The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA) expanded on earlier such laws as the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988 by making it a federal crime not only to send images of real children engaged in explicit sexual activity but also to use “morphed,” that is, computer-generated images of the same.

Although the Supreme Court had upheld laws involving the image transmission of actual children involved in pornographic activities, it decided in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) that the CPPA was overly broad and unconstitutional.

The Court invalidated two provisions of the law that criminalized depictions that “appear to be” and “convey the impression” of a minor engaged in sexual conduct, even if the depiction does not involve an actual minor.

The Court also questioned the supposed link between computer-generated pornography and the abuse of actual children.

John Vile is professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2009.

Send Feedback on this article