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I have a similar question to ask. What are the anime censorship laws in the United States? There appears to be major culture difference between United States and Japan and I am not sure if that implies a difference between their respective anime censorship laws.

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    for what it's worth, I presume that there is no specific 'anime' censorship laws, but overarching media censorship laws. – Toshinou Kyouko Mar 19 '15 at 14:07
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    Im not American but it seems to me that almost all Japanese anime are censored by the US government who are afraid of the soft power of Japanese anime. This happens in China too. – David Washington Mar 19 '15 at 15:52
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    @DavidWashington What? That's not at all true! I doubt you can point to a single instance of governmentally-imposed censorship of anime in the US. – senshin Mar 19 '15 at 16:11
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    @DavidWashington I'm American. The US does not censor anime. The US holds the right to free speech so high that we won't even censor crackpots who spew hatred at the rest of the world. American anime censorship is self-censorship by the American distributors, usually for PR reasons. – Torisuda Mar 20 '15 at 8:39
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    @DavidWashington Well, the US government does all kinds of shady stuff. I wasn't particularly trying to defend them. They'll sometimes put political or legal pressure on the news media not to carry certain stories, and of course there's the illegal surveillance that Snowden aired out. But government censorship of entertainment media doesn't really happen. And anime is as obscure as obscure gets over here, so it's way under the radar. – Torisuda Mar 20 '15 at 18:08
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+100

The FCC, the government body responsible for broadcasting media, does not have any specific laws against animation that comes from Japan, otherwise known as anime. Because the 1st amendment protects the Freedom of Expression, the censorship laws that are in place and enforced by the FCC in the U.S are concerned with obscenity, indecency, and profanity. The short summary of the law is that, for media to be prohibited to be aired on television from 6 a.m to 10 p.m, it must:

  • Not be acceptable to the average person.
  • Depict anything that violates other existing laws, such as child pornography.
  • Lack any artistic, scientific, political, or literary values.
  • Contain greatly offensive language or otherwise known as profanity.

This is arguably vague, but usually if it meets some of the criteria above, it would be permitted. For example, a satirical anime on U.S politics would probably not be acceptable to the average person and can be offensive. However, if it contains a good amount of political value in the work and does not violate any other existing laws, it would be permitted. Even lolicon material is permitted as it meets some of the criteria above, although it is a murky territory and can land you in legal trouble nonetheless.

Note that this is also the criteria used in courts for media in general, also known as the Miller Test.

Censorship are also in place for libel and slander, but it would be extremely difficult for anyone creating anime to be prosecuted for such things as it would have to lack any artistic, scientific, political, etc. values.

The censorship that you see in anime imported from Japan and translated into English are self-imposed. Different studios handles it differently. For example, the infamous 4Kids Corporation would blatantly westernize the anime it imports, replacing Japanese food with American food, removing highly emotional scenes, and much more. There are also non-governmental ratings made by independent organizations such as the MPAA and government imposed ratings such as the TV Parental Guideline. Theaters and TV stations would follow these ratings to show what is and what is not appropriate to show in what timeslot, in addition to the FCC rules described earlier. Keep in mind that these ratings have no legal weight. A TV-MA rated content can be shown at any time of the day and no one would be prosecuted for it. People would probably think less of your network and so TV stations follow these ratings to keep their audience, but it is not illegal to ignore the ratings.

In summary, as long as it passes the Miller Test, it should be legal.

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    To be clear, the FCC only has jurisdiction over broadcast media. For our purposes, that means over-the-air TV. The FCC does not have jurisdiction over cable, internet streaming, home video, etc. – senshin Mar 19 '15 at 16:15
  • "Censorship are also in place for libel and slander" - I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think US law provides for pre-emptive censorship of libelous material (i.e. there is no analog to the Censor Board). A party who has been libeled may be able to obtain an injunction preventing distribution of the libelous material, but that's a different sort of thing. – senshin Mar 19 '15 at 16:19
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    @Frosteeze Wow. Thanks for this detailed answer. I am confused about the following statement in your answer, "Even lolicon material is permitted as it meets some of the criteria above." I thought that material was declared obscene in the 2008 Iowa case Christopher Handley case. – Guardian Moribito Mar 19 '15 at 21:28
  • The judge ruled that the law against loli manga was unconstitutional, but yes he kept the charge for obscenity. The clause of the law that the guy was charged with was because of obscenity, not because it depicts sex with a minor. So if this was regular porn, it would still be obscene. And seeing as regular porn is still legal, I still think it is permitted in certain cases. He was convicted because of a plea bargain since they thought the jury would still find him guilty. Other cases involving lolis seems to be dismissed. I will however, edit that to be clearer since you do have a point. – Frosteeze Mar 20 '15 at 8:27

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