Queen's Speech Promises State Censorship

Alert: New ATVOD Anti-Porn Censorship Law to Arrive 1st December

On 1st December a new law governing online porn will come into force in the UK. This is known as the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, and amends the 2003 Communications Act.

The law applies to VoD services regulated by ATVOD, and imposes restrictions on the types of content that can be legally sold by UK VoD providers.

There has been much confusion over what this law means: this post is an attempt to provide some clarity.

Effects on Consumers

There are no (direct) implications for porn consumers. The law affects UK-based providers only. Consumers are still at liberty to access any online porn they want, and will only be affected if their favourite British website happens to be censored by the new law. Of course, existing laws (like the 2008 “extreme porn law”) still apply. However, see further implications below.

Effects on Providers

The new law only affects providers of On Demand Programme Services (ODPS) that are regulated by ATVOD. ATVOD’s power comes from the EU AVMS regulations, which relate only to “TV-like” services. In most European countries, most websites (including adult websites) are not considered to be TV-like. However, in the UK, ATVOD has chosen to apply the regulations far more broadly, and encompass a wide range of services, including adult sites. This gives ATVOD the power to regulate, and control, any website it decides is TV-like.

Note that ATVOD has repeatedly been struck down by Ofcom regarding its broad definition of TV-like. The Sun newspaper, the BBC, and a number of others, have successfully appealed that various services cannot be considered TV-like, and so have escaped regulation by ATVOD. Recently, a dominatrix also appealed that her site, Urban Chick Supremacy Cell (NSFW), was not TV-like, and won. Sites that have removed themselves from ATVOD regulation in this way are not bound by the new law.

What Does the Law Change?

The new law puts a restriction on the strength of porn that can be sold on regulated services. Previously, any pornographic content that did not breach existing content laws (for example “obscene” material, and child abuse imagery) could be sold. Now, only content equivalent to the BBFC’s R18 rating can be sold: this brings VoD services into line with DVD.

R18 is a strange thing: it is a set of weird and arbitrary censorship rules decided between the BBFC, the police and the CPS. There appear to be no rational explanations for most of the R18 rules – they are simply a set of moral judgements designed by people who have struggled endlessly to stop the British people from watching pornography.

In practise, this means that video of various fetish activities can no longer be sold by regulated UK services – the people most affected will be those running fetish sites of various types. This may explain ATVOD’s apparent obsession with chasing down dommes who sell their own videos: most femdom sites would now be illegal to run in the UK (at least, if they are “TV-like”).

The list of rules governing R18 is long and often vague, but they include:

  • Urination in various sexual contexts is banned, as is female ejaculation
  • Spanking, caning and whipping beyond a gentle level are not allowed
  • “Life-endangering activities” such as strangulation and facesitting cannot be carried out
  • Fisting is banned (if all knuckles are inserted), as are other large insertions
  • Bound and gagged models may not be featured, as there needs to be a clear way in which the model can withdraw consent

Why Has This Been Done?

The introduction of the R18 standard into law is essentially a way to circumvent European standards. The EU’s AVMS directive specifies that content that “might seriously impair minors” should be restricted so that under-18s cannot normally  view it. However, this is a test to be answered by psychologists, not government censors. The UK media regulator Ofcom looked at the results of research by 20 European governments, and stated: “No country found evidence that sexually explicit material harms minors”.

This is inconvenient for a government that wants an excuse to censor pornography, regardless of any evidence of harm. Introducing the R18 test removes the need for objective evidence, and instead allows censors to make arbitrary decisions.

Although the law is introduced under the pretext of “protecting children”, it actually affects adults and children alike.

Implications

In practise, very few people are directly affected: most businesses selling strong fetish material online left the UK years ago for other European countries or the United States (the well-known fetish site kink.com (NSFW) is run by a Briton who moved to San Francisco to escape our ludicrously censorious climate).

However, this law was clearly introduced to further ATVOD’s plans to restrict what sexual content can be accessed by UK citizens, and will doubtless be used to justify further censorship in various forms. ATVOD have long wanted to stop banks from processing payments for services that don’t meet their tight regulations, and have tried (and failed so far) to introduce licensing of non-UK sites. Watch this space for more news at it emerges (please join our mailing list for updates).

49 thoughts on “Alert: New ATVOD Anti-Porn Censorship Law to Arrive 1st December”

  1. Can we reblog this on the whorephobia blog quite a few of our followers have raised worries about what content their cam shows will be allowed to have

  2. I have to admit to still being confused by all this. A dominatrix is based in UK. She records video clips of 5 to 10 mins in length of some of her sessions and with consent or all participants, uploads them to a clip hosting site based in the USA. From this site, people can purchase individual clips to download and keep. Is she affected by this new censorship law ?

  3. Hi MissA.

    Where a video is filmed is not relevant. Where the video is edited is generally not relevant. What matters is the service, whether there is a person (or organisation) with editorial responsibility for that service, and where that person (or organisation) resides. See: Page 4 of this ATVOD Guidance: http://www.atvod.co.uk/uploads/files/Guidance_on_who_needs_to_notify_Ed_4.0_Feb_2014.pdf

    In your example, the service is a clip hosting site in the US. The editor is the person who selects and organises the videos. If no one filters or organises the videos, then the site is not TV-like. If some does filter or organise the videos but they are not in the UK, then the site is not regulated by ATVOD.

      1. No. It’s about “editorial control”, which basically relates to the person who publishes the videos. It doesn’t matter where the site is hosted

        1. It is about editorial control of the service. This is made clear in the ATVOD document I linked to. Otherwise we are in the perverse situation where someone can pirate your video, publish it on a foreign site, yet you are responsible to ATVOD for something completely outside your control.

        2. Further, step 7 of the ATVOD flow discusses the service having no editor (because no one selects or organises the videos). I can envisage sites that have no editor, but how can a video have no editor? A video cannot. Therefore step 7 demonstrates by example that a video is not a service in ATVOD’s view.

          Indeed, step 1 makes this distinction very clear: “Is video material available via this service?” This would be a meaningless question if a video is a service. Again, this demonstrates that ATVOD views an individual video and a service as being distrinct.

          ATVOD regulates services not individual videos.

          1. Thank you for your comments – very useful. Do you think that they would actually go to the US sites though? And would they have any legal standing to do so?

          2. Mizz P, Unfortunately you are seeking black and white answers in a sea of greys. The facts of your specific case are what will matter.

            Now, given the definitions and given the exemptions, you can make sure that you operate in a way which is outside ATVOD’s jurisdiction. But even then, even when you know that you are outside their jurisdiction, they may write you a letter anyway and you may need lawyers to write back to explain why they are mistaken.

            Here is the key line of questioning. Your videos are on a site. Who chose which videos are available on that site? (Are yours the only videos on that site?) Who organised the videos? Who chose which video is first? If your answer to every question is a specific person or organisation who is outside the UK, then likely that site is not regulated by ATVOD.

  4. Does this mean that a site produced and hosted in the UK with no streaming video on it whatsoever – that only shows non-explicit still sample images and then has a subscription based members area for video downloads without previews or any form of streaming is exempt from these rules?

    1. I might be out of date, but I don’t think ATVOD make any distinction between streaming or download. If they decide it’s TV-like (and they seem to think pretty much any service including video is TV-like), they will come after it

      1. No, if you can demonstrate that your site is not “TV like”, then you are outside of ATVOD’s jurisdiction
        For example, if you do not have a schedule of programming, videos of differing and odd lengths, poor quality lighting, small budget for settings, crew etc, few paid members, then you could probably fight ATVOD registration.

  5. Is it only me that finds it strange that the person in charge of policy and business development at the BBFC in 2009 who allowed BDSM content to be given an R18 certificate is now saying, in his position as CEO of ATVOD, that you can’t show the same kind of material in 2014.

  6. I still dont understand why nobody is asking the obvious question.
    In the last 5 years (or however long ATVOD have been going), what impact have they had on what kids can actually see on the internet ??

    I doubt they have stopped a single child from being able to view online porn.

    It seems obvious to me that the ONLY way to stop kids looking at porn is to focus their efforts on parental controls and the end user instead of trying to close down the entire internet

    1. It is an obvious question Adrian but unfortunately we can’t prove that ATVOD isn’t having an effect. There isn’t conclusive evidence for either side, just studies and stats which can always be manipulated.

      Adult content has, in my opinoun, only become more accessible for Children to access behind their parents backs.

      This law will ultimately drive more adult content to be pirated by tubes and torrent sites making any attempt at filtering or regulation redundant – other than to put the squeeze on a perfectly legal and legitimate industry.

  7. So if I understand the situation correctly, it’s possible as a UK citizen, to still film in the UK and circumvent the legislation one way or another – How would need to be determined ?

    However, these videos are of course proof of my activities.
    Am I now leaving myself open to possible criminal charges because of the consensual activities that I’ve engaged in ?

  8. Can i ask why on earth you are banning “female ejaculation” would you ban a guy from coming? How can you tell a woman she is not allowed to come?
    The other banned things on this list are things people choose to do. Which they can actually not do. But female ejaculation can not be stopped? Its a natural thing. This law is STUPID what should be stopped is FREE porn sites.
    Every girl in this industry ALL work from sites that you have to prove you are over 18. You can only pay by card. It is not like its some free site anyone can access!
    This law is not to keep children safe. Its to try & ruin our freedom!
    You are trying to take away our rights! doing a job trying to keep a roof over our heads!

  9. This is a pointless law and only intended for PR spin.

    The UK porn industry that serves VOD is small and any large company company effected will simply move offshore. It doesn’t effect webcam.

    As for the consumer and protecting children. Either there are some very stupid people running this, or they think the public are.

    Their last brainstorm was age verification on paysites, to stop children watching porn. As if children have to pay to watch porn these days.

    Porn’s failure is to et this exposed in the mainstream post as a waste of time, money to destroy a few businesses and have no effect on what porn people watch online.

    Paul Markham

  10. Would videos on a website such as clips 4 sale be affected? If I have made/edited the videos, in the UK, but the site as a whole is obviously not run by me?

    1. I would say I’m not a lawyer. But IMO if you enter it onto C4S, you are “”editing” it even if the video is in it’s raw form. The only question is, do you want to split hairs in court with lawyers on £100s an hour?

      Or just plead guilty and get a slap on the wrist?

      I ran the gauntlet of the BBFC licence rules for 10 years and made a lot of money before they closed me down.

  11. Can you please tell me, if it is still legal for an another EU country producer to go to UK, and produce videos with UK dominas, then take the whole footage away from UK and use it elsewhere, out of EU? Not selling it in UK at all. Many Thanks!

    1. Yes, it’s completely legal. Come commentators have mistakenly said it’s illegal to produce some porn in the UK; this isn’t the case. The law affects website operators, NOT producers. So UK producers can still make BDSM porn, but cannot sell it.

  12. During the mid-19th century, women abandoned their bonnets and
    began tying their hair up once more. The virtual shopping cart acts
    like a real shopping cart in which you can put any thing you want.
    Such vibrations have been known to cause not only discomfort but additionally serious damage in some instances.

Leave a Reply