Pornography Laws in Utah: An Overview


Nowadays, you can get a lot of information online as websites, and web pages keep emerging and updating. Each second, websites upload and download new information, making the internet a valuable tool where people can access films, television shows, articles, and journals, among others. While the internet might have made our work easier, not every material it provides is safe for consumption. One such toxic content is pornography. Some people may find porn harmless and normal; other conservatives might term the content immoral. The question lies in who consumes the content, which is where state laws on pornography come in handy. One such state that recently passed a law making smartphones and tablet manufacturers filter porn automatically is Utah. Read on to get an in-depth insight into the pornography laws in Utah.

An overview of pornography laws in Utah

According to The Verge, Utah governor Spencer Cox signed the H.B. 72 bill for filtering pornography on 24 March 2021. The following week, the governor was to decide if all phones and tablets sold or acquired in the state would filter pornography. Utah’s legislature passed the bill in early March, requiring all mobile devices to automatically design software to filter or block content that perpetuates pornography in minors. The rule came after Utah’s residents complained about minors accessing pornography and other sites promoting child pornography. This might sound like an excellent move to contain pornography, but it’s also drawn many speculations. Theoretically, Utah’s H.B. 72 emphasizes that any smartphone or tablet sold in Utah should automatically have adult content filters. However, enforcing this rule might be challenging as phone makers can easily surrender passcodes to buyers to remove software for filtering adult content. Of course, phone makers might not have reliable verification tools for gauging a buyer’s age before releasing these passcodes. A child can easily request an adult to buy a smartphone or tablet on their behalf, so it becomes difficult to determine if the child pornography law will be effective. According to the Independent, Cox’s proposal to curb porn availability can only go into effect if five other states also pass similar laws. That means it will be challenging to implement, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah argued that the bill’s constitutionality would likely be argued in court. According to The Verge, the bill has drawn mixed reactions, with some analysts arguing that it was more as a political statement, not an immediate change. Chances are, Cox might have signed it because the election season is drawing near.

Is it a crime to view adult content in Utah?

Technically, there’s no crime in viewing adult websites. It becomes a crime if the site promotes illegal content, including child pornography. According to Utah Criminal Law, Utah Code ยง 76-5b-201 maintains that anyone found checking out child pornography websites will be found guilty of sexual violation of a minor. The law for sexual violation of minors in Utah prohibits the following:

  • Producing child pornography
  • Possessing child pornography
  • Possessing with the intention to distribute child pornography content
  • Intentionally distributing child pornography
  • Knowingly allowing or consenting to the sexual violation of a minor
  • Viewing child pornography

If Utah’s courts find you guilty of any of these offenses, you might face a jail term of one year and a maximum term of 15 years plus a $10,000 fine. The weight of your offense might also attract additional restitution fees for the minors involved. Here’s an example; if you viewed, possessed, or possessed child pornography content with the intention to distribute it online, the court might charge you separately for each minor shown on the website. Your offense is considered a second-degree felony. So, if you have more child victims, your charges might increase. Currently, any phone maker in Utah found guilty of selling a device without an automated filter once the user activates the device will be liable if a minor accesses adult content. They will be charged with promoting and perpetuating access to adult content, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $10 per violation.

Utah’s laws on the distribution of intimate images of minors

Nowadays, most people send intimate images to other people familiar to them or strangers. Some of these images go viral, and the victim might face the worst side of cyberbullying. Distribution of intimate images of minors is considered a second-degree felony in Utah. Ideally, any person below 18 years is considered a minor in Utah. You will be found guilty of this offense if:

  • You know the minor hasn’t permitted or consented to their image being distributed online.
  • The minor didn’t know their images would leak and expected them to be private and confidential.
  • The image being distributed causes emotional distress to the minor. Some may withdraw from social interactions and have suicidal thoughts if they discover that the person they trusted with their images has leaked them for selfish gains.

Ironically, the laws regarding the distribution of child pornography in Utah are still under review. What is considered punishable by law is distributing nude photos, including actual images of full breasts and genitals without opaque covering. Photos of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct also apply to Utah’s criminal code.

When can affirmative defenses for intentionally viewing or possessing child pornography apply?

You might get vindicated, or charges reduced depending on unique circumstances. The Utah Code 76-5b-201(4)(b) says affirmative defenses might apply if you didn’t request the child pornography content. Let’s say you have a friend who’s shared a child pornography link to an illegal website via your email or social media platform without soliciting it; an affirmative defense may apply. Another special case is minors distributing pornographic images or videos to others. If they send the content to you and can verify that you’re older than them by more than two years, you might benefit from the affirmative defense. Also, it’s vital to cooperate with the law enforcers to get a fair trial. To be on the safer side, delete photos or videos suggesting child pornography from your device, mainly if you weren’t involved in the sexual violation of the victim. The affirmative defense might not vindicate you after arguing that you didn’t know the victim’s age. With kids lying about their age and possessing fake I.D.s, determining their ages from their physical outlook alone might not vindicate you. There are many cases where adults intentionally exploit minors only to pretend that they didn’t know this beforehand. The law doesn’t consider lack of knowledge as a defense.

Has the anti-porn law in Utah taken effect?

Not yet, but it’s a good start. Utah’s governor Spencer Cox signed the porn filter legislation in March 2021, demanding all phones and tablets sold within the state automatically block pornography. According to Vice, the H.B. 72 law requires all phone and tablet makers to add porn content filters on their products within Utah automatically. Sadly, the rule doesn’t take effect until five other states enact, pass, and sign the same laws. Cox’s law is as good as dead if none of the five pass the law before 2031. Any phone maker who doesn’t comply with the law will be held liable for the damages if a person below 18 years accesses harmful content. That includes any content representing or describing, in whatsoever form, nudity, sexual excitement, sexually explicit conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse. The charge attracts a maximum fine of $10 per individual violation. Watching or distributing pornographic content online isn’t considered illegal unless it involves persons under 18. However, Cox argues that the anti-porn measure is to send a warning, preventing minors from accessing explicit content online. This rule came after the former governor-Gary Herbert declared porn a public health crisis in 2016. It’s worth noting that the anti-porn law has been passed for years. The Vice once caught up with an adult performer who wrote an open letter to Utah’s governor. She argues that it wasn’t fair for Utah to ban porn to protect children when their real goal was to stop adults from watching porn. Minors can still access films, television shows, and games with violent content, which are equally “harmful.”

Does it mean all Utah smartphones and tablets already have built-in pornography filters?

All Utah manufacturers selling phones and tablets should only release devices with automatic porn filters. Any phone maker found to sell smartphones or tablets without the porn filters will be charged with a $10 fine per case.

What if I didn’t know the victim was underage?

The law prohibits child pornography, including sharing intimate photos of minors with or without their consent. Lack of knowledge or ignorance about the victim being underage isn’t a bargaining chip for affirmative defenses. You will be charged with a second-degree child pornography felony and might get jailed for 1-15 years with a $10,000 fine, depending on the gravity of your crime.

Is parental control on iOS and Android devices more effective than the porn filters?

No. Google and Apple already offer parental controls on Android and iOS devices. However, it is easier to turn them off by default. While you may tech-savvy enough to disable the porn feature, activating it is equally complicated, leaving you helpless to protect your underage child online. Cox’s law is to make phone makers automatically enable them and add filters to turn them off.

What is sexually explicit conduct according to Utah’s pornography laws?

According to Wasatch Defense Lawyers, Utah’s Sexual Exploitation Act defines any actual or simulated act as being sexually explicit. That may include masturbation, sexual intercourse with animals, sex with the same or opposite sex, or hardcore representation of urination or defecation.

What if I come across adult content by accident in Utah?

Anybody can send you a link, and you can only discover what’s behind it after clicking. That’s the most accessible bait to accessing a pornographic site without knowing. However, you cannot prove your innocence if you display signs intended to view and consume the explicit media. It means you know the link will direct you to adult or child pornography and other illegal content before reaching the illegal website. As more websites and web pages keep emerging, you can easily get tempted to consume explicit content, particularly if you’re less tech-savvy. At this point, you can argue that you mistakenly clicked the link or accessed the website and be left off the hook. To be on the safer side of the law, report any suspicious websites displaying illicit content like child pornography to the authorities.

What happens if I get indicted for child pornography?

In Utah, viewing, possessing, possessing with the intention to distribute, or sell child pornography is punishable by law. You will likely get charged with a second-degree felony that attracts harsh penalties of up to $10,000 in fines and/or 1-15 years of jail time. The courts might not grant lighter penalties whether the minor consented to it or not. If you’re caught distributing child pornography, you might also get charged with distributing intimate images, which is a class A misdemeanor. Depending on the gravity of your charges, the courts might also charge you with a third-degree felony. That’s after scrutinizing the conviction of the subsequent offense. If you’re in Utah, avoid logging into websites displaying or promoting child pornography. Distributing, possessing, or selling intimate images is a capital offense. If you accidentally log into a website with child pornography, report it to the authorities to avoid the harsh penalties law enforcers might impose against you. Utah’s anti-porn law prohibits you from:

  • Possessing, producing, or producing with the intention to distribute child pornography in full knowledge
  • Intentionally viewing child pornography
  • Knowingly distributing child pornography
  • Allowing a minor to be sexually exploited. (This applies to legal guardians or parents of the minor)


While Utah’s anti-porn rule has taken effect, it’s in your best interest to avoid anything to do with child pornography to avoid jail time and high penalties. Ignorance of the law is no defense, and it keeps changing, so check the constitutional websites to stay abreast with updated information. Alternatively, consult a Utah-based cybercrime attorney to help you understand the law in detail.

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