access to a vast array of pornographic material, some of which challenges the most liberal of societies including images of child abuse, sexual violence, bestiality, and necrophilia.

In 2008, the UK became one of the first Western countries to criminalize the possession of ‘‘extreme pornographic material.” This article considers the rationales used to justify such an offence and in particular the parallels drawn with possession of child pornography. Although ostensibly justified by arguments based on the prevention of harm, the offence is more clearly explained as a reaction to the difficulty of enforcing existing obscenity laws. A person’s right to read and view what they please in private is therefore sacrificed for the need to restrict the availability of online content. Such an approach may be applied to obscene material more generally, or any other prohibited online content such as terrorism-related material.

It is argued that a more nuanced approach may allow the production and distribution of such material to be targeted, while allowing the sanctity of a person’s library to remain untouched.