Film Regulation


Though films are seen as a way of free artistic expression, the film industry is subject to far greater censorship than any other artistic medium.

The scare of obscenity in movies prompted over 100 cities in the United States to establish local censorship laws.  The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association was founded in 1992 to improve the image of the American film.  Although the Motion Picture Association of America made efforts to prevent immorality in movies, there was not much change in the system.  However, constant complaints made Motion Picture Association of America take further steps and in 1934 the Production Code Administration was created.  From 1934, no movie could be distributed without getting a certificate from Motion Picture Association of America.  The Motion Picture Association of America was granted authority to fine theatres where movies without their certificate was released.  In extreme cases, the Motion Picture Association of America could also demand script changes.

Initially, regulations in the United States in the film industry revolved mainly around racial issues.  This was considered a very touchy subject and presenting it in movie in an inappropriate way could arouse arguments and disturb the social balance.  Therefore, as a rule, the American film industry was forbidden from producing films which showed ‘white slavery’ or ‘miscegenation (sexual relationships between white and black individuals).  This is also because, at that time, in many states of the US such relationships were illegal and therefore presenting such themes would amount to presenting a crime.

The Motion Picture Production Code or the Hays Code was the set of industry censorship guidelines which governed the production of the vast majority of United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968.  The Hays code listed and explained quite specifically what ‘a good movie is’’ and laid down standards for a good film.

The line of distinction between good movies and obscene films is thin and moreover the question of whether imposing restriction on obscene movies amounts to violation of other rights guaranteed under law is also important.

Though the First Amendment in the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, this freedom does not apply to obscenity materials.  In the 1957 case of Roth v. United States, the Supreme Court defined obscenity in order to implement censorship.  The following criteria were established by the case to measure obscenity:

  1. The dominant theme of the work as a whole must appeal to prurient interest in sex.
  2. The work must be patently offensive to contemporary community standards.
  3. The work must be without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Determining what materials contain obscenity remains highly subjective.  However, community standards determine what constitutes obscenity.  The standards vary tremendously from state to state.

In People vs. Freeman, the California Supreme Court stated that the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment protect adult film production under free speech.  This case ruled that the adult film industry should be granted the freedom of speech.  Generally, in the United States, the adult film industry has been limited to prevent child pornography.  There are regulations regarding the age of persons employed in the adult industry production companies.  As per the United States Code of Regulations, performers employed by adult industry production companies should be over the age of 18 years.  The failure to abide by this regulation, results in civil and criminal prosecutions.  As per law, all adult industry production companies are required to have a Custodian of Records that documents and holds records of the ages of all performers.

The Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988 is part of the United States Code.  The Act places stringent record-keeping requirements on the producers of actual, sexually explicit materials in films.  The guidelines for enforcing these laws are part of the United States Code of Federal Regulations.  It requires producers of sexually explicit material to obtain proof of age for every model they shoot, and retain those records.  Federal inspectors have the authority to launch inspections of these records and prosecute any person for infraction at any time.