20 Copyright and other publishing responsibilities

20.10 Blasphemy, obscenity, racial hatred, and official secrets

Publishing a work which contains contemptuous, scandalous, or insulting material relating to the Christian religion is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine or imprisonment. Note that only the Christian religion is covered by this law and that merely attacking Christianity is not blasphemy: the attack would be blasphemous only if it were contemptuous or insulting.

It is also an offence to publish an obscene work. A work is deemed to be obscene if its overall effect is to deprave or corrupt its readers. Lewd or repulsive material is not necessarily obscene: to be obscene the material must constitute a menace to public morals.

By publishing works which could stir up racial hatred publishers could commit another offence. Racial hatred means hatred against groups of people who are defined by their colour, race, nationality, or ethnic or national origins. A work could stir up racial hatred if it contained threatening, abusive, or insulting material, and if there was either an intention to stir up racial hatred or it was likely that the work would do so.

It is also an offence to publish certain types of material if publication could damage national security or interests: cases on this point have related to memoirs by former workers for the Foreign Office or members of the intelligence agencies.

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New Hart's Rules


Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms