Here’s a strange, and largely unexplained, story that’s emerged over the couple of weeks since the “ATVOD law” was introduced against British online porn services.
Clips4Sale.com (C4S) is a site allowing small content producers to make and sell their own video clips without the expense of building their own website. Although it’s an American service, ATVOD considers that individual channels may fall within its censorship remit, if they are managed by a person in the UK. This means that individual performers who sell their own clips may be considered to be “On Demand Programme Service providers” by ATVOD, and subject to massive fines. As a result, a number of UK-based producers have closed their C4S channels down, through fear of being targeted.
Shortly after the law came into place, some UK providers noticed that their C4S payments had dropped. During one test of the service, the card was rejected with the error code: “PROHIBITED:GB-ATVOD” (click here for screenshot).
Before a service can be sanctioned, it must have been the subject of a complaint to ATVOD, followed by an investigation and determination – during which the service provider has the right to respond and appeal. Instead, here were services having payments blocked without any kind of due process. It seems that services were subsequently unblocked, with C4S mailing a provider:
...we found a way around all this and now all UK debit cards are back buying again!!
Mysteriouser and mysteriouser: there was still no information provided as to why and how the payments had been blocked. We have placed a request with C4S for more information, and will update this post if any is received.
Meanwhile, I put three questions to ATVOD’s CEO Pete Johnson, asking whether he could cast any light on:
1) …why these payments are being blocked,
2) who is doing the blocking,
3) and what the rules are regarding which services and which users will be blocked?
To which I received the following response:
We are not responsible for payment processes operated by, or any error codes displayed on, Clips4Sale. I suggest you direct your questions to Clips4Sale.
I followed up:
I certainly have contacted them. Are you concerned that they are using “ATVOD” in the error code? Have you contacted them to discuss this?
And received the following response from Cathy Taylor, ATVOD’s Policy and Investigations Manager:
If Clips4sale are using their paywall as a proxy age verification process and are declining certain types of payments which can be used by under 18s in order to ensure that UK based pornographers are compliant with ATVOD’s Rule 11 then it is unlikely that ATVOD would have a reason to be concerned.
Still little in the way of clarification. So as this stands, we know that a payment block was put in place, and then (apparently) removed, but details are still very vague. It is currently unclear whether blocking payments in this way is being done at the request of UK authorities, and whether it is legal.