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It is derived from the Latin obscaena (offstage) a cognate of the Ancient Greek root skene, because some potentially offensive content, such as murder or sex, was depicted offstage in classical drama.The word can be used to indicate a strong moral repugnance, in expressions such as "obscene profits" or "the obscenity of war". is unusual in that there is no uniform national standard.

These common law ideas of obscenity formed the original basis of obscenity law in other common law countries, such as the United States.

For visual works of art the main obscenity law in England and Wales was, until the 1960s, the Vagrancy Act 1838 which was successfully used in prosecutions against D. Lawrence for an exhibition of his paintings at the Warren Gallery, London, in 1929, Parts of the Act were repealed shortly after the Paraskos trial and it has rarely been used since in relation to visual art.

The trial of Penguin Books over Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960 failed to secure a conviction and the conviction in the 1971 trial of Oz magazine was overturned on appeal.

An attempt to prosecute the University of Central England in 1997 over a copy of a library book by Robert Mapplethorpe was abandoned amidst derision from academics and the media.

the Canadian prohibited class of articles that are to be legally included as "obscene things" is very broad, including text-only written material, pictures, models (including statues), records or "any other thing whatsoever"—that according to Section 163(8)—has "a dominant characteristic of the publication is the undue exploitation of sex, or the combination of sex and at least one of crime, horror, cruelty or violence" is deemed to be "obscene" under the current law. (1) Every one commits an offense who (a) makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever; or "Crime comics" are stated to be books that glorify criminal activities and have at least one depiction of such criminal actions of the book's text.

The Canada Border Services Agency seizes items it labels obscene.

During the 1990s the advent of the internet made it easier than ever before for British citizens to access hardcore material.

Finally, in 2000, following the dismissal of a test case brought by the BBFC, hardcore pornography was effectively legalised, subject to certain conditions and licensing restrictions.

After 1984 videotape sellers were more likely to be prosecuted under the Video Recordings Act rather than the OPA.

The VRA requires that all videos must have a certificate from the BBFC.

The Obscene Publications act is notoriously vague, defining obscenity as material likely to "deprave and corrupt".

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